This article has been a long time coming. Both of my parents have suggested it to me independently of each other, my mother being inspired by a conversation with a stranger about the colour of her hair and my father being inspired by, what else, a conversation about breast implants that he had had with an acquaintance. They both believe in real beauty and I guess they practice what they preach, seeing as how they raised me, a young woman who can boast about being 100% natural and complete (and peanut free) … except for that bit of ink in my back and that metal in my ear lobes and navel. Of course, this addendum raises a tough question for me; what exactly is real, natural beauty?
For me, the difference between real beauty and artificial beauty is the difference between modification and mutilation. The way I see it, modification is the things you do for yourself, to make yourself feel more beautiful and confident or to better represent who you feel you are as a person, where as mutilation is the things you do for someone else, for someone else’s pleasure or ideals. For example, I would classify getting a picture that you find brilliant and meaningful tattooed on your bicep for everyone to see as a modification, or a natural progression of your innate beauty, whereas I would classify bleaching the colour out of your hair, tanning your skin beyond recognition and having a foreign substance forcefully thrust into your chest so that people would like you as mutilation, or an unnatural purge of your true self. Real beauty doesn’t mean abstaining from make up, hair dye and high heels, it means being true to yourself and your own unique vision for who you want to be.
Breast augmentation, when sought out to improve quality of life, getting implants after a mastectomy, for example, can be a very rewarding experience for everyone involved, but when it is sought out to increase the quantity of free drinks at the bar, however, is a very damaging for one woman in particular. When a woman has breast implants installed, she is likely to lose a degree of sensation in her breasts and nipples, effectively making herself an object for someone else’s enjoyment and pleasure. This isn’t beautiful, it’s just upsetting.
Tanning has had an odd history. In ancient Greece, being pale was a symbol of a woman’s chastity, temperance and social standing, only the men and the slaves were outside long enough to get a tan in the intense summer heat of the Mediterranean sun. In Victorian England wealthy women walked the promenade with parasols and returned to estates with dark, heavy curtains on every window to maintain a nearly translucent skin tone. Drawing blue veins on their chests and necks set them apart from the lower classes. Today, an unhealthy orange glow shouts to the world that you are wealthy enough to have the leisure time to gallivant about in the sun all day instead of being stuck inside a factory or office building. Oh how the tables have turned. Now it seems we have the unhealthy real tan and the overdone fake tan to choose from and nothing more. But there is a third option, try living with your natural skin tone for a summer and see how many compliments you get for your healthy skin.
Now we come to something that has always seemed really creepy to me, fake teeth, hair, eyelashes and nails on people who were perfectly fine to begin with. Now, I was a little afraid of my grandparents’ dentures as a child, but that is a different matter altogether (they used them to scare me into brushing my teeth with obsessive regularity), what I am referring to here is people who do not lack healthy teeth and hair. These superficial substitutes may not seem to be hurting anyone on the surface, but subconsciously, they do send a pretty strong message: that the natural female body isn’t good enough, that it needs these alterations to be considered acceptably beautiful. When these beauty prosthetics are worn everyday, and not just for special occasions, this message can mount to self-esteem crushing levels when a woman realises that she likes herself better when she is less of her true self. Today, forty percent of women in North America are spending $330 each, every year, (that’s $16.5 billion in America alone) to not have to walk around with the hair colour they were born with. I have no complaints about this, I know I am lucky to love my natural hair colour, but there is a difference between changing up your hair colour every now and then for fun and dyeing your hair blonde for 20 years because “men prefer blonds”. I implore you closet brunettes, try living with your natural locks for a little while, it’s not so bad.
I have teeth that are healthy and fairly straight, hair that has a rich colour and manageable texture and eyelashes that are long and dark so it is understandable that I would not be able to empathize with people who would like to alter or improve these features but, conversely, I also have thin, brittle, short, chewed up nails, and still, the number one trend in fake beauty that really concerns me (even more than breast implants that look at me cockeyed) is fake nails. After finding one in my food at a restaurant, I can’t eat anything made by anyone wearing them, but traumatic eatery events aside; they truly bother me on a deep, feminine level because they are so impeding and imposing to daily life. I have met women who can’t open an envelope, open a can of pop, dial a phone, type correctly, COOK, do the dishes or play monopoly (I could go on) in fear that they will wreck their creepy, coveted fake nails. When I see these events play out, I can’t help but compare the restrictive beauty of artificial fingernails to the horror stories of corset training and lotus feet.
When I was a little girl, I thought that the three most beautiful women in the world were Marilyn Monroe, Gillian Anderson and Kate Winslet.
Their natural and timeless beauty had a huge influence on how I see and feel about myself as a woman. What woes are we weaving for the next generation with the icons we create for them?