What is the essence of human beauty? Is it natural and God-given, or artificial and man-made? Is there is a common universal standard, or do definitions and concepts of beauty vary from culture to culture?
Who, in the final analysis, determines who is beautiful and who is not?
Because of a keen interest in culture and communication, these questions have been engaging my attention over the past few years in particular. This was triggered by what seems to be an intensification of concerted attempts by the multibillion-dollar cosmetics industry to expand global market share through the promotion of a common universal definition and standard of beauty encompassing all peoples and nations.
It is another example of globalization at work that has become increasingly obvious in Barbados and the wider Caribbean over the past decade or so. Globalization’s ultimate success in creating a single world market through the integration of disparate countries hinges on the homogenization of culture where people, regardless of where they live, come to embrace similar values, acquire similar tastes, think alike, adopt a common world view and share the same hopes and aspirations.
At some time or another, especially during our growing up phase, most of us would have been exposed to an old familiar saying that posits the view that “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”. Implicit in the statement is the notion that the determination of whether someone is beautiful or not rests, not so much with the individual or what he or she thinks of him or herself, but exclusively with others.
As perceptions of beauty have considerable influence on the development of a person’s self-image and identity, those who would have unwittingly accepted that “beauty lies with the beholder”, would have also learned to believe that feeling good about themselves relies not so much on what they think or see in themselves, but on the approval of others.
Perhaps, this explains why an increasing number of people, especially our women who are more easily swayed by persuasive commercial messages than men, have become soft marketing targets and the source of handsome profits for the global cosmetics industry. Perhaps, it is also the reason why growing numbers of black women in particular seem to be rejecting their identity and embracing other notions of beauty.
The cosmetic industry has to be among the most profitable in Barbados and the Caribbean, considering current robust demand for its beauty solutions in the form of a wide range of imported products and services. Influenced by foreign notions of beauty, increasing numbers of Barbadian and Caribbean women today are bleaching away their blackness, rejecting their natural hair for expensive imported weave made from the hair of other races, and sporting fake eyelashes and nails.
To satisfy the huge appetite of our women, Barbados currently spends over $2 million annually on imported Remy and other foreign hair products. From some accounts, more Barbadian and Caribbean women are also following foreign trends, especially in the United States, and are undergoing cosmetic surgery to enhance their butts and breasts with silicone and other implants.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), butt implants and lifts represent the fastest-growing type of plastic surgery in the United States.
“It appears as though women obtaining butt implants or butt lift surgery are trying to emulate celebrities with larger derrieres, like Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez or Nicki Minaj,” observed the writer of an article this week in Britain’s Daily Mail, reporting a 252 per cent rise in butt lifts in the United States over the past 15 years.
Caribbean persons are also exposed to being influenced by such personalities, especially through cable television and the Internet which are major channels for the introduction of foreign culture into our societies. Despite this, Government policymakers are yet to see the value of introducing media literacy in our schools to protect young, impressionable minds, or adopting media policies to ensure our Caribbean way of life is not overwhelmed and subsumed by foreign influences.
In a conversation the other day with a young fashionista friend, I frankly asked what did she really get from spending so heavily on Remy hair and all the other cosmetic solutions.
“It is about feeling good about oneself,” she explained matter-of-factly.
While everyone has the right and freedom to choose, which should be respected, it does not mean, however, that these choices are exempt from critical examination.
I may be wrong, but the way I see it is that if someone has to rely on artificial enhancements to feel good about himself or herself, then that person is in a terrible predicament. Imagine what would be their fate if these products suddenly were to become unavailable for some reason. They would be like the proverbial fish out of water.
Besides, a lot of men do not really care that much about all the make-up and so on, as far as being attracted to a woman is concerned. If he is out for more than a fling, then her character usually matters more.
Fortunately, there is an alternative view of beauty to which, at least, my generation was exposed when we were growing up. It was through a 1970s hit song for children by Ray Stevens. Dealing with inner beauty as opposed to outer beauty, the song declared that everyone is beautiful in his or her “own way”. The stirring lyrics urged: “Don’t worry about what shows from without but the love that lives within.”
This perspective of beauty, which is hardly mentioned today, underscores the uniqueness of every person in terms of his or her special beauty. For me, an important lesson imparted by the song is that everyone has to learn to accept himself or herself as they are, and celebrate his or her uniqueness. Accepting and learning to love oneself is the only true source of happiness.
The beauty on which the world is focused, which fuels such strong demand for the solutions of the cosmetics industry, is outer and physical. It is also temporary and will eventually go, regardless of how much make-up is applied or the number of body enhancing procedures through cosmetic surgery.
This is not to say that these products and services cannot be useful, but their consumption should always be tempered by an understanding of their limitations and the fact that nature inevitably will run its course and eventually win.
Which brings the discussion back to a point made earlier: namely, the critical importance of self-acceptance. In contrast with fleeting outer beauty, the deep inner beauty of which Ray Stevens sang, is spiritual, permanent and insusceptible to the ravages of times and nature.
It cannot be seen, but is experienced through the positive vibrations transmitted by persons who are richly endowed. It requires no costly cosmetic enhancements, but is nurtured by the channelling of positive thoughts.
To be in the uplifting company of spiritually beautiful people is always a joyful and enriching experience. Such beauty is naturally contagious. The same, however, cannot be said of outer, physical beauty. Indeed, some of the most physically beautiful people can sometimes be the most obnoxious.
Give me a choice and I will opt, every time, to have as a defining characteristic for myself or to be in the company of people richly blessed with inner beauty. What about you?
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and long-standing journalist.