What Makes a Woman Beautiful?

Filed under Self Worth Your Heart on Mar 12 13 by

Standing in the grocery checkout my eye caught the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Yes, that cover. The one with Kate Upton in a semi-natural state surrounded by nature’s beauty. She is a natural beauty herself, and nearly perfect, if the cover is to be believed.

After all, the camera does not lie. Or does it?

Photoshop Blurs the Line Between Reality and Fantasy

The lines between what is captured by the lens and what is ultimately published on paper or posted digitally have become increasingly blurred in this techno age. Thanks to Photoshop, which celebrated 22 years of pixel magic on February 10th, the camera can now manipulate the truth on a continuum from a little white lie all the way up to some truly huge whoppers!

Photoshop is here to stay; that’s a given. No one is advocating a return to the days of film and dark rooms. I use Photoshop daily in my job. It’s a great tool. What is being debated, though, are the effects of Photoshop on definitions of beauty.

In June 2011, the American Medical Association acknowledged the detrimental effects doctored images had on adolescents, specifically girls. In an unusual move they encouraged advertisers to work with local organizations to create realistic advertisements that did not promote unhealthy body images.

“We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software,” said board member Dr. Barbara McAneny at the annual meeting.

The real question is, “What makes a woman beautiful?” and more importantly, “Who sets the standard?”

But the question isn’t whether or not Photoshop is some kind of evil villain. As I mentioned, it’s just a tool. The real question is, “What makes a woman beautiful?” and more importantly, “Who sets the standard?”

An Impossible Beauty Standard

Popular culture’s answers are “physical perfection” and “the media.” You only have to go as far as your own local supermarket checkout stand to verify this. The hugely popular swimsuit issue hit newsstands February 12. Customers have been happily forking over their $6.99 for glossy pages of scantily clad women in exotic locales across all seven continents (that has also stirred its own controversy).

Sports Illustrated has more than 3 million subscribers and is read by about 23 million people a week. According to Business Insider, the swimsuit issue traditionally sells more than 1 million copies on newsstands alone, not counting subscriptions, which is 15 times more than the regular issue. The swimsuit issue became a stand-alone issue in 1997, and since then has become “one of Time Inc.’s biggest revenue drivers over the years, bringing in more than $1 billion,” according to Forbes.

Well, good for them. And their advertisers. But why should that matter to you and me? It matters because there a lot of people being influenced by a manipulated portrayal of beauty. There are our husbands, sons, brothers, uncles and fathers who wish their wives and girlfriends looked that good. There are a lot of wives and girlfriends who lament that they don’t. It’s not that the models aren’t beautiful to begin with: they are. But because of Photoshop, and a lifestyle and livelihood dependent on extreme dieting and exercise, the staged look is an unrealistic level of physical perfection. And what’s more, the subtle message is that for a woman to be beautiful, she too needs to achieve this perfection. We all know that models themselves don’t look that good in real life, but the power of image still skews our perspective.

In a somewhat ridiculous attempt to help normal women, “get the look,” SI offered a new feature this year: an insert guide that unveils “the secret of the swimsuit.” For example, did you know getting the look is simply a matter of you “developing your own interpretation of what you see in our pages—and feeling good wearing it?” Well, that’s a relief! I thought I needed to sit in a chair for hours while a professional hair stylist and make-up genie work their magic, and then stand in 20 degree weather under mirrors and spotlights while a fan whipped my hair into a sexy frenzy. I guess since I wasn’t wearing the “textured-driven monochromatic” bikini I missed my chance to be covergirl material.

Julia Bluhm’s Seventeen Magazine Petition

Lest you think rants against airbrushed supermodels in magazines are just sour grapes on the part of “mature” women past their bloom, consider the story of Julia Bluhm, 14, from Maine.

Tired of hearing her peers devalue themselves based on physical appearance, she launched an online petition asking popular Seventeen magazine to run at least one unedited photo in each issue, a photo of “regular girls that look like me in a magazine that’s supposed to be for me.” Within days, she had a thousand signatures. She then traveled to New York with her mom to meet the editors. Julia’s action took courage, but what is more surprising is Seventeen’s response. The magazine staff signed a “Body Peace Treaty” and agreed to “never change girls’ body or face shapes” and only use photos of “real girls and models who are healthy.”

