Monday, August 01, 2005

Easily the Most Disjointed Post on this Blog

People seem to think that these new Dove billboards, featuring "REAL women with REAL curves," are either some sort of aesthetic revolution, or they wish that Dove would stop giving them an eyesore.

I think that these billboards really won't change the way that we perceive beauty fundamentally, and that doesn't seem so bad.

By fundamentally, I mean that whether it's by changing your body to meet some universal standard of beauty, or changing that standard to meet your body, everybody still wants to be beautiful. It doesn't matter how hard you try to revise or expand that definition - most people will still feel like they don't meet it as fully as they'd like to.

But aren't unattainable ideals the stuff that life's made of? Truth, love, justice, etc. - so many of them seem to have been given the boot by so many people, yet everyone still appreciates beauty. Like Thoreau says:
In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high. (Walden, p. 24)

But here's the problem with what I've written so far: I argue that people should struggle for ideals, but is the person who struggles to be beautiful actually struggling for an ideal? Or is she merely struggling so that someone may think that she is "easily the most beautiful person in the room"? In other words, does she want to be beautiful, or does she only want other people to see that she is beautiful? (Let's not get into whether or not those two can be separated.)

Milan Kundera said in Immortality that fashion has ceased to be art because it makes no progress; I think the metaphor he used was that it's become a pendulum that goes back and forth. Human beauty can't really be art then, either, unless you count plastic surgery as progress.

So if beauty isn't an ideal, or an artform, there must be another reason why everyone is so preoccupied with it. This is a pretty spoony answer, but it's the best I can come up with: maybe it's because it's a uniting struggle. If everybody's self-conscious and worried about beauty, then it's something that people have got in common and can bond over (see: girls and shopping, boys and girl-watching).

I see problems with this answer too, but I think I'll just shut up and go back to reading Henry James.