Pretty Hurts…or does it?

The aspects of self-esteem, body image and the idea of “perfection” are ubiquitious in today’s society. Girls and boys nowadays start caring about their appearances from a young age; most middle schoolers and adolescents seem to be caring more and more about what they can do to make them cool, or accepted by other children. Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, which began ten years ago in 2004, has strived to avert the public eye to women with real bodies and celebrate the diversity of every different person’s unique shape and size. However, unfortunately perfection goes beyond body image: the general pressures of success-to get into an Ivy league school, obtain and maintain a successful job and salary, and to find a loving companion to share your life with-are heavier than ever. Beyoncé addresses these issues and more in the opening to her most recent album in the song “Pretty Hurts.”

Personally, when I bought the Beyoncé album in mid-December, I was unaware its significance as a visual album. I’m glad I realized this because it brings a deeper meaning to her music and gives us insight on some of her background and the true artistry that she put into making this album. The title of the song is an attention grabber to begin with. The juxtaposition in the phrase “Pretty Hurts” makes us immediately question why a positive attitude would be paired with such a negative feeling. “Pretty Hurts” opens the album with an excerpt from her beauty pagent themed music video, with the question from the judge as to what [her] aspiration in life is, to which she simply replies “My aspiration in life would be to be happy.” This should be enough, shouldn’t it? Unfortunately, in this day and age, sometimes life proves that it is not. The music video hits close to home for Beyoncé as she reflects on her participation on pagents as a child. It portrays the glamour and beauty that goes into the pagent scene, complete with gorgeous clothes on gorgeous contestants wearing gorgeous smiles; It also portrays all of the not so glamourous aspects of backstage life, from eating disorders to plastic surgery and ultimately mental breakdowns and quarrels that ensue. It is unhealthy to have to put that much stress on yourself, which Beyoncé symbolically asserts when she takes all of her trophies from childhood pagents and contests and smashes them off of the shelves.

Two lyrics that resonate with me the most occur in the chorus. She makes a powerful statement by telling us “Perfection is the disease of a nation”-a quote which challenges a phenomenon and an idea that people have been working tirelessly to achieve since the beginning of mankind. The word “perfect” is defined in Merriam Webster’s dictionary as “having no mistakes or flaws” or something that is “completely correct or accurate.” What separates a human being, aside from their actions or behavior, from being correct or incorrect? We are constantly challenged to embrace our flaws, but is that sometimes too much to handle for someone who has an intrinsic drive to be the best-not just the best that they can be themselves, but better than anyone else? I have seen the crippling downsides to perfectionism in the way that other people subject their friends and family to their own unattainable standards, and it ends up driving people away. The need for perfection is truly a disease that can be cured by awareness that not everything will go right all the time, but if you put your best effort into everything you do, you can take something good from every experience that you have.

Another lyric that is the ultimate message of the song is towards the end when Beyoncé addresses the audience first person and asks, “Are you happy with yourself?” For some this question is easy to answer, and for others it is more complicated. Because of the omnipotence of society’s standards for body type, health and fitness condition, quality and value of beauty, intelligence, and financial and emotional stability-being a person in this day and age is a complex phenomenon. How is it possible for someone to be happy with each and every one of these aspects of their own life? It is a challenge, but it is a meaningful question to which I have answered for my own life by knowing that I am the only person in control of my destiny and my own happiness. I can try to do what I can to change something that is within my power to change if I don’t like a situation I’m in, and if I can’t change it, the only thing I can do is make the best out of that situation. It is truly hard to love and be happy with every aspect of your life in this day and age, but it is a lot more fun trying to than constantly wallowing in self-pity by focusing on the negatives. If you do that, you might miss all of the positives surrounding you!

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4 comments

  1. Wow I never knew Beyoncé had such strong and probing lyrics. I will definitely appreciate her music beyond the sonic quality.

  2. I love how you pointed out that the visual aspect of the album is important. Sometimes images along with music make a more powerful message.

  3. I agree with you – people today in society are more self-conscious about what they do just to save their reputation. And I agree with bobbyb – I had listened to the album but never really thought about the music from this perspective. Another song just like these two are “Flawless”, which pretty much gives the same message.

  4. You talk about a very important issue in this post. You made a very interesting point when you talk about the title ‘Pretty Hurts’ and the inconsistency of pairing a positive and negative word together. I love your closing point when you say how is it possible for someone to be completely happy with every aspect of their life and the best thing is to accept the things you cannot change and enjoy life.

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