BY MICHELLE MOORE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NICHOLAS HINSCH
Beauty. It’s a layered, complex and emotionally charged concept. When some people talk about it, they are referring to physicality – others are referring to an aura or spirit, for still others it’s a blend. Depending on context or mood, even these definitions change.
In 1913, Webster’s dictionary defined beauty as properties pleasing to the eye, the ear, the intellect, the aesthetic faculty or the moral sense. In 1913, TV or the Internet didn’t exist. In today’s visually driven society, has the concept of beauty changed? Are some standards timeless?
To explore the concept, CMH invited various Columbus professionals to weigh in on the issue and see how they define, accept, live and work to achieve beauty. The roundtable opened the floodgates on this subject and thoughts from participants continued to pour in long after the discussion ended. It is a thought-provoking, belief-challenging panoramic perspective – and was 11,000 words more than you’ll read here.
IN THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, THE HEIGHT OF FEMALE ACHIEVEMENT WAS THE ABILITY TO FIT COMFORTABLY INTO A SIZE 4 DESIGNER SAMPLE. IN FORREST GUMP, MOMMA ALWAYS SAID, “PRETTY IS AS PRETTY DOES.” HOW DO YOU DEFINE BEAUTY?
DONNA: Beauty is more of an inner poise and confidence, not defined by size or age, but by the smile on the face, the gleam in the eye and an aura of peaceful confidence.
RHONDA: My outlook on beauty has been changing throughout the years. Now I’m 40 with teenage daughters. The looks I used to receive from the opposite sex now go to them, while at the same time, I’m watching my own mother age and her attitudes on beauty are changing. Today, what I find beautiful is when a woman radiates confidence. Beauty is like a stained-glass window – it can only truly be appreciated when the light is shining from the inside out.
MICHELLE: It is an inner security of knowing I’ve reached an age where I’ve figured out some things about people and life. I feel more confident and comfortable in my own skin than I did in my 20s. I like wearing my life on my face. I earned those smile marks. I earned those contours from happy times.
ELLIE: Becoming a mom radically changed my life and my perception of beauty. My daughter is the most beautiful creature in the world, and although she has gorgeous curls, big blue eyes and cutie-pie dimples, her beauty rests in her vibrant, loving spirit. How she sees the world is beautiful to me. It’s the wonder in her eyes and how she finds laughter and joy all around her, even in the most mundane things.
DEBBIE: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and for people thinking about their own beauty, it may mean fixing that thing that’s bothering them. People seeking aesthetic medicine don’t always say, “Make me beautiful.” It may be that they’ve never liked a certain part of their face or the changes that are occurring. They may not like getting old or they’ve suffered with acne. The new thing the beauty industry is seeing is the return to the job market. People don’t want to commit time off for procedures – they want to “freshen up,” because at age 52, they have a big interview and are competing against 40-year-olds.
STEVE: I agree with Debbie. I’ve spent countless hours learning about aesthetic ideals, balance, harmony and proportion. However, when a patient is in the room, I’m not trying to make them look like Michelangelo’s David. I’m listening to them say, “I don’t like this bump on my nose.”
THOMAS: The modeling industry has a different standard of beauty than the average person. I look for outstanding beauty that sells magazines and draws attention to advertisements. In regard to my personal feeling on beauty, life is a series of photographs, you should always try to look your best.
BRYNN: I’m still trying to define beauty. I grew up reading Vogue and Allure while other girls were reading The Baby-Sitters’ Club. Beauty was always superficial back then. As I got older, I figured out that you could be a physically beautiful person but, in reality, be ugly because of a horrible personality or low self-esteem. The most beautiful thing is when somebody is really comfortable with where they are now.
I’M OKAY, YOU’RE OKAY – BUT ARE ANY OF US REALLY OKAY IN THE SKIN WE’RE IN?
SCOTT: I want to take a quick poll. How many people do you actually know who are really comfortable with who they are and what they look like? Everyone wants to feel beautiful. They want to believe they can feel comfortable in their own skin, but are they truly comfortable?
DONNA: My daughters are.
RHONDA: My husband’s late grandmother, even at 95, was always comfortable.
SCOTT: There aren’t many people like that. You should get a prize for that.
RHONDA: Scott, what’s your definition of comfortable?
SCOTT: You’re happy with who you are. You know you want to improve, but you’re happy with where you are right now. And you don’t look to others for affirmation.
MICHELLE: That same question was thrown out in The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report. Of 3,200 women polled around the world, only 2 percent of the women described themselves as beautiful. Two percent! Most described themselves as average and were highly uncomfortable using the words “attractive,” “beautiful,” “pretty” or “cute” with themselves.
SCOTT: That study is about the concept of physical beauty. You’re born that way. A beautiful woman is born beautiful. She didn’t work toward it.
MICHELLE: Until the age of 20. After that you have the face you earn.
SCOTT: But still, even after the age of 20. I’m a photographer who photographs beautiful women. Through a lens, they are still beautiful. The only justice in the world is the most beautiful women from an aesthetic standard are the most insecure about their looks.
