Thursday, October 18, 2007

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #2: What Is Beautiful?

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #2
In Your Face: What Is Beautiful?

(for a colorful, downloadable PDF version, click here)

Media Awareness
Age Range: 9-13
Grade Level: 4-8

- Reading
- Assignment
- Quiz
- Discussion Questions


"What is Beautiful"
an excerpt from the book
The Culture of Beauty and You
by Shari Graydon
Published by Annick Press
Reprinted here with permission.

~ The Eye of the Beholder ~

A scene in the move The Gods Must Be Crazy shows a small, wiry African bushman stumbling upon the sight of a beautiful blonde woman getting dressed in the shade of a tree. As the scene unfolds, you hear the inner thoughts of the bushman, who's looking at the woman with a mixture of pity and amusement.

Even though she has Hollywood-style good looks, he thinks she's just about the ugliest creature he's ever seen. She's way too pale -- like something that crawled out from under a rock -- with stringy, "gruesome" washed-out hair that makes her appear very old. And she's much too large -- he imagines he'd have to search the entire day to find enough food to feed her.

Finally, as he watches her put on a blouse made from sheer fabric, he can't understand why she's covering her arms with what looks to him like hideous cobwebs.

Because the world of the African bushman is so unlike that of the woman, what he sees is completely different from what North American audiences see when viewing the same thing. The movie lets us understand his perspective and it challenges us to think differently about some things we normally take for granted -- like what is beautiful.

~ Body Image Goes Global ~

Our definitions of what's gorgeous and what's not vary dramatically from one culture to another. The movie example of the African bushman repulsed by the blonde is just one indicator of this. Contrast North American beauty standards with some of the attitudes found in other countries:
  • In modern, urban Brazil, large bottoms and small breasts are seen as desirable assets.

  • The ideal Ugandan woman weighs about 150 pounds.

  • Native Peruvians and many Nigerians consider especially full-figured women beautiful, whereas the same bodies might be seen as overweight in North America.

  • The French are generally more focused on fashion and makeup than body image, and are disdainful of North America's obsession with thinness.

  • Some African tribes makes deliberate cuts to their skin in order to create "beautiful" scarring.

  • In other countries, young people deliberately wound themselves, puncturing the skin on their face or body with pieces of metal. (Oh, wait a second, those countries include Canada and the United States!)
But North American culture is being exported all over the world faster than ever. As a result, the definitions of beauty held up as ideal in TV shows, advertisements, and movies produced here are being imposed on other cultures.

Now, even in some Asian and African countries, where the vast majority of people have dark hair, skin, and eyes, the models celebrated as being the height of beauty are often blonde-haired, blue-eyed and pale-skinned.

Who benefits from this? Certainly not Asians and Africans. In trying to sell North American products, the media messages end up suggesting to millions of people that not only are they not beautiful the way they are, but they can never even hope to become beautiful, because they don't have the right set of genes to start with.

And yet North America's unrepresentative scrawny ideal is also being exported. Up until American TV was introduced into Fiji in 1995, eating disorders were unheard of there. Three years later, one study found that 15 percent of girls had tried vomiting to lose weight. Our television shows had effectively taught young Fijian women not only to hate their naturally curvy bodies, but also the dangerous techniques that lead to eating disorders.

People who have traveled all over the world will tell you that teenagers in Tanzania have different ideas about what's hot than their counterparts in northern Thailand, downtown Moscow, the upper Amazon, and the highlands of New Guinea.

Even within North America, definitions of beauty can be tremendously diverse. Both Canada and the United States are made up of immigrants from all over the world whose skin, hair, and eyes reflect a rainbow of colors, and whose body preferences and fashion practices have been shaped by dramatically different cultures. It's just that most of the images seen in mainstream TV shows and movies don't reflect this.

But there are signs that our culture could be changing -- even in the unlikeliest of arenas, big business. As one makeup industry executive says, "I'm committed to proving that beauty has no single look. Beauty can be both transvestite or a woman like kd lang without a hint of makeup." (Frank Toskan, founder of MAC cosmetics)

~ Image Reflections ~

So what does beauty being in the eye of the beholder really mean? Basically, that it's up to you -- and me, and him, and them and her... We've all got opinions, and a lot of them clash.

  • Just as it's impossible for people to agree on "the best movie or book of all time," a single definition of beauty doesn't exist.

  • There's simply no predicting. Throughout history and across cultures, people have responded to all sorts of different qualities -- both physical and emotional -- when checking out one another's looks.

  • Tape measures can give you dimensions, but they're almost useless for judging beauty.

  • Most of the images we see in the media reflect only a fraction of the beauty diversity found in the real world: it's like we're being fed a diet of vanilla ice cream all the time, and being denied everything from chocolate and maple walnut to mango and cappuccino -- which many people find equally or more appealing!

# # #

Copyright 2004 by Shari Graydon. Excerpted from the book, "IN YOUR FACE: The Culture of Beauty and You." Published by Annick Press, ISBN 1-55037-857-0 (library binding), ISBN 1-55037-856-2 (paperback). Reprinted with permission. For more information, please visit Thank you.


What is Beautiful Book

Can you think of someone who seems beautiful to you, but who is not what most people would consider "good looking"? Can you find an image of that person to share with the class, and write down on a note card why you think this person is beautiful?

This can be a team project, with each team member finding someone who is beautiful in a different media. One person picks an actor, one a recording artist, one a model or picture from a magazine, one a public figure, one an athlete. They each gather an image of their beautiful person and write a note card about why this unconventionally-attractive person is so beautiful.

These images and note cards can be pasted into a What is Beautiful Book so that everyone can see some of the different kinds of beautiful around us.


NOTE: Quiz answers are available to teachers upon request from Quiz answers will be revealed during the live Skype Chats and made a part of the Skype Chat Transcripts.

1) True or False: Men are friendlier when they think they're talking to a beautiful girl than a plain one.

2) True or False: Women are friendlier when they're talking to men who think they're hot.

3) Multiple Choice: How many people in the United States had tattoos *removed* in 2004? (Ouch!)
A. 10 people
B. 10 thousand people
C. 10 million people

4) True or False. Good looking people earn more than ordinary looking people.

5) Multiple Choice. Of the three items listed below, what do Americans spend the most on?
A. Beauty products
B. Pet products
C. Education


  • What are some of the things you can tell about someone just by the way they look?

  • What can't you tell about a person just by the way they look?

  • Do you think beautiful people are happier than people who are not Hollywood-handsome? Why or why not?

  • What makes a person beautiful besides the way he or she looks?

  • Think up some questions for media literacy activist and author, Shari Graydon. For example, why do people care so much about how they look? Post your questions on the LIVEbrary Blog at <> or send them by email to or ask them in the Live Skype Chat with Shari Graydon on Thursday, October 25, from 2-3 p.m. Eastern Time.
Copyright 2007 by Annick Press. All rights reserved. Printed here with permission of the publisher. Please request permission from before posting this lesson plan in any public place. Thank you.

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