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The “Ideal” Woman

Who influences your beauty, fashion and hairstyle choices?

Playwright Oscar Wilde once observed: “My great mistake, the fault for which I can't forgive myself, is that one day I ceased my obstinate pursuit of my own individuality.”

Wilde, who lived during the 19th century, would surely struggle even harder in the new millennium—unless, perhaps, he had the opportunity to have tea with Madonna.

Each day, we are continuously assaulted by television commercials, print advertisements, news reports and magazine articles that counsel us to conform to a particular look, implying that we are not “complete” unless we dress like size-0 runway models, cut our hair like Hollywood’s ingénue du jour and follow the latest celebrity diet. TV shows like Extreme Makeover and The Swan turn average secretaries into stiletto-wielding Barbie clones, with tens of thousands of dollars worth of invasive surgical procedures the rest of us typically cannot afford.

“Women are bombarded with images of the ‘ideal woman,’ most of who are definitely not showing signs of aging,” says Dr. Arielle N.B. Kauvar, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine. “This has set a standard of beauty which many women want to achieve.”

There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to look your best. But who gets to decide exactly what that means?

According to clinical psychologist Patricia Moscou, each of us needs to practice “impression management”—a positive, conscious approach to beauty, hair and fashion, where we set our own rules.

“Far from implying an unhealthy obsession with appearance, impression management is the way you choose to present yourself,” explains former Vogue marketing director Diana Lewis Jewell in her book, Going Gray, Looking Great! “An affirmation of the ‘inner you,’ to be sure, but projected in a way that confirms the way you see yourself.”

Jewell encourages each of us to figure out who influences our beauty, fashion and hair choices:

  • Strangers on the street? People we don’t even know, but whose opinion we seem to worry about?
  • Close friends, with whom we often unconsciously compete for attention?
  • Bosses and coworkers, who probably don’t even care about our wardrobe or hairstyle choices (unless they’re inappropriate for the workplace)?
  • Family members, who have their own agendas?

Or it is you—the person whose opinion truly matters the most?

Dr. Kennon M. Sheldon, a psychologist at the University of Missouri–Columbia, has teamed up with researchers to identify what makes human beings happy. You may be surprised to learn that money doesn’t top the list. Neither does being popular, nor having perfect teeth. The No. 1 determinants of happiness, Dr. Sheldon and his colleagues discovered, are self-esteem and autonomy—feeling comfortable with, and endorsing, your personal choices. But we sometimes find it difficult to hold our ground in a society where everyone seems to have an opinion—and is more than willing to share it.

Self-acceptance doesn’t mean you surrender to nature, banishing your makeup and blow dryer from the bathroom. Rather, it’s about making the most of what you have and achieving personal satisfaction—with your drawer full of makeup and your blow dryer, if that’s what makes you happy.

When it comes to hair, top stylists recommend learning to accept and work with your natural texture. If you have curly hair, for example, don’t fight it. Buy products that cater to its special needs. Choose a style that flatters your face, and flaunt it! There are days when you’ll choose to straighten your hair and days you’ll want to set your glorious curls free. Most importantly, the choice is yours to make. allows you to win the battle for self-acceptance and make the most of your beauty assets—without surgery, without spending thousands of dollars. The hairstyles you apply to your virtual model can reflect subtle or drastic changes. You can’t go wrong with either option if your expectations are clear and you know exactly what you want.

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