It’s safe to say that American women are addicted to beauty.
Quick brushes of make-up before a photo is taken. Pulling skin to swipe lids with eyeliner. Coating our faces and then calling ourselves beautiful. What is beautiful? A face padded with foundation? Aisles of beauty products shouting that our best face is the one we apply, not the one we encounter when exiting the shower?
Our culture crafts standardized beauty ideals and then emits them to the public through hidden messages and blatant images. Before we knew how to write our name, we absorbed examples of beauty championed and put on display. We learned that beauty correlates with large, accentuated eyes, smooth complexions, and shimmering lips. Along the way, we learned through immersion that the only way to be beautiful was to chase a beauty that fit neatly along these lines, even if we already met those standards in some way. There’s “beautiful” and then there’s “more beautiful” but there is no “most beautiful.” You can’t max out because it’s an endless game. We keep competing for an award that doesn’t exist. (Even Miss America has her “flaws.”)
Beauty is not just visual. Beauty is a presence that doesn’t necessarily fill the room (although it might) but which has a substance all its own. Beauty is not torturous or a burden. Beauty does not get you ahead or hold you back in life. Instead, it keeps you grounded in the present. Beauty takes a reality and puts it into perspective. When we say life is beautiful, we mean it in an earthy and realistic, yet joyous way. We don’t use beauty in that same context with people. People beauty is not equal to life beauty.
But people are just as deep and complex as life, so why don’t we treat them so? Why rigidly reserve “beauty” for those who have earned it through their good application of the right shade of eye shadow, rather than those who have been around through the bad times and the good times and who came out strong on the other end of their struggles? How is that beauty any less than that which you see pass by on the side of a bus?
The energy, time, and money that goes into trying to appear “beautiful” kills me. Clearly that’s the point because companies have to make money, right? But we allow them. We don’t just buy the product without any feelings towards it or ourselves. We float in those low-down levels of self-worth. I would feel differently if each and every advertisement didn’t make it seem as if you are worth nothing if you don’t look like the model on the screen or package. Like many other topics in American culture, we have an extremely polarized approach towards make-up. We either depend on it for self-confidence and comfort in public, or we reject it altogether and act like we’re above even one swipe of mascara. With so much stigma attached around one thing, there’s no way to have a healthy relationship with it.
Meanwhile, what are we doing for ourselves? How exactly is make-up something we do for ourselves? Why are we okay with letting companies define what we deem beautiful?
Obviously we can’t answer any of these questions outright, but we can think about them as we get ready in the morning or walk down the beauty aisle at the drug store. We can think about what we put on our face (or what we don’t) and we can ponder what we put into ourselves, the parts of us others may or may not see. Beauty is not so easily defined as the fashion magazines say. Thankfully there’s quite a bit of wiggle room up in there for us to decide on it for ourselves.