During my commute to Manhattan on the Express Bus one morning, I had the company and pleasure of reading the March issue of Allure magazine. I began by reading the Letter from the Editor Linda Wells and stumped upon this striking catchphrase, the “pursuit of beauty.” Linda explains this phenomenon to be much like the pursuit of the American Dream. It is “a right to determine and improve our essential selves, psychologically and physically…that transcends gender, class, race, age and sexual orientation.” I thought to myself, “this is so true!” What person does today not want to be and feel beautiful? There is no doubt that we as human beings are acutely sensitive to our physical appearances and will do anything to gain or maintain our personal beauty. Our insatiable need for all things “beauty” proves that we are all in full pursuit and unapologetically so.
According to dictionary.com, beauty is “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or gives deep satisfaction to the mind.” This emotional bond to pleasure explains why beauty plays such a significant part in our lives. We can’t help ourselves in the presence of things or persons that call to our sensibilities. Physical beauty, though a matter of taste and opinion, is also characterized by society’s views. In most cultures, the existence of symmetry or balance is a determining factor of beauty because it suggests the absence of “flaws” or “defects.” Facial balance, complexion, body shape, size, and youthfulness are all standardizations of beauty. However, the characterization of beauty cannot be understood without also realizing that beauty has another side to it – One that is not so physical but rather metaphysical (a more intangible element ). We cannot necessarily see or touch it, yet its presence is undeniable. With that being said, we cannot exclude psychological factors such as personality, intelligence, politeness, elegance, or charisma as determining factors in recognizing beauty.
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As I researched more into this beauty craze, I stumbled upon some exciting findings. To my surprise (ok, maybe not so surprised), researchers have found that possessing physical attractiveness can be quite influential in a person’s life. Someone who is considered beautiful is likely to get higher grades, receive better care from their doctors, receive lighter prison sentences, and earn more money. As if we don’t have enough problems in the world today, now we know that uncontrollable factors like our God-given beauty or “lack thereof” are just another social barrier to add to our list. Whether we acknowledge it or not, and whether we do this consciously or unconsciously, this type of “lookism” has plagued our society for years and can shed some light on the depth of shallowness that exists in our world today.
This daunting truth certainly affects how we perceive ourselves as well as others. The images we see on tv also determine what we consider beautiful and are the driving force towards this search for perfection. We spend thousands of dollars and insurmountable time shopping online or at the malls, purchasing all sorts of beauty products, making the nail, hair, facial. Botox appointments, reading fashion magazines, and taking particular note of what our favorite celebrities are wearing, doing, and using to stay slim, youthful, and yes, beautiful.
Let’s not forget that there was once a time when we were all mystified by the beautiful models and celebrities, who flawlessly walked the red carpets and flanked the covers of magazines effortlessly, or at least, so it seemed. We dreamed about being them and looking like them, thinking they were born perfectly that way. Thanks to our growing obsession with celebrity life, the shameless and countless invasions of privacy through reality tv, the social networks, and the “tell-all” craze, we now not only have the information and the knowledge but also access to the once “top secret” sometimes extreme, physical enhancers.
Don’t get me wrong, the “pursuit of beauty” doesn’t have to mean a trip to a plastic surgeon, nor is it an elusive commodity accessible only to the rich and famous. We can all be physically beautiful! The multi-billion-dollar beauty industry has made sure to fulfill our every beauty need by bombarding us with many products and services geared towards making us feel and look younger and more beautiful. The opportunities and resources available to us are endless in this department. We have products that make us look younger, products that make our skin smoother, products that make our stomachs flat, products that make our lips plumper, products that give us fuller hair, products that make our lashes longer and thicker, stylists, eyebrow threaders, makeup artists, fashion trends that change every season, adornments like earrings, necklaces, tattoos, hats, etc. we all use these things to enhance our personal beauty and attractiveness in some way.
The truth is, however, our pursuit of beauty is not just about exploiting our “sexual capital.” It’s not just the physical aspect of beauty that enamors us. We are searching for a combination between the seen and the unseen – The physical (outer) and the psychological (inner) because they both thrive off each other. I, like many, believe that true beauty comes from within. Inner beauty, in my definition, is that undeniable, profound light that shines from you and onto the world. It is your aura, your spirit, the stamp you leave behind after someone meets you for the first time. My father likes to refer to this intangible, spiritual side of our human nature as the “inner man” or “woman.” Though this “inside beauty” may come easier to some than others, it is the beginning to fulfill this intrinsic desire for physical satisfaction or happiness.
Possessing internal beauty is the foundation of the pursuit of beauty. If psychologically we can find the power and confidence to see ourselves as beautiful no matter what, then the world would have no choice but to view us that way. Any physical imperfections that we may think we possess can disappear. After all, we know that physical beauty disappears with age, and many uncontrollable forces can easily take away or lessen our physical beauty, like a severe accident or disease. Inner beauty comes from a deeper place. It oozes from your heart and soul and serves as a complementary component to physical beauty.
So why this urgency in wanting to be beautiful? What lies beneath this so-called pursuit? What is it that moves us into the hunt for near perfection? The truth is, the pursuit of beauty is, in fact, the pursuit of happiness – they are the same. Though Linda refers to this pursuit as being “distinctly American,” to me, it is more so, undeniably human. Whether it is a physical or psychological improvement to ourselves, we are all searching for this completeness. It is a calling to being someone bigger and better than we’ve ever been. It’s about walking out your door every day feeling like a ray of the sunshine, confident with every step you take. It is a goal, a standard to set, that once achieved, is rewarded with a lifetime of confidence, self-assurance, pride, grace, poise, and enthusiasm for life.