In an earlier post, I discussed the origins of cosmetics and facets of their social impact throughout history. One facet I did not touch on in that post: psychological effects of a culture obsessed with achieving physical perfection.
The use of cosmetics for the purpose of enhancing one’s natural beauty on a day-to-day basis is quite normal and benign. But when the desire to look presentable and attractive becomes an obsession with unattainable, unnatural “beauty,” serious emotional issues can ensue. Fitness and beauty magazines often convey the idea that beauty and perfection are one and the same, and that without it we cannot be happy. Photos of willowy models with hair styled and makeup applied by a team of professionals, well-exercised bodies that are the result of a strict diet and fitness regimen at the hands of a personal trainer, and skin perfected by Endermologie and airbrushing are presented as the desirable ideal. This video made by Dove provides a disturbing insight into how artificial these photos can be.
Despite the fact that the expectation to look like a model in a magazine is unrealistic, many women, young and old, struggle to fit this distorted perception of beauty. Thousands of dollars are spent on “miracle” cosmetics and beauty treatments. Some resort to cosmetic surgery, taking unnecessary risks in the name of beauty. (I’m not referring to necessary surgery to correct serious flaws such as a cleft lip.) Some become so obsessed with beauty and the concept of eternal youth that rather than growing old gracefully, they morph into a caricature of their former selves. Others obsess over their bodies, some going to the extremes of anorexia and bulimia, some spending a fortune on gym memberships, patented diet programs, and body treatments – such as the aforementioned Endermologie, a cellulite reducing treatment which can initially cost $2250 for a complete regimen and $100 per month for maintenance. Those that have the means to undergo these many procedures and change their appearance drastically may one day look in the mirror and wonder, “Who is that?” Others, upon failing to achieve perfection, become depressed and undervalue themselves – all because of an ideal that is impossible to achieve.
I find it quite absurd that just fifty years ago, beauty ideals were dramatically different. Of course, cosmetics were used. Of course, fitness was a vital factor. But there was no airbrushing, no computer editing of photos. Lighting and makeup were the major options available to change the model’s appearance in a photograph. In my opinion, standards of beauty were much more realistic in terms of body image. Just look at Marilyn Monroe, a major sex symbol in her era and beyond, perhaps the most iconic American film star of all time.
Look at Marilyn’s belly. There is a small bump. No, she’s not pregnant in the photo, she’s just a normal woman. Look at her hips and thighs. They are full and voluptuous, a trait that contributed to her seductive gait. Marilyn was as famous for her curvy figure as she was for her “dumb blonde” persona. Were she a famous star today, she would likely be described as “fat!”
Elizabeth Taylor was another voluptuously endowed star. The violet-eyed beauty was an excellent actress with a fantastic figure. Naturally, in her early films she was a slender teenager, but as she matured, so did her figure, with curves in all the right places.
Interestingly, studies have shown that throughout history, most men have preferred, not the lean boyish figure seen in modern magazines, but the curvaceous full-hipped Venus, a shape that signals fertility to the male subconscious. The waist-hip ratio of .6 – .7 was found to be the most attractive. This means that the waist measurement equals 60-70% of the hip measurement.
I am not implying that weight management is unimportant. For health reasons, fitness should be an essential part of life. And for those who may find the above “golden ratio” difficult to attain, do not think that this makes you unattractive. The truth is that no matter what steps you take to achieve your ideal of beauty, there will always be someone who does not agree with your ideal. It is simply impossible to please everyone. So, be healthy, be happy, be kind. That’s the secret to true beauty. Then, when you look in the mirror, you will see someone you know – and love.