Musings: The (R)evolution of Beauty
How traditional beauty has changed in a more integrated world
$5 billion. That’s the revenue stream that the entire beauty industry had in 2018. That includes products like face paints, nail paints, mascara (I call them “the eyelash thingies”), hair irons and various other items that are of clear importance to many of us. As you can probably guess, I am no expert on the matter. What I can say is that this is a booming industry and there certainly seems to be a high demand for products and services that this industry provides. That put in perspective for me just how important beauty and self-care is for so many people. But beauty is a subjective thing. I consider Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks “beautiful,” but someone else in say, Virginia, or Oklahoma, or even across the world, might consider this notion an abomination. Similarly, no two ideas of beauty in people are similar (except for Jenna Fischer. She's beautiful and that’s the end of that).
Having said that, let’s explore what beauty means to different people around the world, shall we?
As a relatively uninformed person, the French idea of beauty seems really fascinating to me. ‘Au naturel’ is the mantra to stay jaw-dropping and it works flawlessly for the French people. The main objective of beauty and self-care in France is to enhance the already existing features. That means that the French more often than not use makeup products more conservatively, only using it to supplement their skin care.
The French also take their skincare very seriously from a young age—no wanton experimenting with new products and flighty permanent changes here.
As Alina Gonzalez writes in Byrdie, an online beauty blog, the French idea of beauty stems from pleasure. If you feel beautiful, then you feel happy. It is more intrinsic. They’re born with a certain idea of it, but they don’t stress out about it.
It’s as traditional as pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. Sure, there are companies like L’Oreal that offer various versions of the same product, but their essential goal at the end of the day is for the woman to feel beautiful on the inside. Nothing extravagant, and no trying to be anybody else—the sole goal is to be...yourself.
I kind of like this. I respect the philosophy behind self expression and the French ideology of beauty. It’s inspiring just how much they value themselves but all throughout my research for this brilliantly written masterpiece, I just had one question: What if you’re born….you know…..not conventionally pretty? What role does makeup serve then?
Food for thought.
Monica Bellucci, the latest Bond girl, featured in arguably the most underwhelming Bond of Craig’s career: Spectre. Why do I mention Monica Bellucci? Simple, she was, is and will be the ideal Italian woman. A yardstick of absolute beauty as some might say. You see, Ms. Bellucci is beautiful because, like the French, the Italians fancy natural beauty. But there’s a bit of historical context here that might be odd.
After the Second World War, when Italy was struck with poverty and hunger due to trade embargoes on the then Nazi-supporting regime, women were considered beautiful for simply looking “normal,” which was anything but too skinny.
Coming out of the war, this image was given more predominance. Healthier-looking women became more recognized as a symbol of beauty. Body image became the primary focus of beauty, not just restricted to the facial features.
Curves were considered more attractive and beauty products like fragrant soaps and moisturizers were made to complement this image. Up until the early 90’s, this was the preferred beauty standard for women but soon after, the ‘Barbie’ phase entered Europe. American advancement and beauty turned the Italian image of beauty on its head.
Sylvia Marchetti, a fashion icon writer for ‘OZY’ writes that the Barbie phase banked on admiration for small, petite details. This was seen as ‘fit’ and athletic. But after several cases of anorexia were spurred by this new body image, the standards went a little haywire. Curves were acceptable again, but the yearning for the skinny image wasn’t completely dissolved.
As for facial details, the healthier woman would be considered beautiful if she featured plump lips, a square jaw line and smooth skin. This was exaggerated during the Barbie phase and is still considered beautiful today.
Whereas the Italians and the French prefer the natural form of beauty, the Ukrainians and the Russians prefer the fruits of capitalism. Since most beauty products weren’t available to Soviet Russia or neighbouring communist states, the women have taken full advantage of their relatively new access to these products.
“The Ukrainians are the prettiest of lot” according to Zaychishka, pen name writer for the online publication of the same name. The reason for this sort of praise is a strict regimen featuring multiple natural and artificial products and bizarre techniques. To give you some context, Zaychishk mentions that one of the most common practices followed by multiple women is slapping themselves on and around their face. Apparently, this causes a sudden release of robust collagen, which firms up the face. This makes contouring much easier. They believe that the biggest, most attractive feature of their faces are their eyes, and the bigger and more dynamic their eyes turn out to be, the more beautiful.
But the face isn’t the only thing of beauty for the Eastern European. They love to dress up their nails as well. Wildly elaborate and elegant nail polish designs are often found to complement their choice of outfits or footwear.
America is one of the most influential of the countries here. It is the central hub of the world in terms of freedom of expression, and the image of beauty and fashion in this country matter greatly.
America is much like Ukraine in its attitude towards beauty. Beauty products are used to achieve the ideal image. However, that ideal image itself is something of a political and sociocultural amalgamation.
The ideal image in today’s society is set by society itself. The perfect shade of red, the perfect complexion of skin or the perfect proportion of highlights, this is all set by a dominant force that has unfortunately become a standard of today’s beauty.
That ideal image, consists, of a thin and athletically fit body, with a heart-shaped face and small lips. Think Scarlett Johansson.
However, as CNN’s Alene Dawson, writes, this idea is changing. The diverse population of America plays a pivotal role in determining the standards of beauty. The new idea of beauty, consists of a duskier, more multicultural face. One which combines the ideas of the above mentioned standards of beauty and then some. Dynamic eyes, fuller lips and curvier as well as slimmer bodies: it is a delightful hodgepodge of ideas that today’s fashion and beauty industries are embracing.
At the end of the day, beauty is still in the eye of the beholder. Despite the plethora of beautiful women I see holding up the honor of their inherent genes, I personally still regard Jenna Fischer as the most breathtaking. But because beauty is so subjective, we have the opportunity, to behold, appreciate and celebrate these various ideas of beauty to the highest degrees.
We live in a fascinating time today, where we can actually see worlds come together to become smarter, more powerful and also more beautiful. This simple idea of self-expression may seem superficial to some, but to me, the mixture, this melting pot of self-care is symbolic. It represents the world’s acceptance of each other.
Of course I am not going to pretend that this is the case all over. But hey, if globalization of beauty can give us Monica Bellucci, then I’m all for it.
In “Musings,” sophomore Krishna Pamidi shares a new adventure every week about the grand modesty that is called life by exploring the global twists to universal experiences.