Aesthetic judgement influences many aspects of contemporary life: confidence, self-fulfilling prophecies, and social ladder rankings. Famous faces, blessed with porcelain smooth skin, long eyelashes, and angular cheekbones are built to succeed. Biological angels, who fiercely tour red carpets and restaurants, serving cold fish eggs in doll-sized portions.
This ideology is not exclusive to modern culture, either. Beauty is a concept subjectively represented through our history. The Ancient Greeks revered a goddess that could offer eternal youth, to simply stress the importance of smoothened attributes and long, cascading hair. But what about those who haven't been kissed by Hebe? Why do we still allow that society defines people by their outer appearance?
The age-old preaching of “the importance of personality” is passed down the generations, emphasising how our inner demons are just that - on the inside - and not represented through bad eyebrow management, or incredulously long hair roots. But somehow this message seems to bear no weight for new generations. A turn towards the axiological importance of non-physical beauty would eliminate certain kinds of social and personal anguish over what beauty products to use to cover the face, or how to adorn the body while keeping it as accessible as possible to the gaze of others.
Blame doesn't fall with anyone specifically. Every aspect of society contributes to this ideal, pressuring individuals to be 'easy on the eye', and transforming the mundane stroll into a catwalk.
Men are expected to be strong, tall, and muscular, with rippling biceps and designer stubble shading their cheekbones. Women are expected to be tall and slim, with toned stomachs, natural, but perfectly applied makeup, and Kardashian-rivalling backsides.
These expectations are reproduced everywhere, at different scale and with various impact. Take schools and their accurate stereotypes, for example. It's easy to see socially-endorsed beauty sending some at the top of the social ladder, manifested in popularity and visibility. At the other end are the “nerds,” the social rejects, who channel their passion and effort into schoolwork, with little to show other than good grades. This should be enough to secure them a happy future, with few financial issues or unemployment worries. But is it? It appears that being physically attractive can boost confidence and create an all-encompassing regime of appreciation, while lack of recognized beauty yields the opposite.
Western societies claim to offer equal opportunity, and yet, a woman deemed “unattractive” is automatically “unfit” for a job as, for instance, news anchor. This hierarchy of corporeal aesthetics is at risk of taking over other frames of judgement: of quality, of ethics, of character. Classic stereotypes are still being reiterated by sitcoms and reinforced in the playground or in work environments. Beauty is now a guarantee of success.
Expectations, pre-set standards of perfection, ridiculously expensive surgical interventions – they all create a social force that pushes individuals into self-doubt, low self-esteem and a general feeling of personal dissatisfaction. When all these are related to our bodies, a part of our selves we cannot change or discard, the question is: are we at risk of internalizing these damaging hierarchical rules, and use and misuse our bodies, not as genuine extensions of our own individuality, but rather as mirrors for external, imposed notions of perfection?
Words: Abbie Dodson
Illustration: Francesco Lo Iacono
Copy edited by: Elena Stanciu