Of all the well-known childhood folk and fairy tales, I adored the story of Sleeping Beauty most. I was intrigued by the notion of someone so beautiful she had hair of sunshine gold and lips that shamed the red, red rose. Even more intriguing was the fact that this fair, young princess’ appearance possessed the kind of power that could incite loathing and jealousy. On those grounds, a villainous fairy cursed Sleeping Beauty to a premature end. Ironically, it was also her legendary beauty that inspired her rescuer to restore her to life.
With my childlike naiveté toward idealized beauty diminished, I now process the tale in a more critical context. It becomes apparent that the genesis of princess Aurora’s curse doesn’t stem from retaliation to the gifts of her beauty and song bestowed upon her as a beloved infant. Rather, it comes from the indignation of an aging fairy who has been forgotten. A rivalry pitting old against young. In reality, we measure the stages of the aging body with socially determined ideals of attraction, producing a sliding scale from beauty to ugliness. Contemporary beauty culture seeks to counteract this with more fluid perceptions of what is physically beautiful. It reassures us that we can enhance ‘what is already [uniquely] there’. There is space to annex the often neglected inner beauty—the strong moral character and qualities society deems attractive (even our princess protagonist displayed kindness and charisma).
Unfortunately, young-looking beauty remains the main beauty discourse. The fairy’s attack reminds us to critique this worship of youthfulness. ‘Fresh-faced’ models and personalities head campaigns for potions, creams & elixirs promising to deliver the elusive fountain of youth. The lines between art and commercial interests blur in ads that lead with key messages of rejuvenation. They serve as our contemporary, adult versions of beauty lore that constitute a global industry worth over $250 billion dollars. Beauty sells you an unachievable reversal yet falsely attributes renewal.
Gibson’s theory of object perception explains how human preoccupation with facial appearance is a powerful communicator. In essence, a smiling face elicits a smile in return because it is understood as friendly and approachable. However, personal biases introduce distortion that can create a susceptibility to overgeneralise. Collectively, these biases contribute to judgements about outer beauty that can overshadow the value of inner beauty. For example, if wrinkled skin becomes standardised as unattractive, taught skin begins to represent the ideal by default; regardless of assessing the individual’s character.
This systemic coding of the outer body alone as a representation of beauty disassociates outer appearance with inner functions.
This is because the process of internalizing—where the brain links what we see to our sense of identity—relies on complexities that include cultural background, social cues, historical notions, personal nuances, and collective perceptions. Though skin-deep, the theory calls for the premise of beauty to be informed by a multitude of psychological and emotional layers.
A number of attraction studies report similar findings leading to objectification, particularly of women. Surprisingly, simple antidotes of physical interventions long-practiced by mankind such as engaging with nature, or detoxifying the body with steam or an elixir of rosewater are regarded as self-care intended to combat the detriment of a fixation on the hollowed corporeal. With regards to innovations in the industry, an inner beauty approach includes crushed healing crystals and stones incorporated in beauty products. Montell’s article stresses self-care as not what you have done to or for you as a treat, but how you internalize engagement toward harmony. The key aspect here is about maintaining equal alignment among mind, body, and spirit, ensuring no one entity is emphasized more than the others.
Beauty truly connects people to fashion in an innate way that clothing cannot, and therefore intertwines a psychological complexity we cannot afford to overlook.
Perspective stretched beyond the superficial parameters of youthful and elderly raises important opportunities for change. The spread of wide-scale open-mindedness certainly looks like an intolerance to ageism. Alternatively, engaging mental and emotional health as intrinsic to human wellbeing, connecting them to the origins of our biological beauty, can address the necessary change. As fashion professionals, we have an opportunity to foster a deeper understanding of beauty that finally shatters a divisive ranking system.
Resources For Further Reading:
- Social Psychological Face Perception: Why Appearance Matters by Leslie Zebrowitz & Joann Montepare
- Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research by Dawn Szymanski, Lauren Moffitt & Erika Carr
- A Fascinating Look at What “Self-Care” Means Around The World by Amanda Montell
Elly (left): Headpiece by Rysia Pierchala Dress by Mankhaseo, Shoes by Miista
Sanna (right): Earrings by Car2ie Headpiece by Rysia Pierchala Dress by Mankhaseo, Shoes by Miista
Elly (left): Full Look by Myint Shoes by Miista
Sanna (right): Full Look by Simon Mo Boots by Miista
Elly (left): Dress by Gayeon Lee, Sanna (right): Full Look by Stephverano Atelier
Elly (left): Full Look by Christina Seewald, Sanna (right): Top by Hars, Jumpsuit by Christina Seewald
Headpiece by Rysia Pierchala Top by Myint