For centuries the standard of what makes someone beautiful has changed, at least for women. Men who are tall, brawny and have a decent head of hair, always seem to be in fashion. But for women, what is considered beautiful has been turned on its head in just about every sense, but does it all come down to snobbery?
To start, historically, unmarried women did not wear make up. It was natural beauty or nothing ladies, I’m afraid. Pinch your cheeks and bite your lips for a bit of colour, and that’s pretty much all you had to work with. And from that point, I think we can all think of those friends who are stunning, once their make-up is on, but without it, are little more than plain. So already, a woman who by today’s standards would be beautiful would not have been seen so before. However the theory of snobbery can still apply. In the past, high cheekbones were a sign of good breeding and aristocracy, but even today women tend to show their wealth on their faces. Hollywood smiles are considered beautiful, though it’s clear they are expensive if they’re done well. Eyebrows are professionally waxed, false eyelashes are common, and most women tend to splurge a little on good makeup. All of which are signs of wealth that we display on our faces as they fit the new standard of beauty.
Next there is skin colour. The perception that pale and milky skin was beautiful came from the snobbery that ladies would not have to work outside, or ever be really exposed to the elements. Pale skin was a sign of wealth and delicateness. Now however, a tan is more expressive of wealth as it shows the ability to afford a holiday somewhere hot, and while the Elizabethan method of applying arsenic to one’s face in order to make it paler may be drastic, most of us can agree that fake tan smells bad and can go very wrong in application. It seems we will always want to alter our complexions to fit into what is fashionable, despite the negative effects. And it will always be to conform to whatever is considered the most expensive course of action. In the old days, only a woman of great wealth could afford a maid whose sole job was to hold a parasol over her employer, and everybody tried to match themselves to that standard. It was coarse and unladylike to work or spend too much time unprotected outdoors, therefore the paler the better. Now, however obvious it may be to the contrary, we seem to constantly look like we’ve just returned from two weeks in Marbella. A deep tan, particularly over the legs seems to be the most desirable complexion, despite how false the tan looks.
In the past, having smooth skin, and only a few wrinkles or grey hairs showed the ability to buy skin lotions, and to have led a delicate and ladylike life, with no stress or exertion, as would befit a wealthy young lady. Now, most women seem to assess that aging well requires surgery of some sort, and a staggering amount of young people seem to agree. From boob jobs to botox, what we do to fight youth becomes more and more expensive, to the point that a face may become plastic and distorted, but it will clearly be very expensively plastic.
Most important of all to most women is their figure. In the past, child-bearing hips were needed to produce an heir, and a little plumpness was assurance of wealth, that you could afford a rich and luxurious diet. That all changed, and became the smaller the better. This is once again a sign of wealth, flaunted by being able to afford personal trainers, gym memberships and fresh or organic food. And now, cheaper food is generally more fattening, so to be thinner would show you are not in such dire straits as to have to eat packet food or frozen pizzas.
The phrase is ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ The stark reality is, that the beholder is most likely your bank manager.