Volume 92, Issue 28

Friday, October 23, 1998



Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what is beauty after all?

By Dara Kacarevic
Gazette Writer

Who gets the crown – Sandra Bullock, Salma Hayek or Pamela Anderson? These three women have been known to melt the hearts of many movie-goers and yet they all have very different looks.

One only has to take a walk through history to see that the perception of beauty has changed from era to era, whether it be the ideal of the 18-inch waists of Victorian times to the flat-chested flappers of the roaring '20s. This leaves the question of what is considered beautiful in society today.

Kathy MacKenzie, beauty editor of Flare magazine, says one cannot define beauty without referring to fashion because beauty mirrors fashion. She notes the runways and cosmetics companies often determine what is considered to be beautiful.

According to Lisa Hakim, director of London modelling agency Elegance Modelling, achieving the current concept of beauty is simpler than in the past. Perms are out, while shorter, trendier cuts are in and colouring is still very popular, Hakim says.

"Ready to wear is the look that's in."

MacKenzie agrees with Hakim. "The run-your-hands-through-your-hair and-go look is in."

As for make-up, MacKenzie says it is becoming less important. "A flushed, rosy cheeks look is in, but cosmetics companies are in no danger – women just love their make-up."

Women aren't the only ones concerned with beauty issues. Rose Noble, owner of local modelling agency The Agency, says men are becoming increasingly conscious of their appearance and notes also that men are even buying more skin products than they did in the past.

"Men in the business world are trying to exert a healthy image. They can't look stressed out and tired," Noble says. A man's goal is to portray an in control, carefree attitude, she adds.

MacKenzie concurs on Noble's opinion of male beauty. "Males have always had that grow old gracefully thing." As we enter the new millennium, male beauty is becoming a bigger issue because men are now competing for jobs with women and have to look their best, she says.

Those who have had their fill of Barbie Doll look-alikes are in luck. "Today more focus is being placed on the individual," Hakim continues. "Let's take for example, Uma Thurman. She's not exactly good-looking, but she's striking. Ten years ago they probably wouldn't have even noticed her."

Furthering this trend away from the "Barbie" look, according to MacKenzie and Noble, is the fact the world of beauty is embracing ethnicity.

"Designers and magazines have taken on a role to try and represent all races – everybody," MacKenzie says.

"[Those in the beauty industry] are realizing Caucasians aren't the only ones that are beautiful. Ethnicity is beautiful," concurs Noble.

Those who are not involved in the fashion industry see the changes in beauty concepts. "Fashion and beauty trends are becoming more androgynous. The line between male and female is becoming blurred," notes Kelly Lennox, a second-year nursing student.

Hakim concurs on this point. She says the receding gender divide is occurring because females are drawn to an increasingly relaxed sense of fashion. "It's more about today's lifestyle. No more stiletto heels and skin-tight, mini-skirts."

Health also appears to play a major role in beauty standards today.

"The waif look is totally out," says Hakim, who says the concept of a beautiful body is becoming more health-oriented. She says designers are realizing that not everyone is lucky enough to be a size four – today's designers are also making more clothes in the plus sizes.

Margaret Beck, acting director of the National Eating Disorder Clinic, does not necessarily agree with this, claiming that beauty standards have changed for the worse. She says disorders are not simply a result of beauty standards in fashion magazines, but they definitely have something to do with it.

Further, Beck says that over 99 per cent of the population cannot attain a weight that is perceived as beautiful. "Bulimia and anorexia are now epidemics – they've increased ten-fold. Women are expected to have boy-like waist and hips and it's simply not attainable.

"I'd like to say that disorders are only predominant in North America, but truly, around the world the problem remains. It isn't only North Americans that are aware of North American beauty standards," Beck says.

The effects of attempting an impossible look does not necessarily have the result that many have in mind. "You can't have a tortured body and mind and expect to look good," Hakim says. "All the make-up in the world won't help then."

Beck also feels that men and women have different standards concerning beauty. "Women are in more danger of losing things, such as jobs, if they lose their looks. To them, beauty is somewhat a part of survival," she says.

Lennox says there is definitely more pressure placed on females to be thin. "Beauty standards have changed for the better because more looks are accepted now, but there's still too much emphasis on body type. If we spent the same amount of time, money and energy on improving our inner selves as we do on our outer appearances, society as a whole would be a lot healthier and happier."

To Contact The Focus Department: gazette.focus@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998