Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Poverty of Pretty Part 1: Introduction

This is the first in an ongoing series of posts. My intention is to shift the paradigm, and it's going to take a lot of work. However, what you will read in this series are my actual beliefs based on years of study of art, fashion, and the beauty industry in general. I am biased in favor of decoration, but the basic idea is that beauty is attainable and accessible to everyone because it's not about what you look like: it's about what you are like.

I am a feminist who sells makeup (actually, my job is a lot more nuanced than that, but you get the idea). In doing so, I encounter a lot of resistance to my craft that is based on wholesale rejection of the Beauty Industry. I also experience some amount of reticence in myself because I believe what has been dubbed the "Beauty Industry" is incredibly harmful to women because it sets standards that are impossible to meet by basing the definition of beauty upon what is conventionally attractive, the definition of which it also decides. This creates a negative feedback loop: 
  • the industry decides what new thing is conventionally attractive 
  • -> publishes articles either praising or deriding celebrities for having/not having those characteristics 
  • -> produces products that promise to enhance or hide a particular quality in the consumer
  • ->consumers (actual people) buy these products, and become frustrated because the products may make them pretty, but don't make them feel beautiful, so they quit buying products
  • -> the industry decides what new thing is conventionally attractive and the cycle starts over again
As the cycle continues, women (and men) become more and more beaten down by it, and find themselves searching for a way out, just wanting to be pretty and feel beautiful. OR they drop out entirely, because it's all bullshit. Both of these ways are harmful and miss the point of beauty entirely, because both of these options (trying to keep up with the trends, or telling the whole concept to fuck off entirely) are still focused on the wrong thing: attractiveness. When you focus your definition of beauty on what a person looks like, you fall into a trap called the poverty of pretty.

Beauty is art. It is intentional and methodical. It can be changed from day to day, hour to hour, and flows along with what is going on inside of the beautiful person. If we focus the definition of beauty on character (attention to emotional fitness, physical health, etc), it becomes attainable. A person can work on their character and develop or strengthen integrity, honesty, a sense of humor, physical strength, a balanced (but let's face it not perfect) diet, good fashion for their shape, trustworthiness, and any number of characteristics that are desirable in a person

Attractiveness, however, is not in the hands of the person, it is in the hands of the viewer, and nothing reasonable can be done to change where a person falls on the attractiveness scale. "Pretty" is determined by genetics. I have a conventionally attractive face. I can't do anything about that. I also have giant boobs, an unattractive tummy-area (which isn't my only problem with my abdomen...), long fingers and legs, and broad shoulders. These things can't be changed (some might argue the tummy-part could, but no matter what a person does about belly fat, if they're unhappy with that, they always will be because of social conditioning that focuses on conventional attractiveness). Nothing can be done about a person's genetics, I know this, and choose to develop my character thereby giving evidence to my own theory that character-based definitions of beauty are attainable, where beauty-defined-by-conventional-attractiveness is not.

This brings us to a quick discussion on the idea of art versus decoration. I had a professor in college who talked about this a lot, but we never really came to a conclusion about it (and in writing this, I now wish I had paid more attention to his thoughts on the matter). Both art and decoration have value, but, and this is very important the are not the same thing. Art is intentional, has character, history, and method. Decoration can be accidental or intentional, but lacks its own character, history, and method. A person can use decoration to enhance the character of a place, object, or even a person, but the decoration does not define the character of the place, object, or person. We can also use art to enhance these nouns, but the art maintains its own character in a kind of sentient way. 

A person is a work of art. A person is beautiful if they choose to be, through sentient intention.
Makeup, clothes, shoes, are all decorations. The lack their own character, and do not define beauty because they lack sentience.

Therefore, focus of beauty standards either on decoration or on conventional attractiveness becomes accidental and denies beauty its own ishness*, making beauty unattainable and leaving most people in the poverty of pretty. BUT if we change beauty wholesale, and just do away with these unreasonable expectations and tell people that beauty is not about what you look like, but what you are like, it becomes attainable. People become more happy. People become more willing to experiment with decoration, and it makes the lives of people like me SO MUCH EASIER because what I bring to the table isn't judgment of a person based on things they can't control, but compassion and understanding because I know that they know that we both base our beauty on things we have control over.

*ishness: the thing of a thing that makes it that thing