One of the socially notable aspects of today’s living is the fact that, as time goes on, more and more people in Western countries grow increasingly preoccupied with trying to ensure the ‘beautifulness’ and/or ‘uniqueness’ of their physical appearance. On the other hand, however, there can be only a few doubts that the flow of time has a strong negative effect on the overall measure of these societies’ ‘anthropological pleasantness’ – something that can be easily illustrated, in regards to the skyrocketing rate of obesity in the West.
In this paper, I will explore the discursive significance of the above-mentioned phenomenon at length, while promoting the idea that it should be discussed in close conjunction to what account for the instruments of hegemonic domination, deployed by the representatives of the elites, in order to be able to maintain their undisputed domination in the ‘civilized world’. It will also be argued that the phenomenon in question is reflective the ongoing existential degradation of White people.
As it was pointed out in the Introduction, there is indeed a good rationale in referring to a Westerners’ obsession with ‘beautification’, as such that has long ago attained the subtleties of an epidemic. For example, according to Von Drehle: “The number of cosmetic procedures performed on Americans has risen roughly 500 percent over the past decade… and last year 11 million procedures were done. These procedures averaged more than $1,000 a pop, not counting the intangible costs” (14).
The most popular TV shows are the ones, in which celebrities appear for the sake of making a spectacle of their physical appearance, while often crossing the boundaries of appropriateness. Even young girls in Western countries are being encouraged to think that, without being physically attractive, they will not be able to advance socially – something that it being illustrated by the so-called ‘beauty pageants’ held in schools.
The same can be said about many young (and old) men in the West, preoccupied with paying close attention to their physical looks, as if it represented one of their main life-priorities. Nevertheless, it will not take applying much of an effort to become fully aware of the fact that, if anything, an average American is being committed to the ideals of bodily fitness and attractiveness the least – one would simply have to visit the nearest McDonalds restaurant, filled with ‘people-hamburgers’, who are often unable to walk on their own.
Nevertheless, this seeming paradox is not quite as odd as it may appear. It signifies the fact the fact that, as it is being the case with just about any existential anxiety of those people who live in the capitalist society, their natural strive towards beauty has been capitalized upon by the rich and powerful, as the tool of legitimizing the widening gap between themselves and the rest of ordinary citizens. The logic behind this suggestion is as follows:
People are being deliberately led to believe in the importance of physical looks (beauty), as such that prompts them to proceed with the highly individualist mode of addressing life-challenges. Moreover, it is also something that is meant to alienate them from the rest of their co-citizens, as the very notion of physical attractiveness is largely synonymous with the notion of exclusivity.
Slowly but surely, these people are being convinced that the social practices, concerned with the capitalist exploitation and institutionalized discrimination, are thoroughly ‘natural’ and therefore appropriate. This is the reason why, as of recently, there have been a number of sociological studies conducted, which establish a direct link between the features of a particular individual’s ‘exterior’, on one hand, and what account for his or her chances to ‘strike big’ in this life, on the other.
For example, according to French: “Wage differentials are always present in the bivariate analysis for attractive and unattractive employees relative to their average-looking counterparts” (572). It is needless to mention, of course, that this causes people to feel increasingly atomized, in the social sense of this word.
If it is the measure of one’s attractiveness, which defines the concerned person’s value more than anything else does, then why bother with organizing union-movements or demanding from politicians that they serve the interests of those who voted for them, as opposed to working on behalf of the ‘money bags’, which financed their election-campaigns?
What is especially peculiar, in this respect, is that (with the obvious exception of movie stars) the majority of the truly rich and powerful is far from being considered physically attractive – the validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, in regards to the physical appearance of many American/European bankers and politicians, which represent both: ‘old money’ and ‘new money’.
Thus, it will be thoroughly appropriate to define the first discursive significance of the mentioned ‘obsession with attractiveness’, on the part of today’s Westerners, as being indicative of them continuing to remain subjected to the hegemony-based capitalist oppression.
In its turn, this oppression is being concerned with making ordinary people emotionally alienated from the idea that they are in fact the masters of their own lives. As Schweitzer noted: “(Alienated) people no longer experience themselves as active human agents in conscious control of their life circumstances.
Their own productive activities, human creations, social relationships and nature at large remain alien and beyond their grasp” (27). This, of course, undermines their ability to resist the forces of economic/social oppression – hence, resulting in both: making the rich even richer (and consequently, more ‘beautiful’, in the sense of enabling them to undergo plastic surgeries) and increasing the number of ‘ugly’ poor people out of the street.
