What Pisses Me Off: Our society’s absolute obsession with beauty

Humans have always admired and desired beauty – this is hardly news. Visit any museum or art gallery and you’ll be regaled with portraits or statues of beautiful faces and bodies, mostly, but not solely, female. (I had the opportunity to see Michaelangelo’s DAVID a few years ago in Florence, Italy. Now there’s beauty!).

We may even be ‘hard wired’ to respond instinctively to a potential mate’s facial or body proportions, their skin, hair and teeth because they may be a sign of reproductive ability. Maybe that’s why I was attracted to a good looking young woman 40 years ago, before exchanging even one word, who has been my wife for 39 years. Beauty exists. It varies across cultures and time, but it’s there.

So what pisses me off? Our society’s absolute obsession with beauty.

It’s no longer enough to be well groomed, clean and presentable. We now have to aspire to an unrealistic standard of beauty. We are convinced it is possible to buy beauty, and that with the right products, diet or lifestyle, everyone can be beautiful. A look at our media, movies, television shows and fashion magazines confirms this every day. We’re bombarded with ‘age defying’ products; diets which will, it’s claimed, make you beautiful ‘from the inside out’; surgical procedures to make you beautiful and more.

Worse is the harsh message that not only is beauty achievable by anyone, but if you’re not beautiful then it’s your fault. You’re just not trying hard enough, or you haven’t bought the right products, eaten the right foods or gone to the right clinic or retreat. There is no pseudo scientific formula – with the obligatory French name – which will make someone beautiful. Yet we keep buying the stuff to achieve the beauty we yearn for, like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the mountain, only to repeatedly fail and then purchase the new improved product, over and over again, resulting in more frustration for us and more profits for the beauty industry.

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If we were honest we would admit that beauty cannot be purchased, nor is it achievable by everyone. Look at the people you see every day, on the streets or at work. Look at yourself, for that matter. How many are, or even close to as ‘beautiful’ as the endless images paraded before our eyes?

We’ve fallen for an unrealistic standard dictated to us, and have given it far too much importance. Young girls aspire to be the next famous model but don’t realize that a person’s looks don’t make a good person, someone who contributes to society and helps make the world a better place. Physical beauty does not mean someone will be more intelligent, sensitive, caring, compassionate, creative or inspirational. Beauty won’t guarantee you won’t get cancer, or be depressed, unfit or simply a boring person. But it is beauty which is their ultimate goal.

I just read that Sandra Bullock was voted by People Magazine the world’s most beautiful woman at the age of fifty. Good for her, but it, too, pisses me off. Holding up Sandra Bullock as the most beautiful woman sets absolutely ridiculous expectations for all women – at least, all white skinned women, and especially other 50 plus women. Sandra Bullock was born with whatever our society regards as the right mix of cheekbones, lips and eyes. No one can look like her, and few have the financial resources to dedicate hours a day to her appearance. How we look isn’t our choice: it’s a genetic fact of our life. But for us in our 60, the hidden message is “See? If she can be beautiful at 50, you have no excuse for not being beautiful even at 60!” (Someone should tell gravity and our wrinkles!)

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Surrounded by not only images of beauty but insidiously told that anyone can, and should, become beautiful is unrealistic and unfair. It is no wonder that the selfie phenomenon is rampant. We all want our smiling face, like Bullock’s, on someone’s phone, tablet or computer screen, comforting us by confirming that I, too, am a success; I, too, am beautiful!

Some of history’s greatest people wouldn’t even get a second look today, yet without them our world would be a poorer place. So by all means let’s be well groomed, let’s dress nicely, style our hair and wear makeup. But let’s remember that our looks are a matter of genetic luck, and there is no ‘age defying’ anything out there. It’s OK to look old. Let’s not let an unrealistic image rule us, or worse, depress us. After all, who we are and how we treat others is far more important than how we look.

Do you agree with Zvi? Do you think society has impossibly high standards for beauty? Tell us below.