Sunday, February 11, 2007

Real Beauty and the Beast of Advertising

I get my nails done every week. On the table where we all sit to have them dry are a half-dozen magazines. Every magazine has a beautiful, young, glamorous woman on the cover. Inside are dozens of such women, selling anything you can imagine, body parts displayed, long legs, perfect skin and hair and nails, looking like they are enjoying a really fun life. Even the ‘serious’ articles invariably feature a very attractive celebrity whose problems are dramatically highlighted, as are the solutions and the outcome.

Go to any supermarket to pick up paper towels and there are very young, glamorous women wearing low cut somethings or other with perfect, bulging breasts on every magazine, and all kinds of packaging. You see this nearly every day. And you can get this message: A person like me doesn’t matter. Because my breasts aren’t perfect and I’m not 23 anymore.

When I was young, I was more than attractive. I had a great body. Even a sexy body. But the images of these perfect woman mocked me even then. Know what they were saying?

“No matter what you do, you will never look like us. You will never be perfect. Men want perfection. We represent the pinnacle of femininity which you will never reach.”

And they looked so smug, so pleased with themselves. So utterly proud and happy and disdainful. Imagine being perfect. Doors would open. You had only to ask and you would receive. You could have any man you wanted. Right?

Never mind that almost to a person, they starved. They worried about every blemish, every minuscule line, any sign of aging. Ignore the real fact that their photographs were doctored to remove any sign they were human, and, GASP! Imperfect. (Could it be possible that they, too, struggled to live up to their own photos?)

And, do not pay attention to the fact that they are used to sell things. Cosmetics and clothing to be sure, but, oh, so much more: Magazines, cars, appliances, adult toys of all kinds, ideas, services, to name a few. The fact is, if you want to sell something, anything, put a couple of breasts on the front of it and make sure their owner is young and wearing glossy lipstick.

Now we have TV shows which are invading the home in a sneaky, nasty little way: Housewives now must be sexy and beautiful, and – wait for it – PERFECT.

Gotta clean the bathroom.

But first: lipgloss and some blush. Hair swept back and smoothly styled. Clothes sexy and revealing [note to self: underwire/pushup] a dab of perfume, maybe some concealer [up late doing laundry . . .sshhhh, do NOT advertise that fact]. Thick rubber gloves to protect my jewelry, carefully covering the bracelet – those stones, you know . . . WAIT! Do not go into that bathroom without checking the eyebrows! Quick! 5X mirror and some tweezers please! Whew! 7 hairs later and I’m ready!

In real life, no-one is perfect. When we think or speak, our faces reflect what is going on inside. Our eyes light up, our muscles move, we communicate with our bodies. We attract people based on how and what we communicate in a complex and mesmerizing multi-level dynamic. And each of us is unique, and so is what we each have to offer.

Yes: Highlighting our best features intensifies the communication. But less is more. Colors that look good on us. Clean, neat clothing. A hairstyle that flatters. And a deep, certain knowledge that who we are only begins with the face and body. Real beauty in a human being is always going to be on the inside: What we think, and feel and what we do. Cosmetic changes may make us feel good, but what makes the other people in our lives feel good is when we let them see who we are. And when they love us for who we are, that’s the best thing in the world.

1 comment:

Fiona said...

Yep. I know it was just a passing comment from you... just words... but I don't find that cosmetic changes make me (or us) feel good. Any time I apply make-up (or see myself wearing it in photos) I feel like I'm being a coward, not the real me, and that makes me feel uncomfortable and MORE insecure.

I spent a year where we lived with no electricity, and many of those months with no plumbing or toilet (chemical toilet only). I "dressed up" for church, meaning, hubby, our five young kids and I went to the nearest truck stop and had our weekly shower, dressed in clean clothes, brushed hair, and those of us who had shoes, and were willing to wear them, put shoes on.

We certainly did not shine with the same exterior gloss as many (all) of the other families, but I refused to believe that theirs was a better way. Much better to have my peace of mind than to stress myself (and lose my inner calm) in an effort to appear externally perfect. As you know, perfection is an inside job. :)

I believe it was a virtue to encourage myself to stand true to the value that it is better to focus on the important things (love, family, survival, security) than to care at all about other people's judgements of my exterior.

I think it is kindness to be true to myself - it gives people greater freedom to be themselves when they see someone who is willing to take all risks to be themselves, with no regard for social fears, breaking the norms deliberately. Maybe I mourn a little that my face is getting wrinkles and sunspots, that I can't look at myself in the mirror and think my appearance is a work of art... but I boosting my ego is not necessary. Letting go of my ego is what is going to put me most firmly into the arms of Love.