Kathleen Jessop

Beauty: Null, Void, and Inherently Worthless

Despite it being a constant through the ages, I’m of the mind that beauty is a lie. Let me explain.

 

I find it equal parts extraordinary and terrifying that under 25s can make thousands upon thousands of dollars a year by posting a checkerboard of staged, bronzed, revealing photos on social media. You have seen them too—posing in itty bitty bikinis on white sand at a party with three other long-legged young-uns with wine in hand, or perhaps just standing in a mirror in vice-tight jeans in a clothing shop.

As troubling as it may seem to outsiders, it’s a great first job. The vast majority of those who become “influencers” despite having no formal qualifications or life experience seem to be the ones who capitalize best on their beauty. It’s a world of models, gym junkies, athletes, and children of blue chip stock parents. If female, they have entirely flat stomachs, but magically giant breasts and butts. If male, they are tall with bleached, white teeth, floppy, waved hair, and abs down to their knees.

While most of us see these images and proceed to look at our ordinary, everyday bodies with derision—we also have a pretty decent understanding of how fabricated these “influencer” profiles really are. We’re generally pretty good at cutting through the bullshit. However, something we don’t seem to grasp is that beauty—the thing that makes these lavish youth their cash—is in itself a lie.

You may laugh and say, “Of course beauty is a thing, don’t be daft.”

Well. After you read this article, you may just completely reassess how you see yourself, this world, and the immense pressure on all of us to be physically “perfect.” Ready?

If you have had any kind of participation in the “body positivity” movement, you would have seen passionate, everyday people from a range of backgrounds flaunt their seemingly ordinary, unusual, or “ugly” bodies without shame or fear. They share their stories and try to empower each other to love ourselves a little more. It’s brave and well overdue, if you ask me (and none of them are ugly, for the record).

But one thing we can all do outside of these movements, which do a lot of good work, is simply look back to our history textbooks.

Ancient Egypt—man, what a time. Women could own land, paint their eyes with charcoal and ant eggs, and everyone was obsessed with gold. The ideal female body shape in the period was slim, hairless, and topped off with a giant wig.

Ancient Greeks, however, desired their women natural, even if that meant sporting a prominent “unibrow.” In one specific period, women would even dab the space between their eyes with coal or antimony to make them “join.” The more elaborate of ladies even collected animal hair, dyed it black, and placed it in on her brow using tree resin.

 

Facial symmetry and a small waist are highly desirable traits in a woman across all ages, cultures, and creeds. … Here is the kicker, though: we know that traits that sit outside of these scientific “ideals” when associated with a person we adore become highly attractive to us.

 

In middle-ages Florence, men and women wore high heels that resembled stilts—making them 60cm (around two feet) taller. While during the Renaissance, poisonous drops of nightshade were poured into the eyes to dilate pupils to make the person seem forever “aroused.”

Now, if we hop, skip, and jump further forward in time, we find a period where naked female bodies adorned the walls of galleries and aristocratic homes around Europe. 17th century painters like Rubens and Poussin adored painting tall, pale women with thick thighs, soft bellies, and long hair. After all, being a heavy lady meant you had wealth and means, spending a lot of it on food and leisure. Those paintings would simply fly off studio walls.

The “beauty of opulence” continued in 18th century France, where wealthy men wore wigs and lipstick, powdered their faces, and drew on fake little moles. Their outfits were also highly extravagant, with long tailcoats, hats, heeled shoes, canes, and belts. As the young people say, it was so “extra.”

Now, I think you’ve heard enough of historically absurd humans—now it’s time to bring in our good friend science.

According to a range of studies—from the Tel Aviv “beauty machine,” to the hip-waist research from The University of Texas—scientists have found that things like facial symmetry and a small waist are highly desirable traits in a woman across all ages, cultures, and creeds. We also know that humans have the ability to discern what a person is immune or resistant to based on their face … but that’s a story for another rant-y old opinion piece.

Here is the kicker, though: we know that traits that sit outside of these scientific “ideals” when associated with a person we adore become highly attractive to us. The psychological processes behind it is equal parts fascinating and sweet. In fact, the Japanese have a concept known as “wabi-sabi” that sums it up quite well. It suggests loving and accepting our own imperfections—and our partner’s—can create a much deeper satisfaction with one’s own life.

It seems that love, first of all, makes us see beauty that is beyond skin deep and is so powerful that it literally “goes against” nature. Doesn’t that tell you something?

I’ll break it down for you—it means:

a) Loving yourself, and others, beyond skin-deep superficial value is much healthier and more meaningful.

b) Culture overcomes science when it comes to beauty, so it’s best to ignore what the current body “trend” is, as it will soon change.

Guys, how can I put this? Beauty standards are entirely manufactured and subject to your genetics, culture, and era. It is literally an illusion to be “truly” physically beautiful.

I am not saying ditch your YouTube make-up tutorials, stop working out, or buying clothes you love, I am simply suggesting that see beauty for what it is—entirely subjective.

Nobody is undeniably beautiful in every-and-all eras, and worrying about this on a day-to-day basis doesn’t just suck up your time and morale, it can cause legitimate physiological damage.

So, take it from a 5’9”, 88kg blonde girl from the suburbs—you are pretty incredible the way you are, and your beauty doesn’t define your inherent value … even if it’s your main income stream.

 

Kathleen Jessop

Kathleen Jessop is a 20-something radio journalist living in Werribee, Melbourne. When she's not on the air in Geelong, she is painting, drinking a crisp G&T, or bragging about her AFL team. Kathleen grew up in Melbourne's outer north and has lived in three cities and two regional areas.

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