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Beauty,Spring 2005
Fourth Web Papers
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Reaching a Paradigm of Beauty: Cosmetics and Plastics within Western Culture

Jaya Vasudevan

Since the beginning of time, aspects of beauty have been bestowed to different animals during sexual maturity within the animal kingdom in order for ways to lure and woo potential mates. Humans too arguably looked their very best during their teenage years when they were the most fertile youthful but mature, when traditionally they courted each other, found a mate, and reproduced and became paradigms of reproductive success and fitness. However, as the years progress ideals of beauty and its relation to repoductivity has shifted significantly. Humankind has become even more and more obsessed with becoming beautiful, as advertisements on large billboards show airbrushed, digitally altered models with perfect complexions and skinny bodies that would be considered the ideal of beauty, one of which is unreachable and unrealistic for most people. Despite its unrealistic nature, however, most people try to achieve this in fears of being defined 'ugly'- a fear that has been pervasive for centuries. Even Plato said that "what is beautiful is good," and everything ugly and deformed was mad, bad and dangerous and were stigmas given to the body by a vengeful and wrathful God.

Consequently, we now live in a world where the idea of 'lookism' is one of "the most pervasive but denied of prejudices (Etcoff, 42)". People like to believe that looks don't matter, but most people, especially marketing executives and cosmetic corporations know better. Appearance is treated not just a source of pleasure or shame, satisfaction or dissatisfaction, but as a source of information as to how we should base our emotions and judgements towards people. Fair, blushing skin is the skin of youth, of the female, of the woman who has never borne a child. Aside from this, women of all ages have struggled and still struggle throughout their lives to maintain the look of the blushing, fertile female who has never born a child, with a complexion that glows with youth. They are trying to mimic the beauty of the adolescent and in doing so join the univervsal obsession with clear skin and the various ruses to mimic it. Cosmetics and increasingly facial plastic surgery, is all about the illusion of youth and fertility and the innate desire to attract a mate. Therefore, looking at the effects that cosmetics and plastic surgery have had on our society are worth looking at to show how appearance obsessed a society has become and how we as humans have evolved to cover up our problems with ourselves rather than embracing them.

What exactly are women doing to themselves when the apply cosmetics to their faces? Blushing and flushing suggest sexual excitement. When the coloring gets vivid, the skin is most, the lips swell, and the skin generally signals "the likely hood that one's courtship guestures will be reciprocated and consummated." Red lips and pink cheeks also advertise health. Many women today unthinkingly apply blush and lipstick every day, many add foundations and powders a shade lighter than their natural complexions. The light foundation and blush on the cheeks and red on the lips are sexual signals mimicking youth, the blush of youth, and the vigor of health. Women hide behind their facial makeup. Even though the church tried to ban the use of makeup, as it was a cover up to the true self and was therefore a thing of evil, and even though some men in past centuries were unsettled by it, women still used cosmetics as much as they do today. Women have been and are still willing to cover their natural skin tone and texture daily with a small range of shades produced by cosmetics manufacturers. When they put on makeup they are altering and working their faces to a 'shared ideal,' to replace their individual, characterizing features and their skin's unique properties with these idealized features that are different from their own. In the words of Nancy Etcoff, author of Survival of the prettiest, "[it is] the trade off between revealing the uniqueness of the individual's appearance and beauty, the willingness to give up some of the former to gain more of the latter." However, today we've gone into to even further extremes as we have left the world of temporary paints, powders, potions, gels, and creams that stall, sooth or mask the appearance of aging and oldness for knives, scalpels, laser beams, and injections- the permanent and much more altering realm of plastic surgery.

Nearly half of the world's cosmetic surgeons exist within the United States. Seventy percent of cosmetic surgery patients learn less than fifty thousand dollars a year. According to the American society of plastic and reconstructive surgeons, over 600,000 cosmetic surgery procedures were performed in 1996. Most of these were done on Caucasian women within their 30's, 40's, and 50's, 89% of all surgeries taking place on women, with eye lifts and face lifts being among the most popular procedures done. According to Nancy Etcoff in Survival of the Prettiest, we may lose a sense of what it lookslike to age. Sadly people do not even try to hide the secrecy that once belonged with plastic surgery; the wealthy flaunt it at parties and consider it a thing of social status. Even people, namely being Oprah Winfrey, who used to celebrate the beauty within women had a special show that let women know the different types of plastic surgery that were now available on the market. If one was to GoogleŽ search plastic surgery on the web, the number of procedures that are now available (especially just for the face) are quite unsettling and very numerous; one would also encounter many testimonials with people who boast about the seven or eight reconstructions they and their family members have had done to their faces. People don't even look at the ridiculousness of some of the treatments, such as botox- the injection of a potentially life threatening organism that is usually found infesting dented soup cans that causes paralysis and stiffness of the face, thus diminishing the appearance of wrinkles. In the most general terms, literally any part of the face or body can now be reconstructed, tucked, nipped, broken, scraped, restored, or even added.

