If people spend 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…
A myth has taken over our lives, 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.
The idea is that everyone is – or can be – good looking.
The myth didn’t come out of nowhere. Pushed by the entertainment industry – TV, cinema, magazines, comic books etc – it has a powerful accomplice and enabler: the cosmetic industry. The obsession we have with our looks has been introduced to society over the decades by ingenious cosmetic experts, taking advantage of our 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 who seek 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.
The trend is popular, spilling over to the male gender. The cosmetic industry’s new product, the ‘metrosexual man,’ is a thing, turning men neurotic about our looks, too. Because we’re worth it.
Don’t get me wrong, I like attractive people, and I like those 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 (sorry ogres etc).
But there’s a point after which grooming oneself becomes too fastidious for comfort, and unsexy.
The turnoff is huge. When looking at a person, I see the effort, the anguish involved. The need (desperation?) to look good, the pressure one puts on oneself, they’re written in every stroke of that person’s makeup and every inch of his/her clothing. It’s in the way the hair slicks back, or bounces around in a faux-messy style, and in the way the shoes match – or clash – with the rest of the outfit. The way the sleeves are rolled back or left unbuttoned, the tan of the foundation, the smell of the moisturizer. It shows, especially when the effort is over the top. Obsessiveness isn’t concealable.
Over time, this aura shapes my image of a person (I’m sure others pick up on it, too) and I end up judging people’s character not in terms of the way they look but in terms of the stress to which they subject themselves, all in the name of appearances.
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’re 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 and to the point of madness. We approve the behavior.
We also punish those who look bad. Be it for lack of trying on their part, or because they’re not physically privileged, it doesn’t matter. We’re averse to shoddy appearances.
It’s a cruel process in a cruel and competitive world. I’m not one to diss competition – it keeps the world turning – but 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 super-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) 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 the question led him to a shocking realization regarding a) his appearance and b) 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
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
We all act out in one way or another, for whatever reason. We have blemishes to hide and attributes to highlight. Sometimes we’re 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 in terms of those who don’t look like a million bucks. Let’s be open to everyone, even if only for a minute. I won’t make ridiculous claims, such as ‘we must respond with equal enthusiasm to everyone we meet, all the time, regardless of how they look!’ because that would be fake. But let’s take a moment the next time we deal with someone and 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’re 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 and let the person behind them shine. What have we got to lose, except our vanity?