Beauty…what is it? Universally pleasing to the senses, a matter of popular trend, a marketing rouse and therefore simply a mind trick, or is it perhaps borne in the eye of a beholder? What then is beautiful woman? Is she a manifestation of a beauty standard, or perhaps an object of amorous sentiments?
A friend of mine has always said this to me: “you are attractive, you’re no VSA, but you are!” and as our comfort with each other developed, it got to the point where he would openly declare how insanely hot I was. Honestly though, I am plain. To me, the people who love me are beautiful. I am delighted by their presence, feel more secure in my own skin around them and perceive them as favourable. In turn, I love them too.
But that’s the deeper than skin stuff…Skin deep beauty is a different story, and is usually strongly related to beauty standards. As I understand it, it is a very specific strain of aesthetic standards, that addresses human physical dimensions. Aesthetic standard on its own, covers everything from the more lucrative popular arts such as fashion, to the lesser understood avant-garde works. In principle, it has remained the same temporally. It is the manipulation of one’s natural form to fit a specific standard of measure. Traditionally, the body needed to be trained since young to adhere to these definitions. Feet binding, and corsets for example, are started early, particularly on young girls who are either of high society, or are to marry therein. The modern day pressures, differ only in explicit form. People go through everything between plastic surgery, stapling, and strange cleansing and dietary routines to achieve a particular physique. This is not to be confused with healthy living, which truly is aimed at alleviating medical issues. The positive pressure one takes on to achieve one’s full potential including the physical, pays off when the aim is achieved, even if it is a weight goal. On the other hand, needing larger or smaller parts, or differing ethnic defined features to feel better about one-self is detrimental. In my eyes, it is self-loathing.
Indian Obsession with White Skin
Skin Whitening Market in India
But, something that might come off as a contradiction, is that I do believe that a sculpted human form is an exceptionally beautiful thing. While not all men are Adonis-es, nor all women Aphrodite-s, there are some remarkably gorgeous few. Let’s start with the Victoria Secret Angels (VSAs). They are beautiful women, a part of the art even. But that sort of body, is not easy to maintain. It is a subject of pure vanity when as much time and effort goes into your appearance, but what most fail to understand is that modelling is an aspect of marketing, and it is a paying job. These women wanted that job, and naturally don’t mind working towards their own career goals, which happen to be primarily physical in nature.
VSA Workout Regiment
It fascinates me, how art translates to the commercial designs of the individual brands and designers. Considering just the art, it starts with a vision, a muse if you will. We see this in every new collection whether avant-garde, luxury or commercial; a running theme portrayed maybe as a signature print, or perhaps some detail used in several ways across different garments. As for the models, they need to fit the standards defined by the artists’ intended image, which may relate to design, geography, demography or simply their personal perceptions of beauty. For instance, it might not suit a bolder or fiercer looking model, to don a full floral ball-gown, especially for a centre spread in Vogue featuring works inspired by early spring blooms in some picturesque ethereal highlands. On the other hand, it might have to do with the specific brands’ images, e.g. bolder looks for DnG and Gucci, or more demure ones for Versace and Vera Wang. Yes, the advert itself may raise issues as to whether or not the trend suits all physiques, and that when paired with geographic standards may be more than confusing. Therein, as per the advice of many a jet-setter and beauty icon, I advocate style over fashion, one that’s grown like a collection over a lifetime and unique to claim.
Facial Beauty Standards by Geography
Bodily Beauty Standards by Geography
Temporal Beauty Standards as Depicted in Art
One thing I find notably interesting, is the ‘beauty mark’. More inclusively, almost facial deformities that make a model more iconic, e.g. Klum’s wide forehead, Stone’s tooth parting, Campbell’s large lips etc.. But now, the trend ironically becomes unique. And yes, it can be internalised and expressed healthily with a focus on what distinguishes oneself from others, e.g. charming personality traits, or work abilities. Externally, it can be addressed with grooming, particularly with make-up. The latter is shallow, but the technique is marketable. It can be as easy as a new shade of eye-liner, or as dexterous as a new make-up look. Back to beauty-marks though, they separate the individual from the garment, whatever iconic brand they’re attached to and even their own personal style. This, ties in with my earlier statement, where the models themselves are part of the art.