What Makes a Woman Beautiful?

That’s a small, but important step in helping culture celebrate the beauty of real women. While you and I may not launch petitions and meet with editors, we can influence perceptions of beauty. How? Maybe it’s as simple of taking a moment to ask ourselves what makes a woman beautiful. Start a conversation; open a dialogue that acknowledges true beauty and value.

I did just that, asking both men and women “What makes a woman beautiful?’ Below are some answers I received:

“Each unique crease, the twinge in the smile, crooked teeth or straight. Every woman is an individual work of art designed to be beautiful by the Maker. She was born this way, but it’s up to her to choose to live it.” – Paula

“There are many ways a woman can be beautiful. Each of the senses can contribute. For example, to a blind person, her voice might be the beautiful part. Her actions and personality can add or detract from her beauty. What actually makes a woman beautiful is a combination of the work of the Lord and the work of the woman. And the only thing that can remain beautiful forever is her spirit. ‘Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30 NIV).’” – Annmarie

“What is in their heart.” – Geoffrey

“She has to be fun to be with.” – Kevin

“To watch her as a wife, mother, helpmate and anchor of the home. She becomes more and more beautiful every day as her life is poured into those she loves with complete unconditional love.” – Robert

“A genuine smile. It shows that her beauty goes below the surface and is not superficial.” – Renee

“A beautiful woman has a spark to her personality.” – Kendra

“The happy, gentle, loving spirit that glows from within and radiates out, accenting the feminine beauty that her genes and God have already bestowed.” – Gary

“Her smile. It conveys her joy and love of life.” – Sam

Won’t you join the conversation and leave your answer in the comments?

About Maria

My career: I’ve had a wonderful career in journalism, starting as an education reporter and then a features editor, and now as a marketing professional. One thing I would still love to do, though, is become a published author! I hope soon to write my story of growing up in America in an impoverished Colombian immigrant family. I started keeping journals since elementary, so I already have all my notes!

Best book I have read lately: This one is hard because I love to read and am constantly devouring books, fiction and non-fiction! I just finished Ted Dekker’s “Eyes Wide Open.” I loved it because it explores issues about identity and worth.

I am secretly terrified of rats. Even hamsters and guinea pigs freak me out! Eeeek!

I’d most like to meet pioneer women! As I read their diaries, I am amazed at their strength of spirit and deep, abiding faith in overwhelming situations. I would love to sit in their one-room cabins and hear their stories!

The gutsiest thing I have ever done was: In terms of sheer idiocy, when I was a sophomore in college I had a mad crush on my 33-year old professor! Somehow, I got his number (not a small feat back in pre-social media days) and I cranked called him. I am sure he knew it was me! In terms of risk taking, starting my blog was huge: putting myself out there with much trepidation, but also anticipation, has stretched and blessed me.

I feel most in love with God when I take my summertime beach walks at sunset. Talking to my Maker as the sun dips into the ocean’s horizon connects me with God in a way no other quiet time can. The vastness of the ocean and it’s incredible power reflect to me God’s eternality and omnipotency. It never fails to touch me.



O’Neill, Justin. “The Fight for Real Beauty.” Scholastic Scope 61.6 (2013): 21. Print.

Photo Montage created from Creative Commons: Pedro Simones, Sandra Scherer, Bursting With Color, Orange Tuesday, Sigfred Lundberg, Harold Grosen, ASCII-21.

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Maria Cowell
Maria Cowell is the Communications Coordinator at Village Christian School, one of the largest private schools in Southern California. She is also a freelance journalist, and has previously worked as a reporter and editor for newspapers in Los Angeles and Glendale, Ca. She enjoys life with her husband, three young adult children and two beautiful Siberian Huskies. Catch her on her blog at www.hipmamamedia.com.
  • LadyMcKermit

    To me what makes a woman or a man beautiful is their inner beauty.. Being physically attractive is no good unless the person is truly good, and on a journey to help others. To me, that is real beauty

  • Lauren D’Alessandro

    I find that when someone is confident and genuinely loves being who they are, their inner beauty is even more radiant. You can see God in someone more clearly when they are being who they were created to be.

  • Noelle

    I really liked this article. Very insightful :)