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You May Define It But You Can't Control It

aybala50's picture

The technology is there, the good clinics are safe, and I applaud women who think it’s worth spending money on cosmetic surgery. It’s money spent on themselves and their happiness. –A woman who had surgery on the face

            Reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well as our discussion of noise as information got me thinking about beauty and more generally what people are attracted to. Psychologists have argued that children are more attracted to more symmetrical faces. So, symmetry might have something to do with what ‘beauty’ is. People learn symmetrical patterns quicker, hence the reason for our ability to identify music that is more symmetrical, rather than just ‘noise’ better. However, even if this idea of symmetry is still present in the definition of ‘beauty’, the general idea of ‘beauty’ has changed and is in the process of changing. What is beautiful is turning into a style as simple as a haircut. One day the mullet’s in, the next day it’s not and it’s a simple process of getting a haircut that will, again, make you acceptable. The process of looking ‘beautiful’ according to the norm is also becoming simpler.


       Would Frankenstein’s creation benefited from cosmetic surgery? Does anyone benefit from cosmetic surgery? I would venture that yes if someone is unhappy with an aspect of their body and the problem is easy enough to fix, then yes, larger breasts, a different nose, or a flatter stomach might make them happier. I will not argue against what will make each person happy. What I am interested in, however, is what made them unhappy in the first place?

            Society comes up with all of these definitions that end up defining our lives whether we want them to or not. For some reason society has decided, for example, that man like large breasts, or for some reason they are attractive. First of all, I don’t see what the huge deal, or appeal to this is, and secondly, this is not the case for all men, or women for that matter! Yet, when looking at porn, the general trend seems to be large breasted women. Ok, so, your future husband happens to watch more porn than do anything else, and ends up thinking that he would like you to have larger breasts. This will make him happy and you enjoy making him happy and not only that when he’s happy you’re happy. So, you go out and get some implants. Cool. Now you are both happier. However, this may have never happened if “men didn’t like women with huge tits”.

            Ok, so lets go back to Frankenstein’s creature. He wasn’t considered beautiful and even more was seen as a ‘monster’ by those he encountered, even his creator, which to me almost seems as painful as a mother thinking what she created was hideous. The creation is walking around looking for someone, anyone, to accept him. He isn’t able to approach anyone but his creator to ask for a favor. He asks his creator for a mate, for someone who will accept him for who he is, rather than what he looks like. Yet, Victor refuses to create yet another “monster”. The unnatural monster of a being he has created repulses him. Where does this leave his original creation? Society has made him not only an outcast, but the treatment he endures has turned him into a murderer. The point here is that this creation is not able to just go in anywhere and alter his looks. This is where the problem arises. So what if it is easy for us to change our looks at this point? NOT EVERYONE CAN DO THIS FOR MANY DIFFERENT REASONS! It can range from health problems, to inability to afford these services. I realize that the easy solution to this social problem of “beauty” may be just to change, yet if this is not a possibility, then what? Will that mean that I am ugly if I cannot fit in with society?


      I don’t believe that we can get rid of what society will always perceive of as one definition of beauty or another. There will always be an ideal beauty; we are human we work that way. However, I am just not sure that we should create a society so much so that not only is there a definition of what is beautiful and what is not, but also a society that expects for those who are not deemed beautiful to do something about this. There shouldn’t be an expectation for change. 



Anne Dalke's picture

Expecting Change

about five years ago, I co-taught a course called Beauty: A Conversation between Chemistry and Culture, where we looked (among other things) at current cognitive work about how we apprehend the beautiful. If you are interested in learning more about the topic you lay out here, you might want to go exploring in our syllabus, which included an extended consideration of the "beauty industry," along with texts in realms as far afield as physics and philosophy, like A. Zee's Fearful Symmetry: The Search for Beauty in Physics and Elaine Scarry's On Beauty and Being Just.

The paper as you've written it so far doesn't dig too deeply, yet, into the questions it raises, and needs such further reading and research. I'm not clear what you're up to here, except for a lament about "the ugly laws" that value good lucks and criminalize "bad" ones. "There shouldn't be an expectation for change," you say, but it seems that perhaps what you mean is that change should be cultural, not individual? That cultures should change their disabling expectations, but those disabled by ugliness should not be expected to alter themselves--is that your claim?