Thursday, November 12, 2009

When Beauty Gets Creepy

SOME TIME AGO I WROTE ON THE BEAUTY OBSESSION of our society. In particular I explored the reasons why we try to hard to avoid looking like we're getting older. I rooted my analysis in the nature of our commodity-based mode of production, which is an historical anomaly, as opposed to the more historically typical method of production for direct consumption. Producing for exchange in this way has certain cultural effects, which arise from the fact that we experience social interaction not in a producerly way - because production is a privatized thing, controlled by companies and corporations. In fact, the secrets of production are hidden away from industrial spies who would dearly love to find out the secret formula for Coke or how they get the caramel inside the Caramilk bar. 
Rather, we experience social production only when it comes onto the market - in exchange. For us things have no process, only ends as consumer goods. Commodities are flat history-less objects of beauty, to be enjoyed for themselves, not for the process of their development and production. The pleasure is in their consumption. Work is seen as sullying, dirtying, a thing to be avoided - and with good reason, since work for most people is forced labour; literally we wouldn't do it if we didn't have bills to pay. This creates one of capitalism's central ironies: the thing which makes us human and allows us to develop - our ability to work on and thus transform the materials furnished to us by nature over time - becomes the thing that we avoid most. So it is with beauty - it must show no evidence of development or labour. It must be without history. It must be forever the same. This is especially the case where women are concerned since, historically, one of the roles imposed upon women has been to provide men with comfort and pleasure - a role that has expanded with a declining birth rate and the growth of leisure time. Women become the living commodity, the trophy wife, the sex object, the beauty queen.
I still stand by all this, of course, but while I was right to say that in this world beauty has no past, it also has no future. It is forever in the same moment of its perfection, the moment of consumption. How else to explain the aesthetic of child beauty pageants satirized with great humour in Little Miss Sunshine? The idea of dressing up female children to look like fully sexualized adult women is about eliminating the time necessary for their creation to make them into the perfect beauty. And the perfect beauty is that of a young woman. According to this blogger - whose graph I have shamelessly stolen - the average age of female porn stars is just under 23 years old and there are almost no women over the age of 30. And so we see women "too young" and women "too old", trying desperately to enter and remain in that golden band of commodified perfection.
Looking at the photos of these girls, made up to look like sexually mature women, one can't help but feel how confined are our identities. When I hear women say "well, I choose to wear make-up and short skirts", I will now forever think of these photos of little girls wearing make-up, low-cut tops and even "flippers" - adult sized teeth designed to give them more mature-looking mouths. 
Women's identity - and men's but in different ways - is totally determined at a very young age. The ideology of individualism, which denies the role of society in creating us as human personalities, serves nicely to cover up for the fact that we are pressed like dolls in a factory from the moment we enter the world. By the time we can speak we've already been interpellated - given the name: boy/girl. And that identity with all its implications - our career, our likes, our sexual choices, how we dress and speak and throw balls - is fixed in time. What these pictures of girls, some of whom who've barely learned to walk, demonstrates is that not only is our identity fixed in space, it's also fixed in time. Capitalism kills individuality and makes us adopt identical criteria for beauty and success or die trying. That's why beauty is creepy.
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