If you happen to visit the malls and clubs this weekend, look around and pay closer attention. I bet that at least four out of ten women within the vicinity will sport a similar hairstyle (shoulder-length, blow-dried loose curls, or Rihanna’s asymmetrical, flat-ironed pixie) or after-hour makeup (smoky-eyes), bodily waxed out down to you-know-where, and, unless they’re already endowed by it, will unequivocally aspire to have bountiful bosom and size zero hips, even if by way of triple-padded bra and liposuction.
True fashionistas have long lamented the death of personal style. I am lamenting the death of personal beauty. We’ll look at the bevy of beauties supplied on silver and TV screens, the-long standing supplier of beauty standard.
Beauty standard has expanded to cover almost every inch of a woman’s physique, and coupled with how personal grooming have developed far from pouring hot wax onto our precious legs, it’s almost like there’s a how-to, A-to-Z, formulaic descriptions of beauty standard.
A quick trip back down Hollywood memory lane will show that there was a period when Katherine Hepburn and Ava Gardner were mutually regarded as great beauty in their own merit, even vied for the affection of the same man, the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, yet while Katherine was a statuesque, almost patrician-looking gorgeousness, Ava was a voluptuous, delicate loveliness.
Barely a generation later there were Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, who couldn’t have been different as an aristocratic, athletic, bobbed brunette, and an hourglass, curly blonde pin-up, respectively. I certainly don’t have to name the man who linked these ladies.
In Indonesia as well, though for decades we’ve been accustomed to Eurasian look, even the subtle sensuality of Mieke Widjaya, mother of actress Nia Zulkarnaen, was very different from the downright sexiness of Doris Callebout or, later on, timeless gorgeousness of Ida Iasha. Our fashion runway used to be graced by long-legged swans like Sarita, Vera Kinan, and Dhanny Dahlan, each also featured a distinct look of classic Indonesian beauty.
How is it from such versatility we are now left with the cookie-cutter standard of beauty? Where every woman wants the same highly-arched eyebrows, plumped-up lips, protruding cheekbones over hollowed cheeks, almond-shaped eyes, C-cups on top of zero-sized hips, gym-sculpted deltoids and calves, and straight, lightly-colored, over-the-shoulder hair? Had frizzy-haired actress Andie MacDowell, gap-toothed former supermodel Lauren Hutton, or Indonesia’s slant-eyed ‘90s cover girl Cynthia started their careers now, well, the world would probably never know of them. On domestic front, very rarely I could tell one young model/actress/TV presenter from another because, frankly, they all tend to look the same.
One would think that now, with the Internet introducing vast array of looks and the freedom to choose, there’d be no clear consensus. Yet to me, it seems that the world is actually hugging the mainstream even more, however ‘global’ its scope is getting. This globalization, married with commercialization, gave birth to a new love child called borderless mass consumption, which suddenly makes everyone, beyond obvious racial traits, look disconcertingly similar. As an American friend of mine wryly noted, all teenagers worldwide looked just like the latest Gap ads, which to me, are still not as colorful, in every sense of the word, as the groundbreaking Benetton ads twenty years ago, prior to the easy Wi-Fi days. Yet, indeed mirror, mirror on the mall it turned out to be.
So, what do we do? I’m admittedly guilty of subscribing to some parts of the ‘formula’ myself; such as the constantly-painted toenails, for one wears flip-flops year-round in this country, and the strict hairline grooming policy, for one can swim practically year-round in this country as well.
But I’ve persistently defied the other prescriptions; regardless of trend, my naturally wavy, very fine hair remains short, uncolored nor highlighted, and rarely blow-dried. I don’t embrace the ubiquitous skin bleaching products in this part of the world any more than I embraced tanning salons during my years in four-seasoned countries; my skin tone varies depending on whether I swim regularly or not that month. My pear-shaped body is perhaps considered ideal in Brazil only, and even there I’m dwarf next to their bombshells, but I’ve come to accept it and now only striving to keep it toned, no longer wishing for zero-fat litheness of Jennifer Garner or full hourglass of Jessica Alba. I wear makeup for evening functions yet, except for dancing during which the stage makeup permits almost anything, I stay away from heavy smoky-eyes since I invariably look like the Kungfu Panda. During the day I wear identifiably-colored lipsticks since admit it, unless you’re very fair or wear thick makeup, those tinted lipglosses will only pale down brown skin that we’ll look like we’ve just recovered from an ailment.
“Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder”, the old adage says, and as the world shrinks to a global village, I’m hoping that it will graciously give enough breathing room and due appreciation to the individualistic nuances so that beauty remains in the eye of the beholder, or projected on the mirror on the wall, instead of on some global screen and transmitted to the mirror on the mall.