Beauty. Society contrives it. Cover Girl revives it. Our eternal quest drives it. It’s possibly the most sought after, most elusive Godiva truffle in life’s box of Hershey’s chocolates. Unfortunately, every box of chocolates has at least one poser…appearing deliciously scrumptious on the outside, but revealing its bitter treacherous flavor upon cracking its beautiful shell. Women, and increasingly men, will do anything to attain “beautiful” status. Diets, creams, Spanx, injections, surgeries, implants, human microwaves, electrical facials…body parts return and exchange at the customer service desk of our local Body Shop. “You hate it. We fix it ~ More bod for your buck.” And that’s just America. Other cultures are equally extreme when it comes to achieving beauty. That’s right…the quest for beauty doesn’t discriminate based on gender, skin color, religious beliefs…or planetary location. It’s a global phenomenon, and we’re but its mere minions. So, what IS beauty? Who defines it? Cosmo? Vogue? Playboy? Modeling gurus? Photoshop? Culture? And why are we so eager to conform? Why do we refuse to think outside the “beauty box?” The recipe for beauty is spelled out for us through pop culture. But maybe we should alter the ingredients, shake things up a bit…add more spice, more variety…see how the flavor changes. 🙂
Psychologists say we’re born with an innate knowledge of what’s beautiful…and what’s not. When shown different facial images, babies show a preference for attractive human faces over unattractive faces. They linger and look longer at faces adults would consider beautiful. Why? Because babies, like adults, prefer symmetry. Whether it’s patterns or faces…they choose to gaze upon symmetry. And symmetrical faces are synonymous with beauty. So, some experts hastily conclude that we’re born armed with a universal definition of beauty.
I’m skeptical. Do we like beauty because of symmetry, or symmetry because of beauty? Which is the predictor of the other? Whatever the “chicken and the egg” answer, one’s idea of beauty is much broader than symmetry alone. According to the Journal of Psychological Science, our idea of attraction seems to follow a prototype…a look we’ve come to anticipate after seeing it repeatedly…something familiar to our brains. They reported that what we find attractive is whatever requires the least amount of effort for our brain. If we grow up around a particular impression of beauty, we’ll likely maintain that impression throughout our lives. This theory would certainly explain the cultural aspect of defined beauty. Our lazy brains are forcing us to take the easy way out and conform to “beauty in a box.” Guess it’s too much effort to run the brain around the block every now and again. 😉
Beauty, when allowed to be, is an abstract individual concept. But because we need a concrete tangible outcome to strive for, we’ve boxed it in…narrowly defined it and labeled any and all differing physical attributes as “unattractive.” Pity. It limits not only our own beauty, but our dating pool as well. And we’re not alone. In any corner of the world, we find a localized limited definition of beautiful…one boxed in by the boundaries of that particular culture.
~ In Japan, beauty is…smooth, extremely light skin tones ~ porcelain-like. Japanese women feast on collagen-infused foods to lighten their skin, scour the market for the best face whitening creams money can buy, and apply nightingale bird feces as facial masks. Wait…porcelain-pooping birds?
~ In Thailand…very elongated necks. At 5 years of age, young girls begin wearing brass rings around their necks and add more rings as they age. As their necks elongate, they’re considered more and more beautiful. Sounds awkward…but hey, with an elongated neck, they now can “look down” on their suppressors.
~ In New Zealand…lip and chin tatoos. The most desirable women have full, inky blue lips.
~ In Ethiopia…scar patterns on the stomach. The elders make cuts into young girls’ tummies to form patterns and prepare them for their impending man hunt.
~ In China…tiny feet. For centuries, women have bound up their feet to attain this “ideal” …but only managed to deform them in the process. Foot binding is no longer in practice…turns out walking did trump beauty after all.
~ In Iran…a perfect nose. Women aren’t allowed to appear sexually suggestive and must cover every part of their bodies except the face. Because the nose is the only thing to flaunt, they flock to plastic surgeons to get pricey nose jobs. And because the surgery is considered a privilege, they wear the bandages longer than necessary as status symbols. Iran is the “nose job capital of the world.” Seems you can’t suppress sexual competition after all. When all else fails, the “nose knows” how to get a man.
~ In West Africa...full heavy figures. Thin is considered sickly and undesirable. Plumpness, stretchmarks, thick ankles, big butts, and juicy arms are what land a man. Young girls are force fed to fatten them up and make them more attractive to men. Baby got back! 😉
It’s obvious we don’t share a universal idea of beauty…preference for symmetry maybe, but that’s where it seems to end. Blonde, tan, and unrealistically thin may represent American beauty, but it would be repulsive in some cultures. Beauty means something different according to who you ask and where you ask it. For the most part, it seems beauty is largely defined by our Cultural Beast and propagated by mass media. And, mass media is our reference point for beauty, unfortunately. Self-mutilation, self-degradation, self-starvation…it seems there’s nothing we won’t do to attain that “beauty.”
In our perpetual attempt to open life’s treasure chest of love and approval, we find beauty is the key. So, we conform…or contort…ourselves to get our hands on the “key.” We want to feel beautiful, and we take extreme measures to fit into our cultural “beauty box.” But once we box ourselves in, there’s no room to grow. We become stifled and confined. True beauty comes from within. It’s dark in a box, and if we’re miserably squished into a dark space, our beauty can’t shine through. However, outside the box, away from the confines of the Beast, our beauty can grow…evolve…change…thrive.
So, don’t box beauty in and tell her what she SHOULD be. Open your mind and let her show you what she CAN be. Define your own beauty.
Challenge the beast.
“Beauty is not caused. It is.” ~ Emily Dickinson