It’s amazing how our culture is so influenced by beauty. Men and women have been searching for perfection since the beginning of time. Some experts say that this desire for beauty is one unique aspect of our humanness, but even so, has the term “beauty” actually ever been successfully defined?
From the flawless physiques of ancient Roman statues, to the late Marilyn Monroe, beauty has always been a large part of our way of life.
On May 21, the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles opened an exhibition called BEAUTY CULTURE, to explore this mysterious concept over the 20th and 21st centuries.
The exhibit covers all aspects of the word beauty. The space is divided into different sections including the size of beauty, the color of beauty, pin-ups, pageant queens, Hollywood icons, and androgyny, all displayed through the mediums of photography and digital imaging.
"As much as beauty can astonish and inspire, it can also corrupt and subvert, rendering all else - and even itself - broken and obsolete," said Wallis Annenberg, Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation. "The great contemporary photographers do so much more than chronicle and celebrate what is beautiful in our time. They dig beneath it, they confront our compulsion with it, and they turn art's mirror on ourselves as well.”
The question everybody wants to know is, who gets to decide what is beautiful? Is it fashion designers, photographers, and magazines, or life partners, close family and friends?
Either way (and perhaps the answer is a mix of everything mentioned above), we as people are affected by these classifications, both physically and mentally.
One thing that remains constant in the world of beauty is symmetry. Scientists have done studies that show people instinctively find symmetrical faces and bodies more attractive, but still, the overall standard of beauty itself seems to change with time.
In the early 90’s the “all-American” look was in. Christy Brinkley’s long legs, blonde hair and blue eyes were coveted, and represented ideal beauty.
Today, the general consensus has changed, and now the “all-American” look is much more diverse. According to Allure Magazine’s 20th Anniversary Beauty Survey, “64 percent of all our respondents think women of mixed race represent the epitome of beauty.”
Those that responded to the survey also want a different skin tone, as “70 percent reported that they wanted it to be darker.” The survey also found that full lips and a curvy figure are also in high demand.
With these standards comes a lot of pressure. Many men and women of all ages have turned to medicine; dermatology, plastic surgery, cosmetic dentistry and weight loss procedures, are often used as way to attain certain aspects of what people perceive as beautiful. There is nothing wrong with this, and many people these days are quite open about undergoing cosmetic procedures.
Injectable dermal fillers like Juvederm are a quick and non-surgical way to get the perfect pout.
Tummy tucks and body-contouring cosmetic surgeries like liposuction can also help achieve that ideal figure, and porcelain veneers are in high demand for those who want a million dollar smile.
But, even as plastic surgery numbers are rising, the beauty business has taken a very different approach to defining beauty.
One company started the change, and since then, people of all shapes, sizes, ages and colors have been featured in advertising, runway shows, and beauty campaigns.
Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty was one of the first to represent “real” woman, and exposed the truth about photo retouching and the psychology behind advertising marketed towards women.
The campaign’s goal is to, “free ourselves and the next generation from beauty stereotypes and contribute to building self-esteem for your women.”
Whether au-naturale, or surgically enhanced, the bottom line is, beauty is truly different for everyone.
Former model and editor at large for Vogue Italia, Bethann Hardison knows this all too well. She told CNN, “The word beauty is such a controversial word. I think that the more that there’s exposure (of different kinds of looks), and as long as you expose them consistently, you give people a chance to see what could also be beautiful besides what came before.”
While this conversation focuses mainly on physical appearance, it’s still important to remember that beauty also comes from within, and those inner qualities seem to be quite universal. Confidence, humor and kindness are also paramount characteristics in defining beauty, and in spite of plastic surgery, fashion houses and Hollywood, this is one thing we should never forget.
To learn more about ways to enhance your beauty, contact a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon in your area.
Photo Credit: © 2002 Felicia Webb. Backstage at the Paul Smith Women fashion show, London, 09/13/2002
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