Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The High Cost of Beauty

In Emile Zola’s short story, Complements, we as readers get a tongue-in-cheek look at the price of beauty. In it, Parisian woman seek the services of old Durandeau, who owns an agency that rents out less attractive girls. The theory behind Durandeau’s scheme is simple, really: women will appear more beautiful if they’re accompanied by an unattractive companion. The business proves to be a smashing success for all, except, of course, the hired “complement”. At the end of the day she removes her finery, stares in the mirror located in her tiny apartment, and realizes she’s nothing more than a pawn in the game of attraction.

Though a work of fiction, Zola’s story sheds a light on the ugly business of beauty. Women and men spend thousands of dollars every year on creams, serums, and potions to battle the signs of aging and to conceal alleged imperfections. Botox is mainstream, and it’s quite easy these days to have something removed or inflated all in the quest for attractiveness.

How did we get here? And why are so many of us starting to look the same?

I love what Simon Doonan has to say about it all in his book, Eccentric Glamour. Doonan, the creative director for Barney’s New York, questions the current “Bleached, Botoxed, Booby” look that is so prevalent today. He encourages us to embrace our own style and to (gasp) have fun with it!

I guess what it boils down to is confidence.

Knowing oneself sure makes it easy to don something that others may view as unfashionable. That same self-awareness makes it okay to keep that bump on the nose, or to allow those wrinkles to form. Focusing inward certainly takes the pressure off what’s going on outside.

Too bad the ladies in Complements didn’t realize this. So sad that so many don’t realize it today.

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