Distinguishable Iconic Looks
I am sure that there’s more to it, and naturally there are subtleties of how people are made to feel by these standards and there have been occasions where the physical segregation was not workable, e.g. Campbell, initially not being hired because she was black. Personally though, as much as I’d love to look like Adriana Lima, I have no aesthetic aspirations to speak of. I am not inspired as much as I am awe-striken by beautiful women. As such, I am not pressured to look any kind of way…it really wouldn’t help my own ambitions. In general though, I can’t deny the value of an ‘image’ in most societies, and I certainly can’t say that the pressure to look a certain way isn’t real. It does boost one’s confidence to feel attractive in some way, and it is an adherence to social norm. I will say though, that it is ultimately self-imposed and that we simply have to shun what’s essentially an unnecessarily shallow imposition on us, who have been wrongly over-archingly classified as the ‘fairer-sex’. We should not have to look pleasing to others simply for the sake of it.
What do you call it, when one has the ability to delight you, upon sensory perception? I don’t mean titillation either, I mean entertainment, amusement, even inducing moroseness…the ability to draw a person away into their own imagination based on their interpretation or interaction with designed stimulus. That, is powerful art, and it is beautiful, whether or not immediately apparent as such. It may deviate from recognised standards, but time and time again, ground-breakers appear in popular view and notably in female form proving that talent speaks volumes. Refocussing to the present topic, such unconventional beauties affect culture by providing role models, that in the most rudimentary form, offer stylistic inspiration to young people. Turner, Streisand, LaBelle, Drescher, Vardalos, Knight, Elliot, Blige, Fey, Kaling…they redefine beauty to a conviction of ones’ own make, both in terms of innate talent and deliberate action. Their physical image merely identifies them for us. They do attain and hold our attention gracefully, and for that reason alone, they are irrevocably beautiful. One thing we all have to admit to as women; whether or not we ever ‘butch-up’, during those pre-puberty formative years when we start learning about differing gender roles, anything that deviates from stereotype and archaic expectations of women is welcomed. In my personal life, I have seen this carry on into adulthood.
With me, growing up comes with an ability and responsibility to care for oneself, to move past damsel-hood and become a real person. To truly understand, that as many privileges as royals still have in the world by virtue of birth-right, being a ‘princess’ (more accurately, in governance or managerial capacity) comes with a platform and purpose to society. Even as civilians, we should play some useful role to the communities that provided us shelter. True inclusion is and might always remain reclusive to the world, and aspirational. What more, some of us may not have truly had shelters within even houses we were born in, and not all of us have the strength to move past that. That aside though, I believe in seeking a voice through the successes amongst us. We live, and now we must succeed, as is inane to our individual complex designs. What we have in these beautiful women, is a way of projecting ourselves visually first, and later on with any bit of fortune, wholly as our own best selves. Over-reaching? Sure, but I reserve my right to dream.
So, what is a beautiful woman? Is there some undeniable heavenly artistry to her physical make? Does she fit a defined standard at any given time? Does she remain perceived as such even when trends shift, or does she truly redefine these standards as she moulds into her own success story? Or, is beauty in fact something separable from appearance, truly more intellectual in nature? Do we require some personal investment, if only by way of artistic interest or ambition, to ever perceive someone favourably? We define these things for ourselves, and sometimes we harbour sentiments in hiding, in guilt almost, especially when our artistic catharses are culturally unfavourable. Personally, it is almost as if these beautiful women -conventional or otherwise- epitomise courage, and they sometimes dare me to be myself, to be seen for what I am, as deviant from them as I truly am.
My own personal pop-icon growing up was J Lo, who still carries her signature sexy, effeminate, glamorous brand of gangsta. From denims, to figure flattering tracks, even to bold chains paired almost completely contrastingly with shiny lip gloss – I kid you not, I donned them all. It did mature a little into sleeker hair and bolder eyes.