Vanity Fair: The Price and Value of Beauty

We discuss the true price of beauty and the history of beauty as power in society.
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Helen of Troy

Living the dream of a country getting destroyed for golden locks | From the movie Troy

Greek goddesses Hera and Athena offered the Trojan prince Paris power and glory, but he decided to give the golden apple with the inscription "for the most beautiful" to the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Why? She offered him the love of the prettiest woman in Greece, Helen. This, in turn, led to war and Troy famously went up in flames. Seems like too much ado about something so trivial: beauty.

On the other hand, maybe it was worth it. While beauty standards alter and mutate, beauty itself has always been extremely valuable. Global beauty markets' value is predicted to reach 265 billion dollars in 2017. Women regularly let their "Troys" (also known as bodies) go up in flames for the chance to be the most beautiful women of the planet.

So, shall we be pretentious aestheticians and claim that there is a certain "je ne sais quoi" about beauty? Or shall we look at it rationally and admit that the price of beauty is insanely high for its value?

Society's Beauty

"Let us leave pretty women to men with no imagination." - Proust

Can you hear society whispering in your ear - from billboards and ads to runways, magazines, and Hollywood movies - about the look of the belle of the ball? Truth is, we have gotten so used to it that we don't even notice how our beauty standards metamorphose into society's ideas about beauty.

Frida kahlo

Frida would probably say you should ditch society for the sake of personality.

The next time you think someone is "ugly," ask yourself why you think that. Chances are it's because of the dreaded society whisper. It'll tell you beauty has something to do with sexual attraction. It'll tell you looking your age is only cool when you're in college, or that beauty is somehow connected to people's value.

It's difficult and necessary to send the whisper to hell. Gia Carangi became the queen of the runways ruled by blue-eyed blondes by being an unapologetic brown-eyed brunette. The only everlasting beauty trend is the un-apology. There is something desperate in the desire to be pleasing to everyone's eyes.

In the theatre of your beauty, never let anyone but yourself be the audience. After all:

"You can be the ripest juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches." - Dita Von Teese

Finding Your Beauty

"Beauty is a physical sensation, something we feel with our whole body. It is not the result of judgement. We do not arrive at it by way of rules. We either feel beauty or we don't." - Borges

There is nothing wrong with borrowing some beauty standards from the common opinion, but it's more interesting to go beyond and search for your kind of "lost" beauty. Look for it everywhere and anywhere; strangers' faces and Renoir paintings, sunset shades and Godard movies, in your grandmother's vintage scarf collection and in the way you look from the side.

Isabella Blow

Scary beauty by Isabella Blow | ELLE

Find beauty in sadness; find beauty in chipped nail polish. Search for it in carnival make ups or the grunge of a tired look. The sway of your hips or casual androgyny. Most importantly, appreciate the beauty of humans in the old-fashioned words they use, in their laughter and habits, asymmetry and awkwardness, in the way they are so real and close with puffy hair and vampire teeth.

Beauty is more a feeling than a thought. Maybe it's love in disguise or maybe true beauty follows love and not vice versa. All of my friends are beautiful, aren't yours?

Finding Your Ugly

Setting all of those different beauties aside, what is wrong with ugly?

Ugly is necessary, ugly is good. It sets you free from self-objectification. Wander around town looking thoroughly ugly once in a while to remind yourself that you’re not always the one being watched. Watch the world unravel in front of you with all its ugly, messy, wondrous beauty. Be the audience, not the actor.

Appreciate the beauty of an emaciated model without a wish to look like her or a wish to turn her average. There is a strange beauty in the extremes, too.

Kate Moss

Maybe it's more fascinating to be behind the lenses? | ELLE

You are the subject. You’re alive. Think about a thousand adjectives more exciting than “beautiful.” Try interesting, brave, witty, nerdy, dreamy, stylish, silly, different. Once you like your reflection in the lake, like Narcissus, pull back and notice the beauty of being.

Transform beauty in your paintings, chase it with words. Play with it, create, and destroy it. After all why be the actress, if you can film the thing?

Let Troy crush and burn for common beauty, but it’s too dull for the century’s taste.


Do you think beauty’s overrated? Where do you find the weirdest beauty? Would you trade “beautiful” for “interesting”? Tell us in the comments.

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