Beauty Defined

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On the border of Thailand, women of the Kayan tribe proudly wear brass rings around their neck as a sign of both elegance and prominence. In New Zealand, the Maori people practice a beauty ritual of tattooing. In Western Africa, extreme lengths are taken to get as plump as possible as a sign of wealth. Unlike the United States, a sun-kissed glow is not beautiful in China, and a pale, ghost like complexion is strived for.

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Beauty is defined differently around the world, and differs from the mold America has made.

These are all different from what Americans think is beautiful. There is no universal definition of beauty, as each region of the world has their own ideal of what is good looking.

A study by The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty revealed that only 2% of the women around the globe would describe themselves as beautiful. Where did these limiting, unrealistic molds come from and why do we judge those who do not live up to these standards?

Dr. David Williams, Arizona State Sociologist, believes the answer is simple: conditioning. “People judge people on how they look because that is what they are trained to do.”  At a young age, people form ideas that they carry with them for the rest of their life. “When your little you watch things. You see things.” From constantly seeing images from pop culture and advertisements, the shallow model of beauty is formed.

“We have to realize we are in the United States. The most wonderful societies in the history of the world.” As cliche as it sounds, people come in all shapes and sizes, and are not any less beautiful because they were not born a certain way. Individuality is what sets us apart from each other. Brittney Willis states, “In society, uniqueness allows everyone the possibility to be themselves… It allows us to interpret what we like and these differences make the world go round.”

Dr. Williams said, “Hopefully things will get better, but it is a battle that has to continue to be fought.” [People] think the world is so bad and so mean that they can’t do anything to change the world, but you should make sure that you never do anything bad or do anything intolerant yourself.”

Hijab: The Beauty Within

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In our society being pretty is shallowly associated with physical appearance instead of inner-self. Everyone has their own definition of what beauty is. Hana Alkahlout says “a beautiful person is someone with a personality that is beautiful, not simply an outward appearance of beauty.”

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Hana Alkahlout is a board member of the Muslims Student Association.

As a Muslim women Hana wears Hijab. Many associate Hijab with the religion of Islam, but do not understand the important values and customs behind it. “Hijab is a symbol of Islam, a beacon and responsibility that requires not just an outward veil, but a humbling and modest persona.”

The word Hijab is derived from the Arabic word “hajaba” which means to hide from view or to conceal. With physical characteristics, such as hair and clothing, not on display, Hijab eliminates the chance of people judging based on looks. “Hijab is a means of protection. Hijab is a means for others to see you for who you are rather than what you look like.” The outside of someone is not as important as the intellect and personality on the inside.

Most are uninformed on the topic, and as a result people who wear Hijabs face discrimination in our society. Hana attributes this to ignorance. “…people that do not understand the Hijab, tend to believe what society and media portray Hijab and Islam to be. Post-9/11 that image is of oppression and terrorism, which is quiet opposite of what Hijab and Islam is all about.”

For Hana she believes it is her obligation. “I wear Hijab because I believe it is my obligation as a Muslim female. “As one who wears Hijab, I am immediately recognized as being a Muslim, and the responsibility of properly representing Islam is always on my conscious, especially in a country where I may be the only Muslim some people encounter.”

In Islam the Quran and Hadith place heavy emphasis on good character. Although external beauty is not revealed to our subjective society, the inner beauty remains.

Retinoblastoma: Blind Faith

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“You never know how strong you are

until being strong is the only choice you have.” -Bob Marley

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Katherine Chavez has formed a special bond with her service dog Olivia, and says she feels like a mother.

Katherine Chavez knew she was strong. At a young age she was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, and had tumors on both retinas. She won her battle with cancer, but lost vision in both eyes. At the age of seven, she had to learn to live without the sense of sight.

“Sometimes it was a struggle, and sometimes it was frustrating because I have to work even harder… I just had to keep pushing on even though I felt sad sometimes. I just had to get up and keep going.” Defeat was something she was not going to accept, and instead continued to strive for excellence.

She quickly adapted to her circumstances, such as learning brail or learning to walk with her service dog and credits her positive attitude to helping her come this far. “A lot of it has to do with attitude. If you have a positive attitude, you can just go and reach for what you dream of.”

