Beauty is ever present. Billboards and magazines are plastered with the likes of Kim Kardashian and Snooki promising us transference of some of their beauty if only we buy their brand of perfume/Sketchers/bras/encyclopaedias. It’s hard to hold much hope for the future.
Our conception of beauty is like a virus. It mutates as soon as what is ‘beautiful’ becomes the norm. Only after every woman has dip dyed her hair blonde or orange or purple will society’s perception of beauty shift. Soon it will be all the rage to have hair one colour, and tie-dyed hair will become unbearably bogan.
‘Let’s hide our children away in towers and spare them from the corruption of this world,’ I hear you cry. Perhaps force-feeding our youth entire collections of fairytales will purify them? But alas, not even the wholesome fairytale is quite as it seems. The ugly stepsisters in the original Cinderella cut off parts of their toes in the hope that they fit into the glass slipper. And then as punishment for trying to fit into the shoe, they have their eyes pecked out by birds. We know Cinderella is our heroine because she is beautiful and we hate the stepsisters because they are ugly.
But in reality, all that these women wanted to do was to fit into that impossibly small shoe to prove that they were worthy of the Prince. Physical ugliness is intended to mirror the internal wickedness of the sisters, just as Cinderella is beautiful because she is such a wonderfully kind person. But do we really expect children to pick up on the corruption of this dichotomy? This desire to be beautiful is fostered in fairytales, further instilling within us a notion that being attractive will pave the way for a happy life.
But is it true? Do more attractive people live happier lives? Yes, according to plastic surgeon Dr. Bryan Mendelson. Dr. Mendelson’s research points to the conclusion that better looking people will get paid more money. He contends that people link outer beauty with inner beauty, assuming that because someone is attractive, they are also ‘good’ people. So this obsession with physical appearance is drummed into us from the moment we read our first fairytale, if not before.
It’s not all bad. Whilst appearances still seem to matter far more than anyone would care to admit, modernised fairytales have disregarded the link between justice and vengeance. In the Grimm Brothers’ original retelling of Snow White, the Queen is punished for her ugliness. She has burning iron shoes strapped to her feet, forcing her to dance around in a mad frenzy until she falls down dead. That will teach her for thinking she’s the most beautiful in the land. But while we still condone the importance of beauty, at least we have abandoned the incessant desire for retribution. For instance, the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella no longer have their eyes pecked out by birds because as a society we have come to condemn the notion of revenge.
Zoolander said: ‘I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking’. He’s correct of course, but beauty will nonetheless continue to have an undeniable influence over people. We do not live in a perfect world, and never have. Children are sexualised today, but Fairytales exist as a mere splinter of our more violent history. Modernised fairytales teach children the notion of clemency. Now we know to forgive our stepmother for trying to kill us rather than strapping burning shoes to her feet.