But why are women so worried about their looks?

I took a lot of flak in a recent discussion elsewhere for suggesting that women who have cosmetic enhancement surgery might be responding to just a little bit more than their own psychological insecurities about attracting a mate – that there might actually be some much larger social issues about why women choose to be surgically enhanced i.e. that it’s not just about getting sex, even if the surgery they are having is aimed at increasing their sexual appeal (by certain widely acknowledged to be fucked up standards).

Here’s just one high-profile example of how women are trained from a very young age to believe that their looks matter more than anything else about them, not just when it comes to finding a sexual partner, but also in terms of recognition and reward in other aspects of life: in the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony a very cute Lin Miaoke appeared to sing a song but the voice belonged to another girl, Yang Peiyi. (Addendum: Lin may well have not known that her own singing was not being amplified to the stadium)


Lin Miaoke who lip-synched at the opening ceremony over the voice of Yang Peiyi (right) who was considered unsuited to the lead role because of her buck teeth
Photo: GETTY/AFP [image & caption source]

Hat-tips to, and more details and analysis of the implications at Hear Me Roar:

In interviews, the musical designer said this was not the first time girls were weeded out for looks,

…A ten-year-old had originally been chosen for the quality of her voice. But she, too, had fallen by the wayside because she was not “cute” enough.

“We used her to sing in all the rehearsals,” Mr Chen said. “But in the end the director thought her image was not the most appropriate, because she was a little too old. Regrettably, we had to let her go.”

Too old at ten?? Not cute enough at ten?

and at Glass Castle:

Yang Peiyi, who was passed over, is said to be satisfied with the use of her voice, even if it’s attributed to someone else. It doesn’t make it better that she “doesn’t mind”; it makes it scarier. You see, she’s seven years old, and she’s already learned the lesson: that it doesn’t matter what her talents or abilities are, unless she conforms to beauty norms, she is not acceptable for – undeserving of – appearance in the public eye. Only seven years old, and she’s already been put in her place. Only seven years old, and she has already internalised the idea that she lacks worth.



Categories: gender & feminism, media

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37 replies

  1. The little girl on the right was the actual singer? I think she is cuter actually. Not that it matters, it shouldn’t matter at all. I so hate how looks trump everything else in this world.

  2. Proof that the patriarchy starts training us young. It breaks my heart for both of them — that they’ve been used to reinforce, yet again, that Women Are For Looks Only.
    Bah.

  3. they’ve been used to reinforce, yet again, that Women Are For Looks Only

    That was exactly my point in the other thread where I took a lot of flak – there was a whole heap of blaming women for their vanity and insecurity causing them to waste money, resources and take risks to conform to a beauty ideal “that most men don’t care that much about anyway” in terms of who they’d like to fuck.
    I’m all for agreeing that such intense will to conform to the beauty ideal is wasteful, risky and all sorts of fucked up, but am totally not up for agreeing that women’s will to conform in this area is all about superficial vanity etc. There’s nothing superficial about being passed over in favour of “prettier” people for recognitions and rewards that end up translating into money that pays the bills.

  4. The little girl on the left has obviously been well taught to be a little china doll, in both senses. I too find the little girl on the right to be more adorable, and more childlike, she has an innocence still that the poor mite on the left has lost. Unfortunately I think they have both learnt a bad lesson.

  5. To be scrupulous, the two images are in two different contexts – the girl who lip-synched is photographed in costume and make-up for the performance, the girl whose voice was used is photographed at home. Perhaps if we saw the girl on the right in costume/make-up she’d look just as doll-like, and if we saw the girl on the left at home she’d look just as childlike.

  6. “…that there might actually be some much larger social issues about why women choose to be surgically enhanced i.e. that it’s not just about getting sex…”
    Bwuh? What planet does a person have to be on to think that women get cosmetic surgery to get laid more?
    @Mindy, I think you’re right. The way she was sweetly smiling the whole time she lip-synced looked very rehearsed. When children smile because they are happy, it looks nothing like that. She reminds me of that eerie video of JonBenet Ramsey made up to the nines and perfectly executing adult dance moves with a big smile plastered on her face. She also reminds me of myself at that age. 😦
    Maybe if she had instead been encouraged to put her attention, time and focus into her singing instead of her adorableness, she would have the singing capability.