DEBBIE: For everyone who has based their self-worth on the fact that they were born beautiful, they come to the point where they believe it, too. That creates insecurity because, unfortunately, if they haven’t found that inner strength or beauty, they keep focusing on what they think everybody appreciates about them – they focus on preserving their external beauty.
IS LIFE BETTER FOR THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE?
BRYNN: I don’t think it’s as easy as everyone thinks it is to be beautiful in today’s society. I think “beautiful people” may have to prove themselves more. Just like society has created the “librarian or computer geek” stereotypes, I think society also has created a negative “beautiful, but empty headed” stereotype. Some say beautiful people get promoted. I disagree – I don’t think that is always the case.
THOMAS: I don’t know if anybody else has noticed this, but I feel like there’s been a shift in the perception of the definition of external beauty over the last ten years. Ellen DeGeneres is a cover girl on magazines now. She’s not this gorgeous, attractive model. She is a real person, and probably airbrushed as much as cover models, but people can relate to her. Also, the original supermodels, who are in their 40s and 50s, are coming back with major advertising campaigns.
DEBBIE: I disagree with Brynn entirely. Prettier people do better. They get promoted. If you commit a crime, you’re more likely to get acquitted. It’s a better life for pretty people. Now, where that cutoff is between horrible and medium, who knows? Average and intelligent might be a good combo.
SCOTT: You’re right. That’s documented.
DEBBIE: With that said, I can help people do the best they can with what they’ve got, but they’ve got to do something, too. You’ve got to dress halfway decent and feel good about yourself and not be severely overweight. There are very few people who you can’t make okay.
MAYBE HOW YOU DEFINE BEAUTY DEPENDS ON THE NUMBER OF NOTCHES ON YOUR LIPSTICK CASE.
ELLIE: When I was at home with my daughter and not working, my appearance wasn’t on the top of my mind. I’m 36 and I see my friends go through that transition period. When we were 20, we could go out all night and it wouldn’t show on our faces. Now, it’s there. We are raising our kids and trying to set a good example, but we just don’t feel like our old selves anymore. We are in that period of “Who am I and how should I care for myself?” Everything seemed so simple before I had my daughter but it all changed, even my perception of beauty. I used to look at a beautiful model and think how gorgeous she was, but now I look at my daughter and she is the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. It’s interesting when we were talking about being comfortable in your own skin. My daughter has “it” and she’s 2-1/2 years old. What happens to it from 2 to 13? The media? Outside influences? Culture?
MICHELLE: Media blasts out one view of what beauty is but our girls should really be free to find their own beauty. I think about what I would have pointed out as beautiful in the past and what I point out now. Just random acts of kindness are worth being pointed out as being beautiful. Some celebrities don’t even let their children watch TV, I think in part because they don’t want media to define certain concepts for their kids.
DEBBIE: Life is cyclical. People in their 20s are doing a lot of prevention and undoing damage already done. Then, there is a hiatus in the 30s when you have children. But once you get them through college, you can be a little more egocentric.
DONNA: I began competing in pageants at the age of 50 – not because I thought I was exceedingly beautiful – but as an incentive to stay in shape. I discovered that life experiences are as beautiful as a great body in a bikini. Even the women who grew up competing were impacted by competing with an older contestant. Their perspective on beauty became far broader. Being confident in yourself could be the definition of beauty, regardless of age or stage in life.
PHYSICAL BEAUTY IS SCIENTIFIC. PERHAPS IT’S LIKE EINSTEIN’S THEORY OF RELATIVITY.
DEBBIE: When we talk about components of facial beauty for women, I think about skin without brown spots, blemishes or makeup. In terms of aging, it’s not just about wrinkles: the goal is establishing and maintaining contours. In a study where researchers hooked electrodes to record men’s brainwaves and studied their response on an emotional level to pictures of women of different cultures and ages, they discovered that men found well-preserved glabellar spaces and big lips aesthetically pleasing. Men like full lips and a nice wide, non-collapsed space between the brows, and associate this with youth and desirability.
THOMAS: That kind of depresses me.
MICHELLE: No, it tells you where to invest your money with a cosmetic dermatologist.
STEVE: The age-old target of facial plastic surgery, whether it’s the nose or the jowls, has been to take stuff away. Reductive surgery. And that’s not the answer. If you look at your kids, you’ll see that they have full cheeks and everything is round and smoothly contoured. There’s a volumetric approach that’s the paradigm shift in the world of plastic surgery – using fillers. When we age, extra skin isn’t necessarily the problem: it’s more volume loss.
ELLIE: Beauty has to come from the inside out. When it comes to cosmetic procedures, I make no judgments. I am a “to each her own” kind of gal, but at the end of the day when you look in the mirror, you have to be happy with the “you” you have created, both inside and outside.
