This is not your usual beauty magazine article. Perception of Beauty was originally published in L’Affaire Magazine Volume II in March 2017. When L’Affaire kindly asked me to write about beauty, I was excited, hopeful yet confused. What can you write about beauty that has not been already written, captured on camera or sung? It was the perfect challenge / opportunity to debunk the beauty taboo for good.
The female psyche on beauty
Beauty is a trivial topic for women, who grow up wanting to lead a beautiful life, if not be the beauty in it. The amount of money an average British woman spends on her beauty regime in a lifetime, is £140,000 ! This can tell us a lot about the importance of beauty in our lives, apart from it being lucrative industry (sorry – my entrepreneurial interests cannot be always tamed).
It always seems to amaze my husband that I am convinced some days that my face looks “ugly” in the mirror whereas other days, I smile in front of it in satisfaction, that “Today I look OK”. All along he is convinced he sleeps with the same woman and that from day to day I look the same.
Ooooh, and the dreaded question you can ask every man… “How do I look today?”. If I am not convinced of my own innate beauty, I mean… What is he supposed to say? Nothing can convince me, not even him! So why do I ask that question?
When I asked him again this morning, letting him know that today he will also be contributing to my article, he surrendered to this “game” and said that he does not see a huge difference of me being made up or not, just the joy and confidence that I radiate when I actually am! That made me think deeper… So what is going on in the female psyche?
Why beauty matters
Our society has made it important for women to be feminine and beautiful. If you are a woman and you are not interested in being beautiful or feminine, it is considered to be totally weird! The utmost compliment for a woman is to be called beautiful from both women and men. Biologically, beauty is something we value, and it stems from the reproductive choices we make as humans. We seek for healthy partners in order to guarantee healthy offspring. And beauty signifies health through the symmetry and balance of external features . If someone is beautiful, can they be unhealthy? No wonder beauty is then a ritual that all women tirelessly indulge in. We strive to look healthy and therefore, beautiful in order to be attractive to our prospective partners and acknowledged by our peers and society.
So what if we are not symmetrical then? Is this game over? A source says that women spend Women spend 3,276 hours or 136 days of their lives getting ready for a night out – enough time for an astronaut to fly to the moon and back 22 times . Another study reveals that women spend an hour in front of the mirror everyday . Beauty is the cornerstone of our existence and our identity, if not an acceptable daily obsession! Beauty in our society is not just about our natural gifts, it is the fruit of the work we put into cultivating ourselves and maintaining our natural gifts! Both contribute to us women earning “beauty (brownie) points”, if there were any!
Another perception of beauty is that it serves as our attempt to be recognised for our aesthetics and ultimately of who we are. We women put on a face/mask with choices of what we consider to be good taste, to enhance our natural gifts or simply have fun. In the process, we meticulously aim to correct what we consider to be our “imperfections”, to fit an accepted standard of beauty/attractiveness i.e.: flawless skin, big bright eyes, full lips, shapely cheekbones, small cute noses, tidy well-groomed hair, nice clothes that show off our assets or cover our not so “perfect” body parts e.g. hips, tummy, breasts or legs. Every woman has their own beauty standard they aspire to. And as a result, every woman also has a list of their face/body parts they find hard to make friends with. We often end up seeking something we do not have, outside of us in order to rebalance ourselves and what we miss.
Beauty in Business
Our beauty speaks volumes of the chance we have to being a convincing ambassador of our message to the world. And now with Social Media we reach a huge audience on a daily basis and to satisfy their curiosity we have to create a powerful “image” or brand for ourselves. Whether we realise or not, we knit that image with every choice that we make. And there is no doubt, we have more chances to impact our audience if we look “decent” and acceptable to their standard of beauty.
And this is a struggle I had to go through as a female entrepreneur. The standards of other female entrepreneurs and their promo-videos set the bar very high! When I thought, that social media are supposed to represent ourselves in our daily lives. Photo-shoots, make-up artists, professional camera men and the list goes on. The other day I caught myself saying the following, when my coach (Marina Stamos PR) was trying to urge me into Imperfect Action (as I was happily sitting in the land of Perfect Inaction):
“No-one would like to see my face on video!”. Then her appropriate question followed:
“What is stopping you? Are you worried that you are not beautiful enough to be listened to?”.
Ouch! She was spot-on! And the best bit was, that she did not even try to console me. She did leave this question hanging in the air for a few seconds until, I acknowledged defeat. How long was I going to avoid my livelihood, for fear of not being “symmetrical enough to be considered beautiful for my message to have gravitas”? Her message was loud and clear. I knew what I needed to do: a) enhance the natural gifts I had and b) put the hard work in for what I did not have.
Point taken – the significance of beauty comes with the need to be visible in today’s online world. With every appearance we make, we subconsciously communicate how important beauty is to us, and how much we respect others by investing and making the experience of meeting us more beautiful and therefore special. A subtle but powerful message, and here I am writing about it.
Mixed race beauty
Being mixed race, I was always confused about where I belonged to and what I should aspire to in terms of beauty. As a kid that always stood out in my classroom, my body/skin/face never fit in to any beauty stereotype in either of my countries of origin.
In Japan I was this huge girl who was always taller than the national average height of boys. Women in Japan should have white skin, be petite, polite, shy and cute (“kawaii). In Greece, women tan and are encouraged to be confident and show their intelligence. As I was different, I was the first one to be picked on at school. And a few years ago, I became aware of my struggle to fit in an any cost. I would not express my opinion, I would try hard not to stand out. And why am I telling you this? Because it is liberating to not try to fit in anymore.
Wabi-Sabi: Beautiful imperfections
My antidote to fitting in was the wonderful concept of Wabi-Sabi , that I came across in Japanese pottery and Haiku poetry at the Nezu Museum (Tokyo) . The very act of creating any form of ART, is in essence a quest to define beauty. Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese philosophy appreciates the beauty of the imperfect, the transient, the incomplete and the impermanent. Forget symmetry and forget balance, it is all about our humanity.
In his book, “The Architecture of Happiness”, Alain de Botton writes about the American scholar Donald Keene, who “observed that the Japanese sense of beauty … has been dominated by a love of irregularity rather than symmetry, the impermanent rather than the eternal, and the simple rather than the ornate. The reason owes nothing to climate or genetics … but is the result of the action of writers, painters and theorists who have actively shaped the sense of beauty of their nation” . According to Leonard Koren, wabi-sabi can be defined as “the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty and it occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West.” Whereas Andrew Juniper notes that “if an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi” .
This way of thinking recognises that on our path to strive for perfection (i.e. putting the work to repair our imperfections), the point is to acknowledge our imperfections, not to hide them. It is our way to take care of our history and identity.
And so my new definition is, that beauty is the most powerful ritual we learn in order to connect with our humanity and ultimately other people in a profound way during our lifetime.
Feature picture taken by Zydre Zilinskaite