  7. True Tigtog, but I think the girl on the left has been almost trained in a way and it’s that training which takes away the innocence of childhood. Very much like the JonBenet Ramseys of the childhood pageants lala mentioned. They are children who can assume a mini-adult mode which I find disturbing and I think it’s more than just wearing makeup. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, I don’t know.

  8. From the Age, via Bolta’s blog, I got this quote of the director’s:
    The reason was for the national interest. The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feelings, and expression.
    On one level I’m not surprised; this sort of thing happens in music videos all the time. But this demand that the child be ’flawless in… internal feelings’, that’s creepy.

  9. True Tigtog, but I think the girl on the left has been almost trained in a way and it’s that training which takes away the innocence of childhood.

    Mindy, both girls were trained to perform at the ceremony (as the linked articles make clear), so surely both of them have been trained in exactly the same way?
    I’ve known children who were professional performers. They knew when they were “on” and when they could just relax. It’s not fair to judge the girl on stage only on that performance/photo.

  10. This is a great example of the double edged nature of it too- the girl chosen for her looks learns that her own talents (I am sure she has them) pale by comparison to her appearance and may well cop some negative feedback for being the ‘face’. Everyone loses.

  11. The TelegraphUK article suggests that Lin might not even have known on the night that it was not her voice that the audience heard – believe me, what one’s voice shounds like in one’s head versus what it sounds like coming back to you from the amplifiers don’t match very well for anyone.
    I’m sure that we all would have thought that Yang was gorgeous as well (buck teeth and all) if she had gone on, as she had been chosen for perfection of attitude etc just as much as her replacement Lin. Right up until the last dress rehearsals (after the 10 year old got the boot) it was going to be Yang performing until a member of the politburo objected to her teeth – Lin was only told that it would be her a very short time beforehand.

  12. I don’t know any children who are professional performers, so I will bow to your greater judgement.

  13. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter which one is cuter or more stage-awesome or whatever metric is being used.  What matters to me is that they changed out the singer for a lip-syncer because they thought the singer wasn’t cute enough.
    Focusing on how the lip-syncer isn’t even that cute is the other side of the same coin used in the first place – judging cuteness.

  14. I’m not saying that there aren’t any child performers don’t have creepily obsessive martinets as their parents/coaches/managers and end up with stolen childhoods, Mindy. Just that it’s not necessarily always like that, and we simply can’t tell whether it is for either of these girls or not from just one performance or photo.

  15. Sorry, Tigtog, I let my ‘ewwwww, she looks plastic’ reaction get in the way of critical thinking. And the pigtails put me in mind of Bindi Irwin, whose show with references to her Dad – as if he were still alive – and footage of him creep me out a bit. So it’s all a bit of a complex mishmash in my head, but I should have thought some more before pressing submit.

  16. Xtinas, exactly. The example I was hoping to highlight here was that a perfectly acceptably attractive child was dumped not for someone who sang better but who was considered slightly more attractive by one person in authority – and that this illustrates the cultural training of women with respect to appearance in a nutshell – no matter how capable we are, if we don’t look “just right” it doesn’t matter.
    Mindy, your “ewwwww, plastic” reaction to what I’ve heard appeared to be a highly drilled performance from Lin could well be right on the money, of course. It’s just that since Yang was also drilled to give exactly the same performance until one man crossed her off the playbill, they’re both just as likely to be kids with stolen childhoods as each other. I can only hope for both girls’ sakes that they are just well-trained performers who still have loving families and fond friends and a happy childhood.

  17. Note: on a bit more reading it appears that calling Lin a lip-syncher may be unfair, as I noted above she quite possibly didn’t know that her singing wasn’t being amplified to the auditorium.

