I'm just a fat gal with a blog and an opinion. Well, lots of opinions.

Guest Post: The Beast of Beauty


Famed writer, artist, philosopher and all around mysterious princess “Holy Pigeon” wrote this fab entry and with her permission I have reposted it below for you all to enjoy!

I turn this month to exploring what may be regarded as a superficial topic: the world of appearances. I’ve often thought about my place in the world of appearances and whether or not it’s worth thinking about in the first place. It all started rather indirectly about a year ago, when I began examining all of the products that I use, as well as the food that I consume, and whether my patterns are beneficial or detrimental to my health and my physical appearance. Regarding the latter, I can’t help but suspect that the one industry that purports to promote beauty (by promising to maintain youth, health, and vitality) – the cosmetics industry – is responsible for achieving the opposite. The amount of chemicals in cosmetics scares me. I wonder whether the combined and prolonged use of various cosmetic products ends up aggravating the problem that they’re advertised to alleviate, not to mention the probability that many problems are just invented by the cosmetics industry to sell their products.

I decided to really look at every product that I use – from shampoo to toothpaste – to read and decipher the labels, to reconsider what I deem necessary and limit or do away with what’s superfluous, to see if I can create homemade substitutes wherever possible, and to locate and buy products in the future whose ingredients I can identify and which seem “neutral,” or less likely to have adverse effects on health.

I ended up conducting this research with other things besides cosmetics (e.g., how safe is non-stick cookware? What kinds of ingredients are in any processed foods I eat and how do I eliminate consumption of such food?). I insist that I’ve done this not out of a sense of paranoia, but out of a desire to be more aware and to simplify, though the process of finding out all of this information and applying it is arduous and yet to be completed.

While I’m ready to share the results and to gab about some of the great alternatives as well as conventional products that I’ve discovered, this whole adventure has also made me confront some stark maxims that I may have already known but never really acknowledged. Indeed, how many people can truly admit that:

1) There is no product or procedure that will change you.

This realization led me to think about the motivations behind using cosmetics or cosmetic procedures to enhance or change one’s appearance. Almost every woman I know alters her appearance in some way, some more drastically than others. I don’t think this is simply out of vanity or a desire to be attractive. Yes, some may augment themselves in the belief that it makes them more attractive. But a perusal of the personals will quickly alleviate anyone’s fears about being unattractive. Out here in the wild, almost everyone has qualities that will be regarded as attractive by someone else. Whether or not individuals with compatible preferences end up meeting is another matter.

I sense that even astute feminist interpretations fail to examine our relationship with the world of appearances realistically. It’s all about how women are held to standards of beauty that are determined within the male power structure…blah, blah, blah. Most of the commentary on this topic offers some version of the idea that beauty is something more than what we see, the cliché that “beauty comes from within.” This is complete nonsense because nobody knows what beauty is; there is no absolute consensus about it. It’s not something that can be captured and held captive. It exists in many ways, both superficial and profound. Its conception may be in the eye of the beholder as well as in the mind of the beheld, but there may also be an aspect to beauty that isn’t contained by either subject or object. Beauty may have qualities that are outside of the tangible realm altogether, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an equally potent material component to it.

Limited in our capacity to define beauty collectively, we are compelled, it seems, to strive for it individually. This desire to project something that in our estimation is beauty, this desire is way too strong to be a product of cultural influences alone. This desire is really an acknowledgement of the ephemeral, mysterious aspects of our existence.

2)…And yet “you” are ever changing, and thus undefined.

To believe that each person has some set of unwavering characteristics that makes them a unique individual is a rather rigid way to view members of our species. Such a belief offers us no opportunity to evolve, or to change our minds or behavior. I wonder if this belief in the enduring individual self is perpetuated by an economic system that stratifies groups within an immobile class structure. We get to express ourselves through our choices as consumers while at the same time ensuring that consumer choices are restricted at each level in the economic ladder. We have the freedom to move about in our cage.

The emphasis on the external as a means of self-expression is often regarded as being shallow, as a way of compensating for a vapid inner spirit. I argue that there is no external/internal because there is no self. There is only the murkiness of being. In this sense, the world of appearances may enslave of us if we adhere to its many dogmas, but at the same time it may enrich us if we see ourselves as contributors to its infinite permutations. To pursue beauty is to participate in an endless carnival.

I found myself, one sleepless night, trying to find a way to describe this carnival. I ended up drawing a bunch of Venn diagrams.

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