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Are you beautiful? Whether you deny it or not, that is a question many of us ask ourselves all the time. But in answering that question, it is key to determine what your standard of beauty is. Is it a honey-colored tan, blue eyes and long blond hair? Is it a chalk white complexion, long dark hair and a slim frame? Is it a muscular physique with dark hair, dark eyes and a deep voice? Or is it the person you see in the mirror looking back at you every morning? Whatever your current concept of beauty, your environment, media and family have certainly influenced it. Every community faces a different stereotype of what beauty looks like. In the African-American community, women are pressured to be thin, have long hair and big breasts. Music videos are full of half-naked women who fit this description. And successful African-American women in the media typically fit this description -- if they don't, they are quickly encouraged to fall in line. Take Oprah Winfrey, for example. She has publicly battled with her body for years. I would speculate that part of her battle stemmed from confusion as to what her idea of beauty is, and what the media demand of her that beauty should be. Janet Jackson is another successful woman who has battled with her weight. Jackson typically will not release a record or even appear in public until she can proudly sport a six-pack. For some African-American women, the pressure is to be fair-skinned and big breasted, with long blond hair and blue, gray or green eyes. Black and white women, alike, perpetuate this image in the media. Many black women have gone to great lengths to conform their body to this image because, for a long time, the only really successful people in Hollywood or the media were white women who fit this description. It seemed the only way to be successful was to be white, or as close to white as possible. This idea, unfortunately, has its roots in slavery, where extremely fair-skinned African Americans -- who could pass for well-tanned white people -- found it easier to move to the North, where they could be free. White women are affected by a similar image. There are many young women, even on this campus, who strive to be the next Pamela Anderson or Calista Flockhart. These desires to be like the people we see in the media can cause eating disorders, mental instability and overall poor health. Other communities breed stereotypes as well. A Indian friend of mine explained to me the emphasis that is placed on Indian women to be of light skin tone. Their parents encourage them to stay out of the sun so as to be desirable to men. Men, on the other hand, are not under the same pressure to be fair-skinned. This creates a double standard between sexes (which is not an uncommon notion in this country, either). The way we view ourselves is not only tainted by the media. The men or women in our lives play a significant role in determining how beautiful we think we are. Outside people impose upon us what they find to be attractive, whether physically or personally, in hopes of encouraging change. Even our geographic region plays a role in our perceptions. On the West Coast, women are encouraged to be very slim. Almost every restaurant has a low fat section on its menu. In the South, however, a full-figured woman is much more welcomed by men than an extremely skinny one. Our own families, as my friend has experienced, can play a huge role in determining how we look at ourselves. Since they are the people who shape this concept from a young age, they typically have the greatest influence. A group of students on Penn's campus are working to educate people on issues like this. Guidance for Understanding Image, Dieting and Eating is a student- run education group. They are holding a conference today and tomorrow, entitled "Body Culture on Campus," as a means of educating students of many misconceptions of body image in our community. When I look in the mirror in the morning, I see a few things that could use improvement. But overall I am happy with the person I see looking back at me each day. I can only wish that one day people will no longer depend on outside influences to tell them what they should look like, but that each person will look in a mirror and see that beauty has been staring them in the face all their life.

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