  18. The poor child certainly will now, I daresay. I wonder what message that will send?

  19. The message given by the musical director, I imagine:

    ”So we made the choice. I think it is fair to both Lin Miaoke and Yang Peiyi – after all, we have a perfect voice, a perfect image and a perfect show, in our team’s view, all together.”

    From a pragmatic point of view, it was the easiest thing in the world to give the place in the show to one of the understudies (I’m sure there were several) and then just not broadcast her voice and use the perfect recording instead. Given that they also used CGI to show perfect fireworks from a previous trial instead of the actual fireworks that were obscured by smog just a little, we don’t even know that Lin’s voice wouldn’t have been up to the job, just that they knew Yang’s recording was perfect, so that’s what they used.
    It’s an extreme example of a totalitarian perfectionist approach to everything including the young girl singing the patriotic song, but I’m sure that most women can remember many instances in our supposedly more relaxed society where we’ve been made to feel inadequate (and our actual competenceies been disregarded) simply because we didn’t look perfect. It’s still on the spectrum.

  20. I guess I’m looking at it from an adult, western perspective, whereas Lin is probably just really excited to have been part of it. I’m glad they named the singer too, she deserves her moment in the sun.

  21. tigtog said:

    I’m all for agreeing that such intense will to conform to the beauty ideal is wasteful, risky and all sorts of fucked up, but am totally not up for agreeing that women’s will to conform in this area is all about superficial vanity etc. There’s nothing superficial about being passed over in favour of “prettier” people for recognitions and rewards that end up translating into money that pays the bills.

    Agreed tigtog. On a personal level i battle this everyday. Not that I have had, or am currently considering, plastic surgery, but just in regards to feeling the weight of conforming to a beauty ideal that I intellectually know is bullsh!t, but which still causes heartache.
    On a professional level I believe I have been overlooked for roles (radio – !??!! -believe it or not) for not fitting the physical ‘type’, and I have no doubt (as mentioned in the Glass Castles quote) that Yang Peiyi has learned the lesson that it doesn’t matter what her talents or abilities are, “unless she conforms to beauty norms, she is not acceptable for – undeserving of – appearance in the public eye.”

  22. Look on the bright side, Tigtog — given the Chinese population policy and the Chinese attitude to girls and women, both of these children are quite lucky to be alive at all.

  23. I am near tears now after reading this. Sometimes the world depresses me so much.

  24. Wouldn’t it be nice if Channel Seven reporters stopped comparing these little girls to handbags and sneakers?

  25. I don’t understand this story at all. I mean, the “grown ups” who sang at the end of the ceremony (a British woman and a Chinese men, no idea what their names are) were very normal looking. Why apply a different standard for the children?
    On another note,

    ”“that most men don’t care that much about anyway””

    Yeah, right. Don’t care my foot! That’s why breasts populate the malestream media. That’s why advertisers know (from “studies”) that when they put breasts on an ad, more men will buy the product. That’s why breasts are the first thing men look at in a woman. And that’s why we get rubbish theories about “women evolving breasts to attract Teh Menz” from equally rubbish “evo-psychos”.
    On yet another note, all this talk about the chinese ceremony, reeks to me as “eeek, Nasty Communist country! Look what they do to a girl who sings but isn’t all that cute!”. The whole “your looks matter more than your talents” is common policy in Teh Hollywood, and no one raises an eyebrow. Britney Spears cannot sing, Mischa Barton cannot act, etc, etc, etc. Why should we apply a different standard for China? This is the pot calling the kettle black.
    Mary Tracy9s last blog post..“Men Are Not The Default Humans”

  26. Nobody’s applying any different standard though are they Mary? The post’s not about Britney Spears or Mischa Barton (whoever they are.)

  27. I was a child performer and I object to the idea that practicing to be the perfect little adorable girl star has no effect on a girl’s self-image, innocence, and priorities in life. Surely if you watch that girl singing, you can see that she has spent a great deal of time and effort in becoming the little girl that adults want to see. If you can’t, then it is all the more creepier that we are so used to seeing little girls act like that, so it seems natural to us.
    No little girl acts like that naturally. She is displaying a well-practiced skill that is most likely learned through a consistent reward vs punishment system.

