Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The beauty myth - skin addition

A sunset is almost universally recognised as being a beautiful thing. Throughout history I don’t think that idea has changed. What constitutes beauty in humans though is subject to rapid change throughout time.

Oscar Wilde once said “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months” which humorously hits the mark, but I think it goes further than that. If fashion didn’t change then we wouldn’t have to chuck our old, perfectly good clothing out in order to replace them with this season’s colour and ‘new’ trendy style. Once something becomes ‘old’ and ‘out of fashion’ the fashion industry is then ready to sell us something else in a slightly different tone or design.

In a similar way, the concept of beauty is also subject to man-made rather than ‘natural’ change. Once two hundred pounds worth of hair extensions become fashionable, normalised and accessible, they’re beautiful and make a woman ‘hot‘ and successful. They also make the beauty industry an enormous amount of money. The beauty industry is huge, worth billions of pounds each year and it’s targeted almost solely at women. This isn’t a conspiracy theory although it may sound like one, it’s just business.

Views of what is beautiful has varied significantly and over a relatively short space of time - ie much faster than evolution. The changes tend to reflect what is the most difficult to achieve at each time in history. The beauty industry takes each tiny aspect of our bodies and scrutinises it. One favourite is skin.

Not all that many years ago, pale skin was widely seen to be attractive because it was difficult to partake in necessary manual work without being exposed to the outdoors. Therefore it was a sign that a person was of a higher class. Tanned skin is now a sign that we can afford to take a foreign holiday or pay for a fake tan. It also makes money, therefore it’s in fashion.

In India, the idea of light skin being beautiful is still prevalent and the huge industry of legal and illegal skin lightening creams shows us that even to darker skinned people.
Caucasian skin and features are seen as the ideal; ‘black’ models and celebrities such as Beyonce appear to be more white than black. Beyonce's skin has gotten much lighter over time, her hair straightened and bleached to look Caucasian. If she is the 'black' role model, I'm worried. I want to be seeing afros everywhere. Porcelain pale skin. Freckles. Something much less monotone than I'm seeing right now. Why is that those who live in a hot climate and have naturally darker skin seek lighter and the lighter skinned seek darker tans? we’re all being pushed towards one unnatural ideal which is hard to achieve. That’s why it’s ‘beautiful’.

Once we've perfected our skin to it's unnatural socially-acceptable colour, we have to worry about wrinkles. All skin is growing older every second which makes it the perfect thing for all of us to worry about. Cosmetic surgery and a myriad of creams are all kindly available and shoved in our faces all the time.

So you see those women in the magazines, airbrushed so they don't even have pores any more and we know how ridiculous that is. Now Clinique can help with it's new pore reducer so we too can look perfect, a picture of a woman rather than an actual living one.

These days the ideal is again very difficult to achieve and the problem is that it’s quite impossible to achieve. The ideal today seems to be an unattainable and unnatural body shape. The perfect image is getting more and more further away from even being possible. What kinds of images represent the beauty ideal today? Perfection. Young, perfect skin with no blemishes or wrinkles or pores. A slim body with unnaturally large breasts, Caucasian features but tanned skin and long, often blonde thick shiny hair, hairless, poreless, blemish free. These are some of the characteristics we are frequently presented with as being the ideal. We are told that this is beautiful and anything that doesn’t comply must be fixed. The beauty ideal has one purpose only. In this case it’s skin creams, hair removal, make-up, botox, silicone implants, fake tan, fake nails, fake hair, hair dye… We’re becoming fake because we’re being told our natural bodies are disgusting. For money.

So the next time you think you're ugly, remember why you think you're ugly.