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Katherine in the first grade.

While most would have been sidelined by this condition, Katherine believes this is God’s plan for her. Katherine states, “Everything happens for a purpose. What happened to me has allowed me to see peoples hearts first. In my case it easy to obviously pass by [first impressions] and know the person by their insides and not judge and put that barrier on the outside.”
“Everything that my peers can do, I am able to do. I don’t view it as a handicap or disability. Till this day, I have been able to accomplish and do everything that I dreamed off. ” Her optimism exudes and spreads to those that surround her. Classmate Lauren Allen said, “Katherine is definitely inspiring. She has such a beautiful spirit, a spirit that is hard to find.”

Watch Katherine introduce her “little baby!”

A&F: Exclusionary Apparel

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Our society has created a generic mold that is considered good-looking.

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The international clothing brand, Abercrombie and Fitch, contributes to this epidemic. Saturated with photos of half naked models and perfect bodies, the brand is unrealistic in their presentation of the young demographic they target. As a former employee of the retail chain, it is apparent that to them looks are everything.

CEO Mike Jeffries publicly said “…There are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. We go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

The “not-so-cool kids” are ostracized as a result. For example, A&F refuses to carry sizes larger than 10 to accommodate people of different sizes.  People analyze pop culture to see what’s in and what’s out. By constantly seeing these images, people believe that this is how they are supposed to look.

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Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries.

Erica Dotson, a former A&F manager said, “Unfortunately looks were the top priority when hiring someone. We were instructed to recruit associates that would be considered ‘cast of’, meaning people who fit the companies look. They preached diversity and uniqueness but for the most part those chosen were white or racially ambiguous.”

A&F is no stranger to controversy. Not only do they discriminate against their costumers, they also discriminate amongst their own employees. Suits against the clothing retail were recently settled after a California teen was fired for wearing a hijab.

The companies superficial association of beauty with a slim figure and long hair has created an uproar. Delany Davis adds, “I stopped shopping there because this is not something I agree with or stand for. People come in all shapes, shades, and sizes. That does not make us any less beautiful.” Others have done the same, going as far as giving all there moose branded A&F clothes away.

Scoliosis: The Learning Curve

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Sometimes in life you have to do things you do not want to do.  Paige Henderson became familiar with this at a young age. In the adolescent stage where everyone was blooming, Paige found herself wanting to hide… her back brace that is.

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Despite physical pain, Paige (farthest left) wore a strong smile on vacation. With a 72% curvature, one shoulder appears to be higher than the other as well as uneven hips.

“Everyone was dressing nice and expanding their styles and blossoming, while I was stuck wearing oversized shirts.” Paige had a severe case of Scoliosis in her upper left shoulder. She was attempting to cover her brace that she wore, in hope to halt the progression of her 72% curvature in her spine. “I wore [an orthopedic brace] 24/7. School, sleep, everywhere”.

At a crucial point in development during teen years, where appearance is shallowly prized, Paige felt she stuck out for the wrong reason. “Everyone is judged by how they look and recognized by what they wore, and I felt my brace blocked everyone from who I was.”

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Paige has successfully undergone corrective surgery and still excels in softball.

With support from her family and help from her specialist, Paige decided to undergo corrective spine surgery. She found out her brace was not working. After investing all the time wearing the brace, Paige says, “I was mad at first but in the end knew it would finally get fixed.” Like many people with differences, Paige made the most of her situation. “[Classmates] would make jokes about my brace but I was joking around with them, because I did not want a pity party. I did not want to be the depressed girl or cry about it even though I did. I was stuck with it and I did not want anyone to know it bothered me.”

Her back brace is a thing of the past, as she no longer wears it. “Looking back on that dark period of my life my self esteem was lowered because I looked different. Now I realize I was strong.” The past is a distant memory, and all she has left to remember is a scar down her back that she calls a “battle scar”. A battle she did indeed win.

Albinism: The Black Sheep

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“I never looked at my dad, or my mom, or my sisters and wondered why my skin was not the same color as theirs,” said James Warren. James was born with Albinism. Growing up in an African-American family, his skin was a milky pale in comparison to his caramel siblings and parents. “I always thought if they wondered why I was not the same color as them.”