  28. lala, it’s already been acknowledged on the thread that some childhood-stifling may well be the case, I merely objected to the assumption that such had only happened to the girl who ended up performing on the night, and not to the other girl as well, based purely on the side by side photos of one on stage and one at home.
    I do know some child performers whose parents have been careful to keep it as a game of skill rather than as an entire lifestyle, but I’m willing to concede that they’re probably a tiny minority.

  29. Tigtog, I’ve written my Sunday article on this. Will link after it’s been published.
    Basically, I’ve looked at the double standard MaryTracy9 raised. We can all agree here that this is terrible, but it smacks of hypocrisy to see media pundits decrying this state of affairs when the west quite blithely makes similar decisions based on looks – they’d just make sure to find a pretty girl who could also sing.
    Laura, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Mary to bring that up here either. It is a blatant double standard but I didn’t get the impression she was levelling that accusation at the people here (who also buck against the western celebration of female beauty above all else).

  30. Thanks for the heads-up, Audrey. I do see the glee with which some folks have leapt upon the bits of stagecraft that the regime has employed to make things look absolutely perfect as troublesome, and I do see that when they’re not at the same time looking at the intersection between the beauty myth and consumerism in our own culture that hypocrisy can almost always be assumed, but I’d hate for my original point here to be lost: that this is merely one, single, high-profile example of little girls learning that unless they look super glorious then no matter what their other talents are they won’t be enough, and that lesson as a child has a huge influence on the behaviour of grown women as well.

  31. ”this is merely one, single, high-profile example of little girls learning that unless they look super glorious then no matter what their other talents are they won’t be enough, and that lesson as a child has a huge influence on the behaviour of grown women as well.”
    Well, yeah. Any Western media pundit decrying what happened here who doesn’t remember how C+C Music Factory brought in skinny squeaking Zelda (or Xinda or whatever her name was) to lip-synch for Martha Wash (!!!) needs a history lesson and a thump on the head for hypocrisy. And to shut up.

  32. None of those names mean anything to me, littlem, sorry to say. In which country did this occur?
    Anyway, I made no claims that this situation was unique to China, in fact exactly the opposite. If I had wanted to make special criticisms of the Chinese regime, then there’s plenty of other more substantive criticisms to offer regarding their actions and policies that are distinctively oppressive. No need to be trying to make a larger international point here using an example of bog-standard sexist oppression with these two girls.

  33. I agree with your post completely. To be pretty is something that girls learn at very young ages. I also see your point about the plastic surgery. I have 32 D boobs, and I still feel like I should get a boob job because my natural breasts don’t look “normal” when compared to the surgery enhanced.

  34. Perhaps you need to retrain your eye by watching more European movies than American movies/TV? At least most European directors are perfectly happy to cast women with naturally modestly-sized breasts in their films.
    This doesn’t mean that the films will be non-sexist, of course, but they will at least not be dominated by mammaries.

  35. Has anyone else seen the ‘news’ stories about Christina Applegate getting a double masectomy? It was one of the lead stories for Channel nine 6 o’clock news last night (I sometimes enjoy watching trash, just to get the blood boiling…) but also part of the story was that she had scheduled in reconstructive sugery. How is this news????

  36. Thanks, tigtog.
    @ humpph
    As someone who works in the cancer industry, I want to say that cancer is news, even if it is a celebrity. The reason the reconstructive surgery is news is that breast cancer surgery leaves many women very disfigured, with nothing on their chests but scars – no nipples, and sometimes indentations. It is not necessarily vanity to want to replace a part of your body that has been torn away from you. Would you want a constant reminder of your cancer every time you looked in the mirror? Moreover, there are still insurance companies who don’t cover the cost of reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy. This has been a controversial issue in the US, especially when some of those same companies do cover testicular implants after testicular cancer.

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