Beauty – only skin deep?
A lot of my work is concerned with how our appearance affects the way we think about ourselves so I do spend time thinking about how this notion of beauty has shaped our world. Although I have never considered myself beautiful I have had to adjust my own view of myself as surgery and age has changed me, life traces the passage of time over all our bodies and if we are to remain content with ourselves we have to learn to accept those changes.
We have all grown up hearing phrases like ‘ugly as sin’ and listening to fairy stories like Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, where the hero/heroines are beautiful and the ugly are there to be punished or redeemed. In the past women have been disfigured and restricted by conventions that demanded corsets and foot binding and it is a shame that today when women in the west have more freedom than ever that so many feel it necessary to starve themselves and undergo surgery.
The trouble is beauty can now be bought, cosmetics, dyes, surgery, dieting can create a facsimile of perfection. It is interchangeable with success, if the rich and successful are beautiful then by becoming beautiful riches and success will follow. It is used to promote and sell, it is a commodity to exploit.
It would be lovely to think that how you look doesn’t make a difference but you only have to remember back to your school days to know that the beautiful are treated differently, the groups of pretty popular teenagers to whom life seems to come so easily and the groups of awkward plain young people who have already learnt that they have more to prove in life. What is sad though is in a recent worldwide survey only 2 % of women stated they believed themselves to be beautiful.
With medical advances enabling those with disabilities and deformities to live the variety of the human body is only going to widen, if we are to evolve into a happier and more content society then we need to find a way that allows beauty to encompass that variety.
We need to embrace the imperfections that life writes across our bodies. The notion of beauty fundamentally affects how we view the body, others and our own and it has been used to exclude and control but there is hope that it can become inclusive and celebratory because ultimately it is us who write the guidlines.
Here are links to a couple of interesting websites
Changing Faces is a charity that works to promote equality and acceptance for those with facial disfigurement. The whole site is interesting but try taking their face equality survey and see how accepting you are.
The Face Research Lab which is has online psychology experiments that judge the facial traits people find attractive and programme for you to create your perfect/average face
 Nancy Etcoff. ‘The Real Truth about Beauty: A Global Report’, Dove White Paper, (2004)
<http://www.clubofamsterdam.com/contentarticles/52%20Beauty/dove_white_paper_final.pdf> [accessed 20 March 2011]