I find this hopelessly naive.
What they perhaps do not realize is that our looking at ourselves is almost totally to be imagining how others perceive us. Whether others actually perceive us or not, our imagining that if they do, we will not be found wanting, is a source of comfort.
It is quite obvious, but I think it needs to be said that looking in the mirror is to look at ourselves as the "other", through others' eyes. We see ourselves as objects in the mirror, and if we feel happy about what we see, we feel confident about ourselves, we "feel beautiful", and are not depressed.
How we appear is a form of social stress. Unfortunately, the standards are being ratcheted higher and higher by the ceaseless invasion of media and manufactured images. So, even if you don't watch TV, all your friends and acquaintances do, and there is no way you can avoid the cultural landscape and the current standards of what it is to "look good".
Appearance matters, it has mattered since the dawn of civilization. But the crucial shift occurred when from being a determinant of health, it morphed into a determinant of eroticism and fashion. Men and women are spending obscene amounts of money to gym and spa their way into looking more like the images they see on television. More and more expensive and niche beauty products are available on the supermarket shelves, and to just use soap is so 19th century.
It is almost impossible for an urban, socialized human being to not get influenced by the relentless propaganda of what beauty is, and why it matters.
And because it is impossible, and the beamed messages are becoming universally accepted, to not look artificially beautiful is therefore considered ugly.
- Threading one's eyebrows is now near-universal in urban women. Gotta do it, even if it makes one looks fake and ill.
- Even a bit of body fat is considered ugly. For women, the ideal is now boniness, for men, it is having sculpted muscles. Keep working on it.
- White teeth. If everybody else is using whiteners, to have even mildly yellow teeth can be so "stressful".
- Colored hair. Permed hair. Streaked hair. The daughter cannot but think: "When mom does it, why shouldn't I?"
- Shaved bodies for men, waxed bodies for women. Hair is the enemy. Skin should be smooth, silky smooth!
Sexiness is a cultural thing. You may think you have "attitude" and "panache", but in reality, you are an unwitting victim of cultural forces. You have internalized the message of "good looks" so much that it actually feels liberating to finally obey.
We are so stressed to look attractive, to be accepted, to not be judged harshly, that we don't realize that when we are occasionally feeling good about our appearance, it is because finally, we have managed to satisfy the standards which have been drilled into us by advertisers and celebrities.
And sexiness and beauty is becoming an ageless concern. No longer is a woman or man content to move on to the stage where experience and wisdom and contentment are more important than appearance. They are trying to compete with the younger crowd, by coloring their hair, by wearing flashy clothing, and by going in for injections and liposuctions. You think they haven't had enough orgasms? The malaise is deeper than that.
Yes, in a way, it is all for oneself, it leads to good feelings. But what is the structure and causation of those good feelings?
Next time you look in the mirror, and feel good or bad, know that you are, inadvertently of course, doing cultural studies.