the cost of beauty-brain-washing

Have you seen the Dustin Hoffman video circling on Facebook these days? If not, his tearful interview about the making of the movie Tootsie has gone viral. You won’t want to miss it! Whether you’ve seen this classic 1980s movie or not, his words are a gift to every woman and an invitation to every man. In the interview, Hoffman talks about our culture’s focus on beauty, how much it costs us, and inspires us all to consider how we’re missing out. He offers a timeless message that lives far beyond the bad fashion and the big hair of the decade.

In this brief interview, Hoffman discusses the inspiration for Tootsie in response to the question: “How would you be different if you had been born a woman?” The question was not addressing how it might feel to be a woman; rather it was exploring how one’s life might be different by being a woman. This is a good and important question for every man to consider. (Ladies, to be fair, we should do the same for men.) Thanks to the miracle of makeup and one man’s quest to wear the shoes of a woman, Tootsie was on her way.

Amidst hair and makeup preparation for the film, Hoffman was shocked by the lack of beauty he was able to achieve even with the magic of Hollywood’s finest artists. It was incredibly important to him that his female role be believable; and while that could be achieved, her beauty could not. In the wake of this realization, Hoffman describes a tearful conversation he had with his wife where he was painfully aware of the unjust beauty standards our culture places on the shoulders of women and how impossible it is for so many to meet these physical demands.

Watch Hoffman’s interview and be moved by his tearful words:


“There are too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brain-washed.” Powerful words. Haunting words. Words which have had me thinking.

I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with an older woman several years ago. Thirty years my senior, we were both reflecting together on the experience of aging as women. While we laughed about a few things we missed from our youth, we spent more time talking about the things we loved. Girls, we really do get better with age… and the best part? We know it. We feel it all over.

This fabulous woman shared with me that one of her favorite things about getting older is that men have stopped noticing her when she walks into a room and that attraction or beauty is not what brings men or women to her side at parties anymore. Instead, people come to her side because they seek to be with the person of her (not the object of her) as a woman. She shared with me how freeing it felt to be of an age that had “graduated” from the cultural standards of youth and beauty.

I remember smiling as she spoke these words, imagining the days when her truth might become my own. I haven’t yet “graduated” and my age still conforms to the panic of being pretty. Hey, let’s be honest, I’ve been brain-washed too! Thankfully, I’m also smart enough to know that beauty is fleeting and my self-worth better be stored elsewhere.

Hoffman’s words speak to a sad, but unfortunate truth: Beauty (however fleeting) matters in our culture. It matters to women because we know it’s desired. It matters to men because they desire it. It matters to all of us because we’ve been brain-washed and conditioned as a culture to place an extraordinary amount of importance on matters of the flesh and objects of beauty.

So, this inconvenient truth has me standing beside Dustin Hoffman with the same heartache for all women (and men) who have been passed by because they fell short of our culture’s impossible standards of beauty. And, I join him in grieving all the interesting and worthy people I’ve not known because they didn’t attract my attention. If you’re reading these words, I imagine you’re nodding and joining me in these convicting spaces too.

Who have you missed knowing because your eyes were focused on finding the beautiful people in the room? Who did you pass by? I’d like to challenge all of us to look beyond the exterior in search of the soul. Next time you walk into a party, look for souls. Be in search of kind eyes and interesting people. You might just be surprised by how beautiful they become.

While I pose these questions to inspire us all to think outside ourselves, I also wonder if our culture’s “beauty-brain-washing” has also meant we’ve often dismissed our own self as well? If you’re like most women, the research suggests we dismiss or minimize our own beauty and thus our own value in the world. Have you seen Dove’s Real Beauty Sketch video? It’s a powerful illustration (pun intended) of what the research tells us about how we women are overly critical about ourselves. (Ladies, we already know this though, don’t we?)

Are you dismissive of yourself because you fall short of beautiful expectations? Is your sense of value and worth tied to your flesh? How might you overlook your own greatness in the presence of criticism about your body? I encourage you today to challenge the thoughts you have about yourself. If they aren’t honoring and you wouldn’t say them to another woman, they don’t belong. “Beauty-brain-washing” ends now. It ends with me. It ends with you. Pinky-swear?

As we all seek to live beyond society’s unkind obsession with appearance, I offer the above reflections, the questions I’ve sprinkled in tender places, and a closing video to inspire us all to adore our “inner Tootsie.” And Mr. Hoffman, on behalf of all women, thank you for giving the world truly beautiful words.



is the owner and founder of Speaking Pink, a private therapy and consulting practice devoted to teen girls and twenties women in Seattle / Kirkland, Washington. Shannon is a licensed family therapist, a private consultant, and a writer about all things on the journey from girl to woman. Follow on Pinterest and Twitter or send an email to