Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Handsome is as handsome does?

Sit down and take a Valium, folks for I am about to make a few bizarre and, to some, unwelcome suggestions.

Don’t you think that we’re getting just a little bit too obsessed with appearance?

Phew! I feel a lot better having got that heretical thought off my chest.

It’s SuBo again – with the release of her new album it seems that every idiot and his dog Spot is having a pop at her appearance. The main thrust of these arguments seems to be that, even after a makeover, she isn’t quite up to snuff diva-wise, as if not looking like J-Lo or Beyonce somehow rendered her voice less effective. I’m not entirely convinced that she has any lasting talent, but nonetheless if I don’t include her on my “Albums I Must Have For Christmas” list I’d like to think that I’m motivated solely by her vocals.

The received wisdom on Susan Boyle appears to be that she’s a minger, every article commenting on her dumpy figure and plain face. So, just to make things a little more interesting, I make the following observation: SHE’S NOT UGLY!

Unless you live in Hollywood I would suggest that you probably bump into a number of people every day who are physically less well favoured than SuBo. Yet – another astonishing fact – they have meaningful lives and usually have husbands, boyfriends, lovers who find them perfectly attractive, children who love them, family members and close friends who don’t mind being seen walking down the street with them. In other words, their lives have not been made any less meaningful or rewarding by the fact that they lack the type of looks that made Brad Pitt fall for Angelina Jolie.

That’s not to say that it’s wrong to make the best of yourself; if you turn up for a job interview looking like a sack of potatoes tied in the middle, then more fool you. Obviously it’s important to look your best. Even I have been known to put on a few inches of slap when doing nothing more socially taxing than visiting the local supermarket, but I know where I stand in the pecking order of beauty; like most people I can be located roughly at the mid-point between needing to put a paper bag over my head when I leave the house and so fantastically gorgeous that men bump into lampposts when I walk down the street.

I’m quite happy there, too. It seems like a perfectly decent place to be. I don’t waste unnecessary time snogging the mirror, but neither do I projectile vomit every time I happen to catch my face in a CCTV camera. Not anymore, anyway. Perhaps in youth not cutting the mustard supermodel-wise is a more depressing prospect but I’m over that now and I am beginning to find the parade of women – and, increasingly, men – who waste precious time allowing a couple of wrinkles to lead them into an obsessive quest for eternal youth more than a little bit annoying.

Philosopher Roger Scruton argues that beauty is important to the general wellbeing of humans and I see no reason to disagree with him. Since prehistoric times we have held firm ideas on what is visually appealing and what is grotesque and certainly science has proved the link between living in terminally unlovely surroundings and depression. We all have our individual ideas of what is attractive and consequently make decisions based on this.

The primacy of Hollywood in the pecking order of what constitutes true beauty is long established. I remember as a child how my mother and her friends would “ooh” and “aah” over stars like Elizabeth Taylor in their prime. What I fail to recall, however, is any particular sense of regret that they might not have quite matched up to these lofty heights of attractiveness. It was generally acknowledged that they had more than enough to fret about in their everyday lives. In any case, what was the point of looking like Elizabeth Taylor when your days were spent helping to run the family business or lending a hand on the farm? These days it seems that women are expected to spend most of their spare time obsessing over pictures of Charlize Theron in Heat magazine and calculating how much surgery they would need to duplicate the effect.

That's not to say that women of my mother's generation didn't have aspirations. Improvements were temporarily effected via slimming groups and evening classes. However, the main objective of these outings was largely social. The two pounds carefully lost over the past week would usually be put straight back on during the post weigh-in scampi and chips at the local pub.

The eternal quest for physical perfection increasingly involves emaciation, a factor that generally has ruinous consequences for the face. While the more generously upholstered of us remain relatively unravaged by time (as Eammon Holmes says, there ain't no wrinkles on a balloon), the size zero fashionistas frequently find their faces turning into scale models of the Grand Canyon. Given their determination to maintain standards that would give Karl Lagerfeld conniption fits, the next stage is a course of rigorous cosmetic surgery that, once embarked upon, must be regularly maintained at huge expense.

So my final question is why, if you're going to spend all that time and dosh on self-improvment, why not go the whole hog and put something IN your head instead of just rearranging what's on it?

Further education has never been so accessible and there are hundreds of charities who would be delighted to take your mind off your physical inadequacies.

I have vague memories of various elderly members of my family being fond of using the old saying, “Handsome is as handsome does” and, at the risk of sounding desperately Victorian, shouldn't we think about resurrecting this philosophy?

Is being a bit wrinkly REALLY worse than being vacuous and self-obsessed?

1 comment:

  1. Applause!


    Terrific, timely essay (as I squint to read your tiny, tidy type --- with my first pair of reading glasses)

    I am as passionate about Leonard Cohen as I am about dark chocolate. Saw him LIVE in London in 2008. Best concert ever.

    Where I hail from, we had a gang of oldsters who called themselves The Gray Panthers. They were a lively, lusty, smart group of (mostly) women who refused to be made silent. They spoke out on everything we're speaking about today. Aging with dignity. Work with dignity. And yes, at some point dying with dignity.

    I have long thought about starting a brilliant, creative driven consulting business, made up of folks over 50, called Gray Matter. We'd sell our brain tissue to all the businesses who forgot about the written part of their business. And the human part.

    Might be just the thing for your 50th birthday, KJ.

    Viva La Vida!