For Beautiful People Only
A few years ago, my husband and I were in a club in San Francisco and met a woman who threw parties for a living. But these weren’t your ordinary parties – they were “for beautiful people only,” she said. “We’re very selective, and guests are expected to use discretion when inviting others.”
Albeit flattered, we were also taken aback by her candor. A party strictly for the fabulous folk. Huh. Who’d have thought. Have “regular” clubs become the domain of unattractive people? Later, we learned these parties are all over –San Francisco, Miami, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, where beauty reigns supreme. Our new friend added, “Everyone is welcome, but not everyone gets in. Guests are screened based on attractiveness, fitness and fashion sense.”
I put her card in my wallet, feeling both fascination and guilt. What would my role models say about this?
Besides being successful, strong women, none of them were particularly popular as adolescents, staying separated from their peers not by choice, but because they were rejected. Ironically, this very rejection gave them a protected space in which they could develop their uniqueness.
While life is a popularity contest, in the ‘tweens, teens and twenties it is based largely on superficiality. This, combined with the impatience of youth, has caused a growing number of teens to pursue quick surgical fixes. Leading the list: nose jobs, breast augmentation, and ear operations.
A frightening fact is that a third of teens who opt for cosmetic surgery aren’t being pressured by their peers; but rather, by their parents. Dr. Sam Speron, a plastic surgeon inChicago, divulged that “In many instances, parents will find a flaw with their child’s appearance, even while [their child] is not bothered by it at all.”
Among those with the patience, however, the answer to beauty anxiety is entirely different – the best solution is, quite simply, to age.
Campaign for Real Beauty
Dove has been campaigning for “Real Beauty” since 2003, commissioning a global study on “aging, beauty and well-being” with 3,000 women aged 50-64 in 10 countries. In 2006, they released “The Dove Report: Challenging Beauty,” based on a content analysis of existing research and literature as well as interviews with more than 200 American women, 20 to 65 years old.
While the Asian-American Demographic was not at all represented in the Dove Report (a glaring oversight by the research company), it still yielded interesting findings. For example, the report stated that 79% of those polled wished a “woman could be considered beautiful even if she is not physically perfect.”
And even as Simone de Beauvoir, author of “The Second Sex,” insists that “one must remain the subject of one’s life and resist the cultural pressure to become the object of male experience,” respondents revealed they “feel more beautiful when they are the subject of romantic admiration.”
With age comes wisdom. Nearly half of women surveyed (44%) said they were more comfortable with their looks today than they were 10 years ago. And more women over 40 rated their beauty as “above average” compared to their younger counterpart (22% and 15%, respectively).
My Personal Evolution
In Manila, I was literally raised by a community. My life revolved around school, church and home, surrounded by neighbors, friends, and an endless stream of relatives. Appearance was only one of the dimensions that defined me. I was also the artist, the singer, the bookworm.
Upon moving to the U.S., my identity required redefining. While in college, I lived in Ocean City, Maryland– a beach town with 3,000 permanent locals. Come summer, the population ballooned to over 30,000. It was then that I realized how important looks can be – for gaining access to places, things, and people.
In a city of strangers, appearance was the only dimension available for rapid assessment by others. Beauty became important in defining my value, because it ensured social success. I modeled for fashion shows and photo shoots, hosted a TV dance show on the local club scene, and was popular with the boys. But as one of “le beau monde,” my other aspects – the artist, the singer, the bookworm – became irrelevant, though they were the parts that made me whole.
Alice Miller, author of “Drama of the Gifted Child,” says that strength of character requires an acknowledgement of all parts of the self, not just the socially acceptable ones. Margaret Mead defines strength as valuing all those parts of the self, whether or not they are valued by the culture. The part that’s a little nerdy, wrinkled, graying, or that goes against culturally imposed gender roles.
I have to admit – it was nice to be invited to the “beautiful party.” And I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit I still wonder if people check me out, even while realizing that my world isn’t going to crumble if they aren’t.
(This article originally appeared in Filipinas Magazine March 2007 issue)