There is even more to it – the fact that there is a clear tendency among Westerners to grow ever more concerned with how they appear on the ‘outside’ (reflected by the growing popularity of gyms), can be interpreted as the indication of these people’s ongoing transformation from ‘Faustians’ into ‘Apollonians’, in the Spenglerian sense of this word (D’Orso 26). In its turn, this implies that they become increasingly incapable of maintaining Western civilization, as we know it.
The reason for this is that, whereas, ‘Faustians’ derive pleasure out of subjecting the surrounding reality to their rational will, ‘Appolonian’ pleasures are solely sensual and usually concerned with the process of the affiliated individuals enjoying a plenty of good food and sex. Whereas, the ‘Faustian’ desires are projected to infinity, the ‘Appolonian’ ones are rather ‘instantaneous’, in the sense that they can be satisfied impulsively.
This is the reason why it is specifically those people that belong to the psychological phenotype of ‘Appolonians’, who pay much attention to their own physical appearance and to that of others – these individuals live their lives one second at the time, which naturally predisposes them to assign such a great importance to the issue of physical attractiveness. In the discursive sense of this word, they are epicureans.
Unfortunately, the term ‘epicurean’ often proves synonymous to the term ‘degenerate/decadent’ – something that explains why it is specifically White people in the West who happened to be both: preoccupied with ‘beautification’, on one hand, and quite incapable of conceiving more than one child per family (as the best case scenario), on the other.
The latter presupposes that it is being only the matter of time, before the dominance of a ‘white man’ effectively ends not only in the Second and Third worlds, but in the West, as well (Maruyama and Yamamoto 58). It is understood, of course, that this in turn can be interpreted as such that reflects that Western civilization did enter the ‘decline phase’ of its history – just as it was the case with the Roman Empire at the beginning of the 5th century A.D.
The legitimacy of this suggestion can be further explored, with respect to the fact that there are a number of clearly defined degenerative undertones to the manner in which many contemporary Westerners go about deeming a particular person physically attractive/ugly – especially if the concerned individuals happened to be a woman.
One of them can be well considered these people’s tendency to admire specifically those women who happened to be unnaturally skinny (and sometimes outright ugly) – something that is being illustrated by the physical complexity of the majority of fashion-models, which participate in the publicly held fashion-presentations.
After all, while observing many of these models, one may well come to the conclusion that they must have been just liberated out of Auschwitz – it is especially appears to be the case with those of them with shaved heads. In other words, it is not only that as of today, women are being encouraged to preoccupy themselves with ‘beautification, as if there was nothing else worthy of their attention, but that they also continue to be misled to believe that the notion of physical attractiveness/beauty somehow relates to the notion of physical inadequateness/illness.
It is understood, of course, that this will not result in anything else but in undermining the chances of these women to attain happiness, as wives and mothers. After all, it does not represent much of a secret that extremely skinny women most commonly prove infertile. However, given the fact that, despite having been turned ‘politically correct’, Western societies continue to remain capitalist, the strongly negative effects of the currently institutionalized conventions of physical attractiveness/beauty on women’s health are being ignored.
It simply could not be otherwise. While endowed with the Media-induced belief that the ‘miraculous’ transition from fat (ugly) to thin (beautiful) is indeed possible, these women prove themselves good consumers – even at the expense of causing much damage to their health (Kates and Shaw-Garlock 36). The all-time-high sales of different dietary pills/supplements in the West, confirm the soundness of this suggestion perfectly well. This, of course, once again points out to the fact that the discussed phenomenon can hardly be considered socially productive.
I believe that the deployed line of argumentation, in defense of the idea that there is nothing good about the fact that, as opposed to what it used to be the case in the past, today’s people are much more appearance-conscious, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, the trend in question does indicate that there is now something utterly wrong with the ‘civilized’ West.
D’Orso, Michael. “Man Out of Time: Kerouac, Spengler, and the ‘Faustian Soul’.” Studies in American Fiction 11.1 (1983): 19-30. Print.
French, Michael. “Physical Appearance and Earnings: Further Evidence.” Applied Economics 34.5 (2002): 569-572. Print.
Kates, Steven and Glenda Shaw-Garlock. “The Ever Entangling Web: A Study of Ideologies and Discourses in Advertising to Women.” Journal of Advertising 28.2 (1999): 33-49. Print.
Maruyama, Akiko and Kazuhiro Yamamoto. “Variety Expansion and Fertility Rates.” Journal of Population Economics 23.1 (2010): 57-71. Print.
Schweitzer, David. “Marxist Theories of Alienation and Reification: The Response to Capitalism, State Socialism and the Advent of Postmodernity.” The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 11.6/8(1991): 27-52. Print.
Von Drehle, David. “Looking Good; Our Obsession with Physical Appearance May Not be so Shallow, After All.” The Washington Post 12 Nov. 2006: 14. Print.