For me beauty has always meant beyond the superficial. Of course, we can see it as a commercialised industry – and it is. In 2012 in the UK, we spent nearly £8,438 million on fragrance, make-up, skincare, haircare and toiletries*. But it works on many levels. In nature, beauty is about attraction and many eminent psychologists talk of the ‘hard wiring’ we have as humans to procreate – the signals of fertility being the youthful clear, unlined skin and thick, glossy hair we so hanker after.
Even if there is an underlying mating instinct going on, it doesn’t necessarily explain the whole picture these days as we manage our fertility, invest in our health and live longer. As a make-up artist pointed out to me recently, it’s not necessarily sexual attraction at work. Yes, when we see someone (or equally something) beautiful, we’re drawn in, and it somehow brings out a protective instinct. It’s rare, precious, we want to take care of it, make it last.
And this element of self-care is key. Making sure we look our best is part of a healthy outlook. It would be worrying if we didn’t take a shower, wash our hair, brush our teeth every day – the basics of taking care of ourselves. Using face creams, putting on make-up, buying organic food, going to the gym might be seen as ‘icing on the cake’ extensions of that, but are as important to each of us in varying degrees.
We’ve always been a ‘lookist’ society, but we’re living in an increasingly visual world. We are surrounded by images on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and there seems to be a new raised bar on beauty perfectionism. Perfect airbrushed looking skin, blow dry, mani/pedi, tan. But, of course, there is no harm in wanting to look good in a photo and we seem to have a raft of fantastic affordable blow dry bars and beauty salons popping up on every High Street to help keep up this high standard of groomed and glossy.
The trouble comes when we assume that someone we think of as beautiful is successful, happy and has the ‘perfect‘ life says psychologist Elaine Farmer. As a former model, and now in her clinical work and consultancy to The British Fashion Council, she understands this more than most. ‘No matter what size or shape we are, underneath we all have the same needs. We want to be happy, loved, accepted and have good relationships’. Such things are not about the external, but the internal.
That there’s a difference between self-confidence and self-esteem really helps understand this as Elaine explains. ‘We can get a temporary confidence boost from buying a new lipstick or a £300 face cream which make us more attractive, but self-esteem is based on being able to know that we’re perfect just as we are, that we can shine in our own light.’ This comes down to conditioning, our history and how we learned to judge ourselves, and becoming aware of our own thought patterns will help us achieve a happier balance between the internal and external.
So, you see, beauty can become a really deep subject. But let’s never forget about the superficial, creative side of things. There is much to enjoy, especially with make-up. These days we have amazing concealers and BB Creams which hide imperfections, smudgy black liner for some 60s beatnik cool or a pop of fuchsia lipstick for a seasonal fashion edge. Chopping and changing our hair colour or style can be a real boost, so why wouldn’t we want to experiment? And even day to day bathing and showering can be turned into a ritual with beautifully scented potions and lotions.
Aside from the overblown marketing, slick re-touched glamour and big advertising promises there are many brilliant reasons to buy into beauty. If we choose to spend our money on expensive perfumes, haircuts, and face creams, so be it. As long as we understand and are at peace with our motivation for doing so.
* CTPA GB Market Estimates Report produced by market research specialists, Kantar Worldpanel and SymphonyIRI