I have been following a number of discussions on the various social media to which I subscribe about the latest Dove advertisement. It has got me thinking about society’s attitude to beauty. There are the obvious stereotypes of the women who seem to spend their lives trying to maintain a youthful visage at whatever cost. There are also those who enjoy looking their best but do it for themselves rather than in an attempt to become what they perceive to be pleasing to others. Can wishing to be outwardly beautiful make one less admirable to others?
I have a lovely friend who works on a beauty counter for an expensive, French cosmetics company. I was once out with her and a group of mutual friends who were discussing skin moisturisers. She was shocked that one of the group did not moisturise her face every day (I kept very quiet during the discussion). This was, apparently, very important if premature ageing was to be avoided. I was intrigued. Surely we all age at the same rate? I was under the impression that skin condition depended more on what we consumed and how well we slept than on what we slathered over our epidermis. I concede that my friend does look younger than me but then she is younger than me by quite a few years. This is as it should be.
Another friend told me that she no longer enjoyed going shopping with her teenage daughter as it made her feel old. Whereas my friend would struggle to find a single item of clothing that made her feel good, her daughter could throw on any old thing and look fabulous. This time it was my turn to be shocked. I find exactly the same thing with my teenage daughter but derive great pleasure from this. I love having such a beautiful, intelligent and sassy daughter. I only wish that she could see herself through my eyes and realise her worth. Teenagers can be so hard on themselves in so many ways.
A little over a year ago I managed to lose a significant amount of weight and was delighted with the way that this made me both look and feel. I no longer felt the need to dress to hide the lumps and bumps and had so much more energy. I also discovered that being thinner did not make me beautiful; it just made it easier for me to buy clothes that I liked. I felt better about myself being normal sized rather than overweight, but I was still me and that was okay. The extra energy was a bigger bonus than the smaller size.
I am very lazy when it comes to outward appearance. My good looking friends tend to be well groomed, well dressed and carefully presented. I spend far too much of my time in trackies and t shirts with my hair tied up and out of the way. Make up is a rarity and, I admit it, although I swim in that skin drying, chlorinated water several times a week, I moisturise only when I remember. I have a very bad memory and should probably look twice my actual age. Perhaps I do, but I have more important things to concern myself with.
It is not that I do not care at all about how I look but more that it is not high up on my list of priorities. I worry more about what people think of what I say or do, of how I am perceived as a person, than about how I am viewed as an object. I would prefer to be commended on my erudite remarks than on my choice of costume and how it hangs on my body. Sadly, I have yet to enjoy any such acclaim.
How we present ourselves to the world can matter in certain situations; first impressions made at a job interview make preparing for an occasion such as this a nerve wracking experience; it would be impolite to go to an upmarket wedding dressed in beachwear. However, a great many companies make a great deal of money by feeding insecurities and emphasising the importance of always being perfectly presented. Those who believe this message then struggle to achieve an often unobtainable goal, condemning themselves to a life of unfulfilled longing for an ideal that should be of no significant consequence. Those who are beautiful people within will shine through the masses of marketers mannequins whatever they look like outwardly.
I am reluctant to condemn those who strive to change the way they look. I who strive to improve my knowledge and understanding am also trying to change myself; in trying to authenticate my thinking by discussing my views with others I am looking for validation; is this so very different to looking for admiration of bodily presentation?
There are many good people in the world who are not deep thinkers; indeed some of the most questioning people that I know are also amongst the most selfish. Striving to attain a look that is considered beautiful does not make one an airhead any more than a great knowledge of books and current affairs makes one sensible.
We may reprehend the companies who encourage a popular view of beauty being a path to wealth, happiness and fulfilment, but I will not reprehend the individuals who choose to strive for a particular look for their own satisfaction. We may admonish those who try to force others to follow their line of thinking, but not those who argue a cause with cogency and compassion.
Let us accept the differences in priority that exist and strive for self improvement without condemnation. My lack of care in my appearance is nothing to be proud of because it betrays laziness. That is as much a character trait to be suppressed as any attempts at aesthetic improvement made purely to conform to another’s ideal.