If people are spending an hour a day in front of the mirror before stepping out into the world, day in, day out, they become rather pathetic after a while.
This Disney/religious myth has been packaged and sold en masse across the globe, and we have to deal with the consequences every day, living up to standards that make little sense, if any.
This myth has an accomplice and enabler: the cosmetic industry. The obsession people have with looks and appearances has been ingeniously introduced to society over the decades by the cosmetic experts, taking advantage of one’s need to make an impression.
Take women, for example. Looking thin, trim, ravishing, sexy, unblemished and ‘wow’ is now synonymous with the ‘woman condition.’ Scores of teenage girls strive day after day to achieve a perfection devised in the board rooms of cosmetic companies whose main concern is the bottom line. This perfection is more often than not unattainable, leaving those seeking it bereft and miserable. Females of all ages subject themselves to the indecency of having to wear an elaborate mask everyday in order to look good, feel good and make waves. As if their face is not good enough and has to be buried under numerous layers of concealer, rouge, lipstick and eyeliner.
And the trend is spreading, spilling over to the male gender. The cosmetic industry’s new product, the ‘metrosexual man,’ is steadily gaining in popularity, turning men neurotic about their appearance too. Because we’re worth it.
Don’t get me wrong, I like attractive people. And people who make an effort to look (more) attractive. I respond well to external beauty. I wouldn’t want to live in a society full of Shreks and Green Witches. But there’s a point after which grooming oneself becomes too fastidious for comfort, and very unsexy.
The turnoff is huge. When looking at a person I can instantly feel the effort he or she has placed in looking good, especially when it’s been obsessive or over the top. The time spent and the anguish involved in their efforts are written in every stroke of their makeup and every inch of their clothing. Over time, it shapes my image of them, enabling me to judge their character not in terms of the way they look but in terms of the stress to which they subject themselves in order to look how they look.
Vanity! Beauty’s envious, insecure, and always second-best competitor, revealing itself through the shades under which it tries to hide and the spotlights in front of which it stands.
Acting It Out
Truth is, we are all to blame for this trend. We respond to external beauty in ways that promote and perpetuate it. We make it worthwhile for people to groom themselves meticulously by rewarding them for it.
We also punish those who look bad. Be it for lack of trying on their part, or because they have not been physically favored, it doesn’t matter. We are averse to shoddy appearances.
It’s a cruel process in a cruel and competitive world. I am not one to diss competition, because I think it keeps the world turning, but I think we could do without the neuroticism and callousness regarding appearances. There’s more to life than how one grooms.
Easier said than done. Dustin Hoffman summed it up best in a very frank interview for the AFI (American Film Institute). In his preparation for his legendary role in Tootsie, where he plays Michael Dorsy, a struggling actor who moonlights as a woman (Dorothy Michaels) in order to find work, Hoffman speaks about exploring that role. He says he asked himself the question ‘How would you be different if you had been born a woman.’ He admits that this question led him to a very surprising and shocking realization regarding his appearance and the pressure women put on themselves to look ravishing.
Moving stuff from a moving actor! Respect. He is, after all, a person whose job involves him getting dressed and made up for a living. Hearing it from the horse’s mouth puts a new spin on makeup and what it means to dress up every day.
More on that in a coming article.
Behind The Mask
We all act out in one way or another, for whatever reason. We all have things to hide or attributes we want to highlight. Sometimes we are successful, nailing the role, other times we fail miserably, nailing our foot to the floor and looking like idiots.
So let’s pause for a moment and address the issue of grooming by seeing beyond appearances, extending our graces to people who don’t look like a million bucks. Let’s be open to everyone, even if only for a minute. I won’t make the ridiculous claim that we should all respond with equal enthusiasm to everyone we meet, all the time, regardless of how they look, because that would be unrealistic. But let’s take a moment the next time we deal with a person and try to expand our civility toward him or her beyond our comfort zone, not based on appearances but on something more, whatever it may be.
It would be a good start.
Let’s also dare to go out once in a while looking like shit – or, should I say, without having spent half an hour in front of the mirror. Let’s see if the world collapses if we walk around looking unpolished and casual.
See, at the end of the day, we are responsible for the pressures that break us. If we want to live in a less superficial and more meaningful world, let’s be the change we want to see, be we men or women. Let’s drop the masks for the person behind them and simply hang out, even if for a while.
This article was originally posted on Urban Times