“When they saw Helen coming towards the tower, they said softly to one another, ‘Small wonder that Trojans and Achaeans should endure so much and so long, for the sake of a woman so marvelously and divinely lovely.'”
– Homer’s The Iliad
Hers was the face that launched a thousand ships and sparked a war between two peoples. She was Helen of Troy. While every woman would want to be her and every man want to have her, we quickly dismiss the story as a Greek myth. But somewhere in all of our superficial pondering, we lose sight of something deeper, namely the power of a beautiful woman.
How powerful are they?
When beautiful women were mixed with religious tensions in Nigeria, the result was bloodshed. Tensions rose when a Nigerian newspaper wrote that Muhammad himself, if alive today, might marry one of the visiting beauty contestants. Immediately, Muslim zealots began a riot, leading to scores dead, hundreds injured and thousands homeless. Fearing for the safety of the contestants, promoters quickly moved the pageant to London.
When beautiful women were mixed with minimal clothing in a Victoria’s Secret fashion show aired during the family hour on national television last week, it set off a barrage of protests from pro-family groups – and even the National Organization for Women – decrying the promotion of scantily-clad models and the degradation of women. Hundreds of complaints flooded the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) office, causing their email system to crash and an official to call for an overhaul of the government’s broadcast indecency standards.
And last month, researchers found that women who looked at advertisements of thin and beautiful women showed signs of depression and dissatisfaction with their own bodies after only one to three minutes of viewing.
While beauty will always lie in the eyes of the beholder, advertisers are banking on the hopes that their thirty-second commercials will entice us to plunk down our dollars in our own quest for beauty. And it works. Every year women spend millions on cosmetics, gym memberships and even surgery for one reason only – they want to feel beautiful. Some women, though, pay an extremely high price.
Just ask Carrie Otis, a former supermodel who graced the cover of fashion magazines and was featured in the coveted Sports Illustrated millennium swimsuit issue two years ago. Paid as much as $20,000 a day, the 5’10” 125-lb. model literally starved herself just to fit into her clothes. She began bingeing and purging at the age of 17, after she landed the cover of French Elle.
Earlier this year, Carrie told ABC’s Primetime that she would go on a liquid fast two weeks prior to every photo shoot. Drugs and alcohol were also added to the mix, acting as natural appetite suppressants. But just as the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was hitting the stands in February of 2000, Carrie’s doctors were discovering three holes in her heart, from substance abuse and years of poor nutrition. All this just to be beautiful. Carrie had heart surgery and began making huge adjustments in her life, namely eating three daily meals instead of one.
“When I first started to eat food during the day, it was the most terrifying thing for me,” she told Primetime. “I would eat and then go and just cry for hours. Just by eating during the daytime, which for me was, like, ‘You don’t do that. You eat-you know, you starve yourself all day and you eat a little dinner.’ That’s how I did it for 17 years.”
But at 32, Carrie has become somewhat of a rebel in the fashion world. At 155 lbs., she is considered 30 lbs. over her ideal model weight. But her beauty, it seems, has done everything but wane. Modeling offers continue to flow in and when she isn’t posing in front of a camera, she serves as an editor and writer for Grace, a magazine that appeals to plus-sized women. Yet there is nothing ‘plus-sized’ about Carrie Otis, who today is a size 12. The average American woman is a size 14.
As for her own definition of beauty, that also has changed, thanks to a recent humanitarian trip to Nepal where she delivered toys and clothing to orphanages.
“Somebody asked me, ‘When did you feel the most beautiful?’ When I was trekking through the Himalayas in dirty clothes, dirty hair, hadn’t had a shower in a week and giving kids clothes,” she told Primetime. “That’s when I felt like the most beautiful woman, and the woman that I’d always aspired to be.”
Perhaps Helen Maria Turner said it best: “When a woman is most herself, when she is most simple and natural, she is most beautiful.”