The Eye Of The Beholder

Julianne Moore, known for wanting to age gracefully, said in an interview that she uses the analogy of feet-binding when discussing plastic surgery. She says, “I feel we have decided that being expressionless and young-looking is the most beautiful thing.” Yeah, her point? What’s wrong with wanting to look youthful, or beautiful? Don’t we all want to FEEL youthful? Isn’t there a saying that says “youth is wasted on the young”? Looking youthful and/or beautiful is a positive thing. I think the problems begin, as with anything, when it goes to the extreme — when it gets weird, dangerous, disfiguring. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then who is The Beholder? Who decides what is beautiful?


During the school year, my son came home from his world civ. class and told me that he learned that Chinese women used to bind their feet. All in the name of beauty, I said. He looked at me like I was crazy, but I told him it’s true. Women have been known to do some extreme things to feel and look beautiful. For centuries women of all cultures, colors and religions have been primping, pulling, nipping, tucking, expanding, cutting and shaving body parts all in the name of beauty. I told him he just had to look in any fashion magazine to see today’s modern foot binding — a young model wearing 5 inch stilettos with a angle pointed toe.We women [ok, not all women] do get pretty crazy when it comes to beauty…

I love my Spanks!! I love that my spanks give me a smooth silhouette and suck me in on all sides, but I also love that my spanks don’t disfigure me nor make me want to faint. Where did this modern marvel come from? From corsets of course. Corsets have been around since before 1700 BC. Cave pictures were discovered depicting women wearing bodices [probably made from animal hides] and stone dolls were discovered adorned in corsets made from hides and feathers. Corsets were used not only for beauty, but for flaunting status and wealth. Over the centuries, corsets went from animal hides to iron [1556]; from iron to wood, ivory and metal in the 17th century, and to whale bone that was so rigid that it worried the medical professionals of the 18th century. Women’s diaphrams were known to become disfigured from cincing the bodice too tight [13″ waists were required in the French court of Catherine de Midici] and fainting spells were not uncommon. During the 1920s, the freedom of the “flapper dresses” made wearing corsets a thing of the past, and it was only due to Madonna bringing them back [as outer-wear] in the 1980s that they came back into vogue.

Only Brooke Sheilds made thick eyebrows look good. The rest of us wax and tweeze them into shape. Well, not all of us. Joan Crawford used to rub hers with yellow vaseline and castor oil and brush them the wrong way every night to make them grow. In a biography on Bette Davis, the author quotes her as saying [about Crawford] that, “those eyebrows wound up looking like African caterpillars”.


The pompadour went out of style, thankfully. This hairstyle and all that went with it sounds almost as debilitating and painful as feet-binding. During the 18th century, a woman’s real hair and some fake hair were piled high on top of the head, sometimes 2 feet. Because it took so long to create this “do”, women didn’t wash their hair for a week, at the least. Sanitation was still not a “modern” convenience” nor was hygiene a daily practice and because of this, women in their beautiful silk and satin layered dresses would douse themselves with perfumes and toilet water to mask their “aromas”. However, not only did their bodies smell, but their hair began to have its own distinct odor. Another problem with the pompadour was that it was so heavy that it caused major neck pain and headaches, and because it was washed infrequently, lice found themselves a home. Interestingly, both the pain and the lice became acceptable parts of the life of an 18th century woman of means. These women also used Belladona [from a poisonous plant] to enlarge their pupils so as to make them more attractive. I think it’s just plain safer and easier to choose a restaurant with dim lighting — dim lighting causes the pupils to enlarge. Voila! Beauty!

And last, for the most ridiculous if not the most ditsy way to look sexy,Marilyn Monroe purposefully had the heals on her stilettos cut so that one was shorter than the other. Why, you wonder? She found that by doing this, she swayed and sashayed more. This, she believed, and perhaps it was true, increased her sex appeal by making her look more vulnerable. Good Grief!

My friends and family will tell you that I’m all for feeling youthful and beautiful, well at least trying to feel them. Many of the strange things you just read above were styles of the times. We can look back and have our opinions or make our judgments, but people 100 years from now may look back and think that the way we colored our hair or perhaps that we even colored our hair was a disgusting and barbarous thing to do. Dare I go blond again?

Having said all above, one of fashion that has never gone out of style, but has actually become more in style is good strong healthy teeth. In the past, if a person had an infected tooth, it was pulled. People walked about with spaces, brown and blackened teeth and worse in their mouths. Through the ages, different ways were used to achieve dental health — like chewing on plants to whiten teeth and using sticks to clean between them. I actually saw a photo of a tribe that files their teeth into sharp points. If we go back to asking who the “eye of the beholder” is, it’s YOU. Teeth are very personal and it really is up to the person as to how they want to take care of, treat and deal with their dentition. Luckily, today you have wonderful physicians and dentists to help you decide how.

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