Beauty is a social construct. Ideas of beauty change over time, and between nations and races. More subtly perhaps, your age and sexuality may determine what and who you like to look at. However it appears that we are instinctively impressed by symmetry and balance, which it is suggested, imply health and fertility.
Below are some pictures of entrants in the Miss Universe Pageant 2005. None of these are real women, but rather composite photographs of the entrants. It stuck me that they all look much the same, especially with regards to the symmetry of their faces. These composites tell us about the kind of beauty which is celebrated by “beauty contests”. For example the African delegates appear to be fair-skinned Africans.
While the ideal may be symmetrical and balanced this covers such a variety of types of beauty it would not be true to say that the ideal man or woman is a certain height or weight. Very young, thin women dominate western catwalks because designer clothes often look best on bodies with little shape. For modelling clothes the face is less important and possibly a less traditional look is currently favoured. The Miss World type body is far more curvy, often requiring plastic surgery to achieve exactly the right shape. The athletic body idealises muscle tone and a lack of body fat, even though the overdeveloped physique is not seen as attractive by all. In a number of cultures weightiness is associated with beauty, in others maturity, in others still unconventional looks are prized.
Is the man below beautiful? He has chosen a blue shirt to wear with his stone linen summer suit and suede shoes. His thick hair is nice, with a good cut, and silver glasses flatter him. To me he is presenting himself well to the world even if he has too much in his pockets and lacks iPhone proficiency.
Bodies: love the one you are with
It’s not a good idea, in my view, to attempt a very radical alteration to your basic shape or physical appearance. Extreme exercise, dieting, plastic surgery, changing the colour of your skin, hair, teeth and eyes, wearing severely restricting garments like corsets or bound feet – not a great idea. Of course there is a continuum – having healthy teeth will sometimes require “cosmetic” dentistry, and surely no one can object to straightening or curling your hair, wearing make up, or using contact lenses. It is, after all, just a matter of degree.
So rather than being disapproving, or banning things, here is my philosophy. There is nothing more beautiful than natural beauty, even as it fades and degrades over time.
I have always been impressed by the following biblical (Matthew 6) text
27 “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28“And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 “yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these”
The lily is perfect as it is! It doesn’t need perfume adding, as its natural scent is beautiful. It does not need colouring because its intrinsic colour is unique and cannot be reproduced – the way it integrates whiteness, greyness and orangey-yellowness. The green of its leaves perfectly complement its colouring. The same is surely even more true of humans – no one can manufacture the smell of a baby, or the peachy skin of a child. A happy person, or one exhilarated by a Body Attack class (with Siobhan or Rosie #VirginActive) – will glow with a natural pinkness that rouge cannot replicate. I maybe in a minority of one but I hate “foundation” as it knocks out all the variation in skin tone and produces a “blank canvas” – which then needs highlighter, shader, blusher etc, to try to bring back some shape. And I love natural un-coloured hair because it is so much more colourful than “coloured” hair. Bleached and dyed hair has a colour which is flat and lifeless even if you believe the advertising – “shining, healthy” hair.
Imperfections can be nice – gappy or prominent teeth, freckles, unusual hair colour or textures, very dark or very light colouring, facial hair on women, “beauty” spots, eyes that are different colours, a crooked or large nose. Of course apart from beauty pageants where the women profess they want to “help underprivileged children” or open a sanctuary for donkeys, it is personality and life that we admire in fellow humans rather than just their look.
And although it maybe true that our desire for symmetry and balance means we instinctively prefer tall and slim to short and wide, if you are fatter than average there are lots of things you can do to make the most of your curves.
Natural is best – but make the best of nature
I believe that a natural diet (avoiding manufactured food) and daily exercise will result in a good (enough) body. But even if you are ill, disabled or old you will feel better about yourself if you present your best self to the outside world. I admire and support a charity called Look Good, Feel Better, that specifically helps cancer patients find ways to make themselves look better, and therefore feel better.
So what’s an equal opportunity blog?
So here is my blog policy. I will
- always look for the positive in my own and other people’s appearance
- make suggestions of what I and others might do to look more balanced and harmonious and in tune with our natural attributes
- celebrate and promote natural beauty, especially of a non-conventional kind
- feature gorgeous men and women, older and younger, different ethnicities and sexualities, with a range of body types when discussing personal style
- show how dressing in specific ways, and in colours which enhance our own colouring, makes the most of our best attributes, and minimises the less beautiful parts of our bodies
- write about fashions, clothes, textiles and different approaches to design and pattern cutting, from a range of cultures
- add descriptions to my photographs to help partially sighted people enjoy the blog
This young man was dressed well for the summer sunshine with his toning blue button down and purpley pink shorts. He carries a grey sweatshirt that matches his grey jersey shoes. His black sun glasses and airline bag help the outfit come together.
Kate, I just love your blogs. I love the cheekiness of your photos if the random public. You are right about natural beauty but don’t then say “oh this is how I am ” get out and make the best of what you have. Presenting yourself is important. I think it is also true that your mindset impacts on your appearance. People who generous, loving, calm, helpful and caring can be seen by how they present, I believe. Just as you can see meanness, aggression, selfish and spiteful if you look. Your inner beauty will impact on your external beauty. @TheSohoMod
Fashion is Political! | Fit and Flare
[…] why this is an equal opportunities blog […]
Ack. I laughed so hard at this line: “To me he is presenting himself well to the world even if he has too much in his pockets and lacks iPhone proficiency.” Kate, I wish I could write a blog such as you do – always informative, entertaining and thoughtful. Glad you linked back to this one. Great work.