I love the idea of a magic pill that makes you beautiful: perfect glowing skin, flowing shiny hair, slim and elegant of form, with sparking eyes and teeth, talons of steel, and immediately captivating to everyone. It would be a compromise to have to take such a pill every day for life; but many of us (women) do this anyway with contraceptive pills, and many people have to do more invasive things to themselves every day to stay alive, with scary-looking syringes. Having it all in one convenient pill would be great.
OK, not that great. It’s still a compromise: it’s nothing close to a wave of a magic wand after which, abracadabra! you are now transformed. No need for pills every day. Brilliant.
Hang on, that’s how many a fairy-tale starts… before things go horribly wrong, because fairy-tales tend to be dark dark dark and rarely end happily. Now, I’m not dissing the idea of magic pills because it’s a fairy-tale idea. Quite the contrary: fairy-tales are the most important kind of writing there is, being one of our last remnants of the fable (see Plato’s Timaeus), wherein deep dark truths are concealed; up to the good reader to find, reveal, and interpret them; then to learn the lesson when applied to life. In fairy-tales as in all fables, knowledge is rarely simple and straightforward; nor an end in itself. It’s usually at least double-edged and is as nothing until it’s been thought about and worked on and used carefully, put into practice, digested, … or not, left carefully alone… eventually becoming transformed into wisdom.
Hang on again: back to where we started. Imagine that you can have true perfect beauty by taking a pill every day. No single-use magic wands. Won’t you then worry about not taking the pill? Accidentally forgetting it? Being beset by disasters? Losing your pill supply? Think of the risks. If you don’t take that pill every day, you risk your beauty. No more beauty. Or a beauty that fades. Can you handle that level of anxiety? Of responsibility? Think of the responsibility to yourself: one mis-step and you jeapardise all that work. Years of work. All that investment of time and money too.
This isn’t very different from other more regular anxieties about looks and upkeep, to be fair. It’s just more densely packaged if we’re talking about one single pill. The internet is full of admonitions about routines. Discipline, self-discipline, a life of rigour.
That is especially the case for those poor unfortunate celebrities who essentially have / are an extreme version of disciplined self-abnegation, spending so much time on maintenance that the only remaining time has to be for demonstrating its results publicly, and these days that’s as much through being photographed being beautiful as it is through whatever work they’re supposed to be doing.
People who actually work, like actors, must have a very tough time: when do they find time to work? When are any of these poor people able to live? They don’t and they aren’t because they shouldn’t. They have no right to life, enjoyment, joy, pleasure, or time; because their real role and purpose is to be self-sacrificing high priests in the service of beauty. Beyond Naomi Wolf’s classic The Beauty Myth, well beyond, this is not a myth but a religion; a “cult” in the original sense of the word, from which we get the word and idea of “culture.” In our culture, we have a set of people regarded (by at least some) as the sacred upper echelons of society that we should look up to and, as best we can, emulate.
Like the priestly castes of other cultures, our celebrities are to be venerated as our intermediaries to Higher Divine Forces. They are the closest that we humble lower mortals can get to True Perfect Beauty; seeing The Divine revealed in its full glory would blind and kill us.
Our high priests have only got to where they are (natural suitability aside) through nearly killing themselves whilst not actually being dead: as is usual in organised religions with sacerdotal mediation, our Beautiful People are self-sacrificing and self-abnegating; that is the tried and tested path to becoming sublime, transcendent, exalted. The eventual end? The annihilated soul. Temporal/material death. Posthumous saintly immortality. The “anti-life” of self-denial of our High Priests of Beauty may already be a living martyrdom and a living death. Like any organised religion, this is a death-cult. I don’t (just) mean that in a negatively-loaded way; “cult” and “culture” are and always have been about natural cycles of life and death, with death as part of the continuum and continuation of life.
So that’s why we need routines and anxieties. It’s religious. We need to mortify the flesh in order to come closer to the sacred. It’s purifying and cleansing. It’s about virtue and goodness, or at least being the best you can be. Our culture has gone beyond older approaches to art and aesthetics and their place in “the good life”: we should not, indeed must not “enjoy” or “like” (or, heaven forfend, “love”) or otherwise derive happiness from anything or anyone. That’s an antiquated misunderstanding, worse: a misconception of “the good.”
May we all be beautiful.
Or try our best. Work it girls. There’s a lot of Protestant work-ethic going on in North American culture too, as well as that long Puritan shadow.
Hang on a minute, we are already all beautiful, each and every one of us, in our unique individual rainbow ways.
Revolt. Open your eyes. See and embrace your beauty that’s already there. Go forth and be beautiful, live beautifully, share and bring beauty to others. That’s true beauty, back to Plato, trying to attain the perfection of your fabulous soul. An inner beauty and an outer living breathing active one (oops, we’ve gone a bit Aristotle here but heck he and P are just DWEMs, it’s their ideas that are the important living thing here).
Feel in need of routine, of structure in life? Work, volunteer, garden, and eat regular fine enjoyable beautiful gastronomic meals, preferably with other people (animals count too, for those with non-human companions). But do it beautifully.
So fuck pills. Be fabulous. And remember and keep reading fables…
That’s basically a continuation of the discussion below. I’m not engaging further in case one of those concerned is a troll; I’ve anonymised all contributions, even that of “h”, just in case. Better safe than sorry + benefit of the doubt… (UPDATE: in the time since I took the screenshot and anonymised all MUAers, the “h” comment has been removed by that discussion forum’s moderators.)
That really offensive link?