Sunday, September 11, 2005

Beauty - The Chase for the Unattainable

It seems lately I’ve written much on beauty (elsewhere), but only today, that I realise this. Beauty is, in essence, a chase for what you don’t have. Now, that may seem like a simplistic, “duh!” definition, but hear me out, as I attack this age-old debate from a different angle (though I am not sure it is entirely original).

Aesthetic perfection has always been one of the major goals of humankind, no matter how advanced we might get, as a race. It is the essential to attracting mates – a very anthropological response, as appearances serve as a marker of how healthy one is. Male peacocks with large, colourful plumage naturally get more peahens. Why? Because, the larger and more colourful peacocks have higher levels of testosterone. But the higher the level of testosterone, the weaker the immune system. Hence a male with high levels of testosterone is prized, as he is strong enough to survive the side-effects. This is easily analogous to humans. Compare a tall, well-muscled, tanned man to a scrawny, short one, and the choice is clear for the woman, as the former is more likely to give her healthy children.

Now, the chase for beauty has evolved into something much more than its anthropological origins. Daily, women slap on layers of make-up, tweeze their eyebrows and wax their legs, crimp/straighten/curl their hair, all in an effort to look good. And not just so that one can look attractive to one’s potential mates. (if that was the case, what are married women doing?)

Let’s take a look at Jane Doe. Jane has blonde hair, pale skin and a rather flat chest. What does she do? She dyes her hair brown (having heard one too many dumb blonde jokes), suntans religiously and when she has saved up enough money from working night-shifts, goes for breast augmentation. Oh, let’s not forget, she has taken to wearing violet contact lenses, and has permed her arrow-straight hair. Now let’s look at Jill Foe. She has black hair, ebony brown skin and 3D cups. She dyes her hair blonde, slaps on skin-whitening products and goes for breast reduction so she doesn’t look so fat. Not to mention she straightened her curly hair, and wears hazel-coloured contact lenses.

These two women have done everything possible to look different from how they are. My examples may be extreme, but doesn’t it reflect, in some amount, the chase for beauty around the world? Caucasian women tan themselves to the point of skin cancer, while “Fair & Lovely” products fly off the shelves in India. Singaporean Chinese (and maybe mainland Chinese as well) women turn their savings into D cups.

One can blame satellite media for this, as they beam visions of “perfect beauty” all over the world, saturating us with images of how we are “supposed” to look. It is not even a point of being ugly – it is the point of having to look like someone else. Because, according to the titan called cosmetics industry, being you is never enough.