Annie Crooks
Lit Comp 9
1st Hour

Improvement is defined as the act or process of making something better, or the quality of being better than before. In a place where our culture is largely circled around appearances, self improvement, specifically in how you look, is a recurring concept we see everywhere. It is easy to wonder how this concept of always improving affects us in our culture, and if our desire to be physically flawless is a positive or negative thing. I have found that despite it’s positive connotation, the idea of always improving your appearance, and living without flaws has had a negative effect on the self confidence of our young women and is ultimately a negative thing.
We see it everywhere; on billboards, on television, and on every magazine cover. How to improve your hair, your makeup, your body, your social life, your home life, even your age. These seemingly helpful messages have the potential to hurt already insecure teenagers and young women. After all, you can’t have improvement without something not being good enough to start with. But why is this message so ubiquitous in mass communication? Research ties these ideas back to the question, “Do looks matter?”. Teenage girls have known the answer for generations, but now Newspapers such as the Herald Sun have found the same conclusion, “it's certainly not fair but the undeniable truth, established beyond any doubt by dozens of reputable studies, is that attractive people do better in life.” (Panahi). A similar study done with dateline NBC focused on two models and two average looking people being put into the same situations and then recording how people around them reacted differently. Their study found that the more attractive people were assisted when in need, where the average looking people were not helped at all in the same situations. “That was a classic example of everything we find in the scholarly research that we do, ...Those of higher physical attractiveness are automatically or immediately assisted, provided help.” (NBC). Girls are told their whole lives that their looks aren’t as important as the other parts of them by teachers, counselors, parents and other trusted adults. These studies done show the hypocrisy of these words our young girls are fed their whole lives. Girls are let down again and again when the same people who tell them not to change favor those who are considered more attractive, contradicting themselves completely. The role of appearance has even become a popular subject in literature. For example in the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a boy with Asperger's Syndrome is mistreated throughout the book simply for looking and acting differently.
When looking for examples of messages to change, there is no greater example than Seventeen Magazine. This is where I focused a lot of my inquiry. Each issue features a section on hair, makeup, exercise, money, and social help, and don’t forget the flawless face of a rising star plastered on the cover. With a simple Google search, I found a picture of a November issue of Seventeen. Kesha was featured on the cover, some of the headlines included: “Get Amazing Hair”, “425 fashion tricks”, and the straight forward, “Get Pretty Faster”. Without even reading a page of this magazine you have the sinking feeling that there are more than 425 things that you can do to be better than you are right now. And although we may not stop to think about how this often, when you take just a second to process that information, it’s enough to stress anyone out. Another issue featured Selena Gomez in a cropped shirt with the word ‘confident’ in bold print across the front. The headline: Girl Power. However, within the pages of this special Girl Power issue are all the reasons the modern girl in our culture doesn’t feel powerful at all.
I wanted to see how improvement and appearance affected people at my own school. I asked fifty girls ranging from ages fourteen to eighteen the question “If you had the opportunity to change something about your appearance, would you?” . The results I found coincided with the secondary research I had already conducted. Out of fifty girls, only four said they would remain as they are. That means 92% of the girls would change their appearance if they could. As I continued to to talk to some of the girls, their desired improvements ranged from hair color to body type, to eyebrow shape. Zoya Shevchenko commented that, “It’s hard to pick just one thing to change.”
Improvement is something that drives us, and in most cases is not a bad thing. In this case, the idea of improvement is not necessarily bad, it’s the idea that society is telling our young women that they need to improve the way they look. Looking good is no longer a choice, it’s a requirement to receive the same respect and advantages as everyone else. The result is modern natural selection, in which only the most attractive people survive socially. This concept has defined our culture as shallow and self obsessed. Us as individuals can’t change our culture’s values as a whole. The only thing we can change is ourselves. We can choose to change or remain the same, and we can choose to see ourselves the every person deserves to be seen. For society to accept us all, we must first accept ourselves, and that is when the true improvement will begin.

“Acceptance. ” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia . Accessed May 8, 2014. Acceptance - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
NBC, Keith. “Face value. ” NBC News . Accessed May 7, 2014. Do looks really matter? - Dateline NBC | NBC News.
Panahi, Rita. “My News. ” Herald Sun . Accessed May 4, 2014. Ugly truth is good looks do matter | Herald Sun.
“Physical Beauty and Its Effect Upon Human Psychology: A New Yorker’s Perspective | Blood is No Argument. ” February 20, 2011. Accessed April 30, 2014. Physical Beauty and Its Effect Upon Human Psychology: A New Yorker’s Perspective | Blood is No Argument.’s-perspective/
Shevchenko, Zoya Personal Interview