Monday, December 30, 2013

Notes on Looking Good, part 1

Broadly speaking, looking good depends on what kind of body one has, what kind of health and grace one possesses, and the way one adorns the body.

Let us, at the outset, dispense with the notion that beauty is completely subjective.  It is a popular, but a rather misunderstood notion that "Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder."  This sentence is generally pronounced upon the vision of a somewhat unattractive person paired with a beauteous one, and when wonder asks "What did he see in her?"

There are certainly variances in people's judgment of others' beauty, but the variance is statistically bounded.  Assuming the scale of beauty to be from 1 to 10, it is unlikely that a person rated 4 (on average) by one hundred random people is rated beyond 9 (on average) by another random hundred people.  In the same vein, a last-round-entrant-model may not be considered the deserving prize-winner of a beauty pageant, but it would be extremely unlikely to find a person who regards that model as "ugly".

Beauty is not an exact science, but neither is it "whatever goes".  There have been many studies on the kind of proportions in a face (and the waste-hip ratio etc.) that lead to visual appeal, and these studies all indisputably point to the conclusion that beauty is not all that subjective.

Of course, someone having an emotional investment in the other person (a mother in a child being the most obvious example) will not be easily repulsed by its appearance.  And to be fair, the vast majority of human beings lie in the category of "neither too ugly, nor too pretty", so the perception of members of this vast majority as beautiful or ugly depends on factors other than how their naked bodies look.  They may have a pleasing (or "sweet") demeanor, they may know how to dress well, they may know how to make up their faces, they may smell good, they may have a great smile, and so on.

It might be true that different races have somewhat different standards of beauty, but that still does not mean that beauty is totally subjective.  It just means that standards of beauty have evolved differently in different populations.  There is obviously no beauty in raw nature.  A cloud is a cloud after all.  Beauty is a human response, but this response is based on more than just one's individual predilections.  It builds upon certain innate preferences as well as cultural influences.  On top of them, individual preferences may hold some small sway.


Let us, at first, consider the unadorned body.

The body is born with certain genes and that may lead to an in-born attractiveness which probably lasts for a large part of one's life.  Added to that is the care and nutrition the body receives, and how fit it remains as it grows older.

Care, nutrition and fitness are more easily achieved if one is affluent.  Moreover, affluent people stand a better chance at giving birth to beautiful babies.  Affluence leads to better medical care of the mother and the unborn child, less stress, better rest and nutrition for the mother, etc.  More pertinently however, affluent people can attract more beautiful partners which positively affects the future beauty of their children.

Fitness, in the age of lack of physical labor, depends a lot on whether one can choose what to eat, and whether one can choose or afford to indulge in certain physical sports and conditioning activities.  Poor people have little choice in both, and it is rather evident in the developed world.  As poor people in a country like USA grow in years, the circumstances of their lives lead them to become increasingly unhealthy, obese and haggard.  Baldness, for example, has been correlated to stress.  (While a rich stockbroker can go bald from stress, he can also easily afford artificial hair).

On that note, bodily interventions (fake breasts, fake eyelashes, cosmetic surgery, steroid supplements, personal training, dental veneers, waxed bodies, anti-wrinkle treatments) are not cheap.  The more affluent one is, the easier it is to afford these and get rid of any physical shortcoming or an effect of aging.

In the developed world (where religion as a moral force has lost its sway), people find it easier to admit to the importance of physical beauty.  It is not considered shallow or materialistic.  In the US (as is now becoming more mainstream in a country like India) boob job or a tooth-whitening-treatment is seen as an investment which will probably give a return many times over.

As an aside, religion, to quite an extent, offers solace to those who cannot afford materialism.  The meek have never inherited the earth, and never will, but they can at least feel happy that though they might be unattractive and unhealthy, they are not "sinful" like their greedy brethren.  The greedy brethren, on the other hand, are happy with their own brand of guilt-free spirituality, their chiseled bodies and their glowing skins.

(to be continued)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Couldn't get what is your definition of beautiful? A normal appearance with good soul , intelligent mind and confident personality or just nicely shaped body, pretty face and pretentious personality?