RHONDA: When I was getting ready for Mrs. America, I knew I had to have BOTOX® in order to compete with 20-year-olds. Let’s face it – it is a beauty pageant. I was amazed at how great the results were. It really did boost my confidence level. But, as the results started to fade, I faced the reality that the external factors of beauty really are temporal and all that truly remains is what’s inside my soul. Surgery for cosmetic purposes only is not an option for me. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to use every cream or noninvasive choice available, but my experience taught me that when something is taken away in one area of my life, there is a much greater yield in another. As my outer beauty fades, my soul and spirit become more vibrant and I’m at peace with that.
THOMAS: I’m all for plastic surgery and aesthetic procedures. For an actress or a model, looking good is their business. Get it fixed. Get it lifted. If we look back 10 to 15 years ago, there are the Pamela Anderson and Carmen Elektra images of what was considered gorgeous. I don’t see much of that any more. They’re overboard. You can tell they’ve had work done. And so now, everything is “reality” from cooking to modeling. Does “cosmetic work” play into that as well? We want to relate to these people. We want to see the freckles on their face. We don’t want to see huge, giant boobs. We want to see what’s natural and beautiful, a real person.
DEBBIE: Hollywood does a lot to make our business worse. I don’t know what these new stars are thinking or if the doctors are crazy. They get their lips overdone, they put experimental crap in their faces. In the Midwest, we are more conservative. We use products that have been around.
DONNA: Also, there are a lot of people 50 and older who are dealing with sun damage. I used to lay out covered in mayonnaise. The smell was horrible but I got a great tan.
ELLIE: You didn’t get food poisoning?
DONNA: I didn’t know to protect my skin. Some of the things people are doing may look like they are strictly for beautification, but they are really about skin cancer prevention.
STEVE: I do a lot of skin cancer reconstruction. I’m on staff at Ohio State’s James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, and rebuild noses and ears at least once every two weeks. Avoid sun damage and smoking because they are the worst offenders. Sun damage works against you two ways. You age faster and it’s inflammatory. Inflammation is not good for tissues. Take care of your skin – use sun protection, moisturizer, consider Retin-A® (if you’re not pregnant or nursing) and hydroquinone if you have brown spots. Cover your décolletage and the back of your hands. Those places are often the first to show signs of sun damage – that skin is much thinner and much more difficult to fix. Realize that all skin care products are not created equal. Products from department stores just have to prove to the FDA that they won’t hurt people – they don’t have to prove that they work.
LET’S TURN IT AROUND – DO MEN THINK AS WOMEN AGE THEY LOOK AS APPEALING AS THEIR YOUNGER COUNTERPARTS?
STEVE: I have a question for Scott. Has your perception of the beautiful woman changed, or do you still want the 22-year-old? It has for me.
SCOTT: It depends. There is the notion of conventional aesthetic beauty.
STEVE: Is that more beautiful to you than somebody who is 30, 40 or 50? Has it evolved for you?
SCOTT: Yes. Look at the cover shot of CMH’s July/August issue. I photographed Heidi Rhodes seven years ago when she was 21: she’s now 28 years old. Through the viewfinder, I knew she was going to be strong with the 40s glamour thing. She looked phenomenal. For me, today, that’s beautiful. So there is conventional beauty, but there are also people who I wouldn’t say are beautiful, but have extraordinary faces. Take Aminah Robertson, the African American artist in her 60s. Her face is beautiful but not in the conventional sense of a 20-year-old, European fashion model.
DONNA: Would you consider a 50- to 60-year-old woman beautiful?
SCOTT: Yes. People’s faces are beautiful. Not the symmetry thing, I don’t get that. Someone could have a huge nose and I wouldn’t see it. I don’t use or know the scientific method for all of that but some standards of beauty are just universally agreed upon. Older women like Lauren Hutton, Candice Bergen and Sophia Loren are beautiful. We are all in agreement.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE BEAUTY SECRETS?
ELLIE: Sleep and sunscreen!
DONNA: Fresh air.
THOMAS: Exfoliate and moisturize – all over your body, not just your face.
STEVE: Hydrate. Inside and out.
DEBBIE: Use filler to re-establish contours, not just fill lines.
BRYNN: Moisturize and wash your face every night.
I’m still arriving at new insights based on the concepts we discussed during the conversation. The idea wasn’t to define one standard of beauty or come to a resolution about it. Since the beginning of time, no one has ever accomplished this. That’s the “beauty” of beauty. It’s enigmatic.
As a woman who is 40 and raising a 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, there are a couple of thoughts I have about beauty in a media-driven, visual world. I believe I will always want to look like me – not younger or different, but the best me I can be. Half of achieving this will come from a life well lived – having big adventures, learning, loving and living to the maximum of my potential. The other half will come from putting in the time to take care of myself. Both are great examples for my children.
I believe pretty is as pretty does. It’s that simple. Webster’s definition is as true today as it was in 1913. It takes more than being pleasing aesthetically to the eye to be beautiful. And that’s a timeless and universal given.
Human beings care about beauty regardless of what the conventions of the day define it to be because we were designed to seek it. Whether we are 22 or 82, in the end, we want to feel beautiful, in the way we personally define it, because we want to be accepted – both inside our own heads and by the people we love.