Wednesday, 16 February 2011

What Is Beauty?

The concept of beauty is a confusing one.  On one hand we're bombarded with images of "beautiful people" and told to buy expensive products to enhance our own physical appearance.  Some people confess to spending a whopping one third of their disposable income on beauty products!  Then we're told that beauty comes from within.  In which case no amount of pentapeptides or Botox are going to help.

Scientists have tried to unlock the secret to beauty.  Could it be facial symmetry or a mathematical equation relating to facial proportions? Either way, that does not give a reason as to why I should find RPatz an absolute turn-off whilst millions of women are left drooling.

We call newborn babies beautiful, but a toothless, incontinent, wrinkly, hairless grown-up would never elicit such a compliment!

My husband thinks I am beautiful....I think he is either delusional or optically challenged. I think my children are beautiful.  My eldest daughter is an absolute mini-me.  I look at her and know that she is gorgeous with her long, dark hair and her green eyes...however I can't perceive myself as such.  (I see myself as having an unmanageable mess of hair and eyes the colour of ditch water!) Another cause of is so subjective and so locked into emotions.  How can the media give us their interpretation of beauty when in reality it just doesn't work like that.  Beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder!

The cultural interpretations of what is beautiful varies around the world.  Take for example the Chinese practice of foot binding.  Commonplace until 1912, but still happening until the 1930's, young girls would have their feet broken, folded and bound in order to give them tiny feet, said to resemble a lotus flower.  This barbaric practice left some women unable to walk, run or dance, but tiny footed brides were much sought after by rich men.  Feet that squeezed into shoes as small as 3" long were considered the most beautiful of all.  The story of Cinderella is said to originate from a Chinese folk tale...not quite so Disney-esque if that is the inspiration for the glass slipper!

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As horrific as this practice seems, we are not completely guilt-free in condoning practices that can physically damage ourselves in the name of beauty. These days us women hobble ourselves in a subtlety different way.  In 2009 Alexander McQueen sent models down the runway in 10 " heels. I struggle to walk even with a kitten heel these days, goodness knows how many packs of Scholl Party Feet the poor women wearing these beauties went through!  Ouch!

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Although this is an extreme, we do all still covet the latest Manolo Blahnik heels as worn by SJP in Sex and the City.  Synonymous with high glamour and sex appeal, they lengthen and slim the leg creating an illusion of being tall and svelte.  Making us more beautiful...even though we know it'll lead to corns, bunions and callouses!  Which let's face it are not very attractive at all.

Some cultures celebrate obesity. Fatness represents wealth, fertility and fecundity.  Fatter women are said to occupy a larger area in their husbands' hearts.  Some West African tribes actually force feed their daughters to make them more beautiful to future husbands and so they will attract larger dowries.  Meanwhile in the west, obesity is only loved by the manufacturers of diet potions, foods and pills (and those men who subscribe to websites dedicated to the larger lady!).  In an industry that rakes in over $500 billion of the market, making fat people yearn to be thin is a way to make money in shed loads.  In a society where one of three of us is overweight, obesity is not a celebrated expression of beauty.  (More's the pity or I'd be a most coveted prize!!!)  Obviously healthiness should be synonymous with beauty...why then do we aspire to the waif-like ideals perpetuated by fashion designers?  How many times do we see our favourite more curvy entrants in Britain's Next Top Model get told to lose some weight!

The question of beauty is a minefield.  Our children are growing up in a complicated society that contradicts itself as to what constitutes beauty.  As parents we must take a long hard look at the example we are setting our children.  All too often I'm on a diet and complaining about being fat.  Or I'm deleting photos with me in because I look like "a beast".  Thankfully, despite my own insecurities, my girls have grown up with a good body image and a positive attitude towards how they look.

I asked 8 year old Kizzy what beauty means to her:

"Sometimes people put make-up on to make them look more beautiful but I think beauty is something that comes naturally. It is more important to be a beautiful person on the inside anyway.  A bad personality is ugly whatever you look like on the outside.  Being kind to other people and not discriminating against people for what they look like is far more important."  Wise words indeed.


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