Is Beauty An Illusion?

June 25, 2012


Aishwarya Rai

“At seventeen I learned the truth,” sang Janis Ian, “that love was meant for beauty queens.” And so those of with ravaged faces, presumably, hung out at the library, consoling ourselves we were beautiful on the inside. Beautiful people get all the breaks: better service, more respect, even better jobs. They mesmerize us. Our minds stop, we lose ourselves for a moment in their presence. But we also feel inadequate, imperfect as human beings.  Heck, even unattractive people discriminate against plain people. What can be done? Short of running to a cosmetic surgeon? Is being beautiful what we imagine or is it just another myth?

Think of the most beautiful woman ever. Elizabeth Taylor, GretaGarbo, Ashwarya Rai? Whomever you pick, the chances are she is an actress. This is no co-incidence. For beauty is a kind of acting. It is a make believe. I was greatly impressed when MAC Cosmetics employed Ru Paul to its spokesmodel. Ru Paul appears to be a typical,  blond bombshell. In fact he is a rather nerdy looking, skinny black man. But he, like many drag queens, knows how to work the beauty trick. We are lied to using lighting, make up, hair design, clothing, accessories, posture, walk, voice, facial expression, digital enhancements, cosmetic surgery. Famous beauties may need less work, nevertheless they employ the same bag of tricks as drag queens. At best this is cheating, at worst we are being deluded.

I mean, don’t we all look good some of time?  Each of us, even the plainest among us, has a few good photographs: when the light is right, at the right angle, and when our outfit is flattering. Greta Garbo was (and is still) considered the epitome of perfection. Make up students are told her face proportions are the most ideal. The Swedes didn’t think so. Greta was an average starlet in her native Sweden. Then she came to Hollywood and met Louis B Mayer. His team of make up artists created a special make up for her. Couturiers designed a look.Photographers created magic. Her flawlessness was manufactured. It was as big a lie as Ru Paul.

A young pretty face is so powerful that it implies the body must taste like ice cream, it must smell of fresh fruit. Where as an old, ugly face is assumed to be attached to a body that smells like a sewer. So powerful is this illusion that people sometimes pay good money for an intimate taste of young pretty flesh. But here is a reality check: The secretions of the beautiful are no less rancid than those of unattractive people.  No matter how firm the flesh or smooth the skin, when he or she wakes up his mouth reeks, her skin is oily and the hair is a mess. You just never believe it when you see these demigods in print. These thoughts may sound strange at first, but they are a reality-check to the beauty myth constantly sold to us.  The truth is everyone of us needs a plethora of soaps, shampoos, deodorants, colognes, mouthwash, toothpaste, talcum powder to keep from stinking. I mean, would any of us want to travel inside a sewer pipe? Probably not. What is inside a sewer pipe comes from human bodies (the old and the young, the pretty and the plain). If you think about what the human body is made of, it is food. And food is a perishable commodity. Leave out food for any period of time and it will stink. Leave the body unwashed and it too will stink. Beauty is not even skin deep. That watercolor complexion you see in magazines is, literally, made up.

I am not proposing that we constantly remind ourselves how odious the human body really is, rather I am suggesting we give ourselves a reality check whenever we feel captivated by the body beautiful. Or perhaps repelled by a hideous one. Haven’t we all dismissed off a grubby old homeless man on the street? Ordinary people make assumptions about the worth of a person based on the absence of beauty as much as the presence of it. I am saying that if we remind ourselves that beauty is an illusion it cannot overwhelm us. The spell is broken. Thereafter we can behave as rational, compassionate human beings towards all. I believe part of the reason the aged and the homeless are invisible for city dwellers is because of the value placed on appearance. If however, you were to look into their eyes, you will see beauty. It is the only part of the human body that is beautiful. Specifically, it is the light in the eyes. When a body dies, that beauty disappears. When we speak to a person, the light of eyes are the only part of them worthy of looking into. The rest is all window dressing.

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