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Social Interactionism and Beauty

When learning about Social Interactionism, I kept thinking about this one episode of the Twilight Zone that I once saw. Although old and on the cheesy side, I find it gives an interesting portrayal of our creation of “self” or the “me”.

The basic premise of the episode is that it begins with a woman who has undergone plastic surgery and has bandages wrapped around her face. The faces of the doctors and nurses are all hidden in the shadows while they remove her bandages. The doctor says they “have done all they can do” but “if their treatment doesn’t achieve the desired result, that she can still live a long and fruitful life among people of her own kind”. She responds “if I’m still terribly ugly, can I please be put away?” He replies that the state does provide for the extermination of undesirables, but under her circumstances they would transfer her to a communal group of people with her disability. After removing the bandages, it is revealed the she is beautiful (what contemporary society would define as beautiful), yet the doctors say “no change at all!” and she panics and tries to run away upset that they was unable to transform her face. The doctors appear and they have deformed faces. At the end of the clip, the woman meets another man (also conventionally beautiful), and he takes her away to a place where they can be “with their own kind”. She asks him why they have to look the way they do, and he keeps reminding her that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Mead claimed that “we paint our self-portrait with brush strokes that come from taking the role of the other – imagining how we look to another person” (63). In the case of physical beauty, conventional beauty is a societal creation. We might see the woman in the clip as beautiful, but the doctors treat her as being deformed and ugly. She, in turn, sees herself as deformed and ugly. She feels like an outsider because she is treated like an outsider. Her “me” is the image of herself that she has formed through other people’s reactions. These reactions also create the generalized other – both the reflections the woman sees from the reactions of the others and in accordance to the expectations of society regarding beauty.  Goffman states that “we are all involved in a constant negotiation with others the publicly define our identity” (65-66). As physical appearance being a part of our identity and sense of self, this is hugely negotiated with others and society. Who decides what is beautiful? Who decides what is ugly? And how does society’s definition of beauty affect our development of the “me”?

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