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Young James smiled during a school photo despite having to remove his glasses.

From a young age James did not let the defect define him or change his perception of himself. It was the perceptions of others that worried him. “I feel maybe people look at me differently than others. I wonder how they see me through their eyes. One thing I never want is for someone to pity me.”

Albinism is a defect where the body cannot produce melanin, a substance that gives color to the skin, hair, and eyes. It is common amongst albinos to have vision impairment and skin sensitivity. James experiences both.

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James describes high school as a fun time. Despite some occasionally name-calling from peers, he was well liked and never bullied.

“Im always getting stared at because at the end of the day I’m different”. Instead of using this as a crutch, James has chosen to use this opportunity to inform others. “You cannot run from the questions. People are always going to be curious, but I just open my arms and inform them.” Being misinformed can lead to devastating results. “It amazes me how little people know in places like Africa, because we did not choose to be born this way. They are just like me.”

“I embrace being different.” James continues to live his life “to the fullest” despite a defect and would not have it any other way. “I wear my “golden fro” proudly. I don’t hide from who I am.” He credits his loving and supporting family for standing by him through it all and for simply treating him normal.

*For more photos and insights

Tattoos: Living Canvas

Individuality is what sets us apart from each other, and makes you… you.

Brittney Willis said, “Whether it’s through physical expression or physical characteristics, such as hair color, individuality encourages people to have their own personal style and opinions rather than just going along with what the magazines say.”

One form of self-expression that has become popular over time is tattooing. This artistic expression transforms any individual into a living, walking canvas. Although it extremely popular, tattooing is not widely accepted.

Spiritually Inspired: Lauren Allen

Life Beyond the Status Quo was created with hopes of spreading the story of others. The optimism and testimony of those sharing their story touches the audience and sometimes evokes a response.

Lauren Allen, a Arizona State University student, was deeply touched by Katherine Chavez’s story. So touched and spiritually connected that she decided to share her thoughts.

Watch Lauren talk about her inspiration.

Service Dog: Meet Olivia!

A dog is a guys girls best friend!

Katherine Chavez and her service dog Olivia share an unbreakable bond that many of us will never experience. Putting your complete trust into a four-legged creature was not easy. She says, “I had to learn to trust her very quickly because she’s the one who guides me around everywhere I go and I have to put my life in her paws.” Despite only being together for four years, she says “it feels like [we have known each other] forever! We definitely grew super close.”

Katherine describes her relationship with her Service Dog Olivia.

Abercrombie: Workplace Woes

Employment for a teen is an accomplishment within itself. Freedom, liberation, independence were all things I desired. Little did I know what was in store for me at Abercrombie and Fitch.

I was hired in inventory where a majority of my job took place in the back, away from the sales floor. I was the only African-American girl amongst my beautiful coworkers.

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This is a sample of the strict look book. This page show that employees must have their skinny jeans cuffed on the top of the ankle.

I was instantly introduced to the strict look policy. There were flyers hung with appropriate hairstyles you could wear to work, deeming “stiff” or “unnaturally colored” hair unacceptable. We were only allowed to wear pink, red, or French tip on our toes. Piercings, makeup, jewelry and all other forms off self expression were forbidden.

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Are they ready? The girls are pictured with more confidence after being deemed “Abercombie” ready.

We then moved to the clothes. I was handed a pamphlet that showed outfits we could wear and of course the glamorous models were covered in head to toe A&F. You could wear unbranded clothes similar in style but it was discouraged. Erica Dotson, former Abercrombie Kids manager said, “We were instructed to give employees who don’t buy the clothes less hours to ‘encourage’ them to buy them. They didn’t want associates wearing knock offs of A&F fashion because that would make them look cheap.” We had to be styled a certain way that was considered ready. All the rules, bordered on anal!

One day at work, one of my managers summoned us outside. We were stunned at what he said next. He quit. He said he could no longer stand working for the shallow company because it was against his morals. He advised us to not let Abercrombie change us. That same day I put in my two week notice. I simply did not agree with the companies views. Beauty is not defined by your outward appearance, and I would no longer support it.