Defending Beauty

by meerabel

Case in point.

I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz from the online beauty community recently about cyber abuse directed at beauty bloggers, gurus and websites. Beauty enthusiasts who follow online experts are probably aware of the vicious forums that rip apart beauty lovers, or at least the nasty comments left on their websites and fan pages. If you’re not familiar with this world, you must have encountered hate-filled posts by online ‘trolls’ under any article that permits anonymous commentary. By this token, there’s emerged an online community that takes specific issue with beauty enthusiasts; the anti-beauty sentiment is so acute that some beset bloggers have quit rather than endure the antagonism.

This attitude is not new to me. Although I’ve (so far) not been on the receiving end of any overt abuse, I have noticed the derision that some people have for beauty-related pursuits. I’ve heard an interest in beauty referred to in various contexts as “superficial”, “frivolous”, “a waste of time”, even “unhealthy”, and often with a general lack of regard. Being “into your looks” (of which I’ve been accused) can give rise to pejorative assumptions regarding intelligence and personality, none of which are mutually exclusive.

So why the bad rap?? I don’t feel well-placed to comment extensively on the online anti-beauty brigade; such degrees of animosity suggest issues that run too deep to be analyzed homogeneously. My personal view is that there is never an excuse for nastiness or hurtful behaviour – that, over any physical manifestation, is downright ugly. It’s an indication of their own self-esteem that these individuals take strength in anonymity and numbers – but then, I suppose that’s human nature. I do have a few insights based on my interactions, not all of which have been negative, but revealing nonetheless.

My worst experiences have been with male colleagues who have exhibited an obvious disdain for me, while simultaneously taking over-familiar liberties that violate professional boundaries. Evidently, sometimes being well-presented is the equivalent of jumping out of a cake clad in a bikini – nothing new there, but a girl can hope for progress. Another familiar theme is hostility arising as a result of a perceived threat – to what, I’m not certain, but it almost always seems misinformed and misdirected.

Other experiences have been much more endearing; for example, when I worked at a makeup counter I encountered women who didn’t take an interest in their appearance simply because they didn’t know how. I met some working women and tired mothers who were often just grateful to have a seat and to let someone fuss over them, but were almost without exception thrilled with the “transformation” – in fact, little more than a few touch-ups that enhanced their own natural beauty. The candid chats that took place during these exchanges revealed that sometimes, our circumstances can consume us not only psychologically and spiritually, but also physically to the extent where we feel robbed of our right to beauty. Who can’t relate to that? We all have areas of our lives that are either beyond our control or hard to cope with, and while external enhancements aren’t a cure-all, they can certainly help to lift our spirits even when we feel overwhelmed.

Girl at Mirror by Norman Rockwell

What my experiences have demonstrated unequivocally is that, whether it’s a make-over, a painting or a perfume, everyone loves beauty. Even those that purport a distaste for the concept will be mesmerized by it in some state or another. In cosmetological terms, there is a huge industry surrounding beauty that will never go out of business, least of all in the current economic climate; Olay’s 2010 Big British Beauty Poll revealed that the beauty industry has thrived during this recession, and The Economist explored this phenomenon in an article called ‘Lip Reading: Cosmetics in the Downturn’ in 2008.* Yet I think there’s a misguided belief that beauty is exclusive and unattainable, and makes people feel that they can’t be a part of it. I don’t believe that this can be true because the idea of beauty is so subjective and multi-dimensional; nobody can tell you what beauty is, only what it means to them. And even on our worst day, there will be someone who thinks that we are beautiful.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a humdinger: isn’t it the case that beauty only makes us feel bad when it reminds us of something we’re not happy about? For example, two of the most beautiful things I saw today were Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and a cheesecake. I’m sad to say that both made me feel like crap. I can recognize these feelings as a projection of my image issues and guilt (yes, I ate the cheesecake), although it’s a hard pill to swallow; I would hope that if I ever met Rosie, I wouldn’t make her feel bad just because she is gorgeous and I can’t say ‘no’ to cake – or ‘yes’ to the treadmill, for that matter. I have to work on what makes me feel beautiful, inside and out, and enjoy the beauty all around me. Then I intend to have my cake and eat it, too. 

*from article ‘The UK Beauty Industry During the Recession’