Wednesday, January 20, 2021

US teen beauty becomes standardized


Let’s just pretend … for one blissful moment of escape … that how “pretty” or “beautiful” a teenage girl may be is completely irrelevant to her success and happiness.

On second thought, I might as well ask Johann Sebastian Bach, dead for 266 years now, not to resolve the tritone of a V7 chord in opposite directions. I might as well ask people to believe that the SAT or the PARCC tests, given much more recently in our history, actually measure students’ ability in mathematics, as opposed to their socioeconomic level or their familiarity with what some “experts” think is a standardized test-delivery system on a computer.

As crazy as this sounds, there are benefits to “standardization” in a few areas of our lives. Beauty pageants, for example. A teenage girl is considered “pretty” if she is blonde and has blue eyes. Witness here the top five finishers in Saturday’s Miss Teen USA pageant:

Anything that doesn’t fit this mold, we learned this weekend, won’t make the top-five cut.

But if Bach actually had resolved the tritone with parallel motion and failed to fit that particular mold, the work would have been rejected not only by his peers but by history. He never did, though, but while he fit that mold every time when resolving certain dissonances, that resolution is not really the whole piece. He broke lots of molds in that regard.

Likewise, with beauty, blonde and blue isn’t a bad thing, I’m saying, but there are other qualities that contribute to our lives and even other standards of beauty.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Miss Teen USA doesn’t recognize, ever, the inescapable fact that, while looks aren’t completely irrelevant, standardization of beauty as a “whole” measure of someone’s self, is vastly different from standardization of dissonance resolution.

As USA Today reports, the sister pageant, Miss USA, has been noted for its diversity and for its inclusion of different metrics of self.

The same thing goes for standardized tests, however. They are a small piece of the “whole” child. They don’t measure creativity, ingenuity, cleverness, or even mostly mathematics or reading ability. Many factors in our kids’ lives affect those scores, and they do represent a one-size-fits-all approach to student measurement.

On the other hand, we know that many parts of our lives are standardized, and if Kid A is going to get the same type of job as Kid B, then he may very well need to pass the same test.

So if you want to win Miss Teen USA, you may very well need to be blonde and blue-eyed. I’d like to think that’s not true, as I’d like to think we don’t put much personal stock in standardized tests, but that would be a dream, I’m afraid. The data simply don’t support such a conclusion.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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