Instead of letting faces age, people are now getting little procedures at the first signs of aging. People are starting plastic surgery in their thirties rather in their fifties, with the idea to never visibly age at all. Is this to imply that one associates ugliness with aging? At first the idea of ugliness and aging seems kind of hard to swallow, but then one wonders: if an elderly women in her 80's or 90's was theoretically given plastic surgery and was reconstructed to look like a young, 30 year old supermodel, would people in this society look past her possible senility, need of dependence on other people, and nagging nature and not neglect her as much as they often do with other elderly people, or would they show more respect and admiration for her? The author's guess, as outrageous as it may seem, leans towards the latter. In many other societies especially in the East, becoming older is welcomed and embraced as an inevitable part of life, as each wrinkle signifies one's maturation, intelligence, and experience in the world; ideals of Western society constrast this completely.

Cosmetics have also taken on another form with natural sunlight and tanning beds. My mother often finds herself perplexed with the Western ways of thought, because the ideal she was raised on that "fairness equals loveliness" is drastically contradicted when she views people in the West sitting in the sun and tanning booths, causing irreversible sun damage in order to attain an olive, 'exotic,' glow that myself and other Indians share, that implies healthiness and vigor. In this way are people also covering up their true form, masking the defining characteristics on their face in the same way that cosmetics do? According to Nancy Etcoff's book Survival of the Prettiest, in a way they certainly are. Fair skin at one time was considered attractive, because it could reveal possible facial imperfections, better mask boils, warts, and freckles, and also underlying illnesses such as anemia or other illnesses that would cause the skin to become pallor and sickly. In this way a man knew that he was marrying a healthy woman, because no ailments could be hidden by tanned skin. However, possible effects of rapid globalization and also achieving a temporary glow has become a thing of appeal in Western society, while irrereversible damage from the sun and tanning booths have been pushed aside so that one could once again try to reach the idealized form of beauty.

Survival aspect of beauty has truly shifted significantly. One may go through such drastic measures of using cosmetics and plastics in order to appeal more youthful and attractive, but there must be other driving forces that makes a woman do what they do. Why does one make these alterations to oneself then? Does it make a person happier with their life and with themselves? According to recent studies by psychologists, although beauty can make a woman a slightly happier than who would be considered an average looking woman, it could also at the same time make them unhappy, and may not give the woman a sense of overall life satisfaction at all. The biggest effect on one's overall happiness and satisfaction with themselves in part is based on their romantic lives, and not necessarily with their own sense of beauty and self worth. Certain individuals in class have said before that one cannot reach beauty without having to suffer greatly. But how can one appreciate this beauty if they're too busy being unsatisfied with themselves and are therefore blinded by their criticism to see the beauty that really exists in the mirror in front of them? Although cosmetics can help one's self esteem and make them feel better about their appearance, at the same time it can have equally damaging effects to one's self esteem and self satisfaction.

As said by Professor Koggel, we spend such a large part of our lives judging the appearances of one another, doing it within in a context that contains norms and standards as to how we do the judging, while not 'stalking' or looking at oneself enough to realize this judging taking place. Even as much as we detest the idea, we're all guilty of making comparisons, whether making the comparisons with ourselves. How often does one try to look at the beauty within an individual? How often do we look at a person and not judge them as being fat, skinny, pretty, ugly, and instead judge them based on the soulful look in their eyes, the confidence in their strides, or the eloquence of their speech? We even spend far too much time judging ourselves, and how we're not able to reach an ideal form of beauty that we've created for ourselves within our minds. Many of us spend too much time having people tell us how to look without having formulated our own ideals. As said by Professor Grobstein, beauty is not inherent in the external world, it is within us.

In essence judging is not something we should be ashamed of; we were bestowed these innate traits to make comparisons in order to choose a mate that would help allow for best reproductive fitness and healthy offspring. However, we should evaluate why we have gone to such extremes in order to maintain a youthful, fertile appearance. We easily chastise others for going along with society and its obsession for women to reach an unrealistic beauty ideal that has been set out for us by other women and even other men, but as pointed out by Professor Koggel it is us in the end who buy magazines with idealized, airbrushed models on the covers that we look up to strive to look like, buy tubes of lipstick and boxes of blush that keep the cosmetics companies in business, give thousands of dollars to cosmetic surgeons to alter our faces and bodies, and sit in tanning salons and booths. Because many of us, the consumers and the followers, we have let society create this idealized beauty standard for us, and left other people to do the judging for us when we ourselves should becoming up with our own decisions.

Works Consulted

Etcoff, Nancy. Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty. New York: Anchor Books July

Koggel, Kristine. Concepts of Beauy: A Feminist Philosopher Thinks About Paradigms and
Consequences. 23 March 2004.

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