The following is borrowed from a friend's blog post, my comments below:
[Woman is well within her rights, and is indeed forming a sort of duty, in studying to appear magical and supernatural. It is necessary that she should astonish and bewitch. Being an idol, she must be gilded and adored. She must therefore borrow from all the arts the means of raising herself above nature, the better to subjugate hearts and stir souls. It matters very little that her tricks and artifices should be known to all, provided that their success is certain and their effect always irresistable. Such considerations provide the artist-philosopher with a ready justification for all the practices employed by women of every period to lend substance and, so to speak, divinity to their fragile beauty.An enumeration of these practices would be interminable. But to confine ourselves to what our contemporaries vulgarly call "the use of cosmetics," who can fail to see that the use of rice-powder (so stupidly anathematised by our candid philosophers) has the object and result of banishing from the complexion the blemishes which nature has outrageously sown there, and of creating an abstract unity in the texture and colour of the skin; and that this unity, like the unity produced by the sculptor's chisel, brings the human being directly nearer to the statue - in other words, to a being that is divine and superior? As for the lampstick that outlines the eye, and the rouge that emphasizes the upper part of the cheek, the planned result of these - although their use arises from the same principle, the need to transcend nature - is to satisfy an exactly opposite need. The red and the black represent life - a life surpassing and exceeding that of the nature. The black frame around the eye makes the glance stranger and more penetrating; it makes the eye more distinctly resemble a window open on the infinite. The red blaze on the cheek further enhances the brightness of the eye, and lends a woman's lovely face the mysterious passion of a priestess. - Charles Baudelaire, "In Praise of Cosmetics"]
[If desire exists - as modernity hypothesizes - then nothing must interfere with its natural harmony, and cosmetics are hypocritical. But if desire is a myth - as seduction hypothesizes - then nothing can prevent it from being put to use by signs, unrestrained by natural limits. The power of signs lies in their appearance and disappearance; that is how they efface the world. Cosmetics too are a means of effacing the face, effacing the eyes behind more beautiful eyes, cancelling the lips behind more luxuriant lips. This "abstract unity that brings the human being nearer to a being that is divine," this "life surpassing and exceeding nature" about which Baudelaire speaks, results from a simple artificial stroke that suppresses all expression. Artifice does not alienate the subject, but mysteriously alters her/him. Women are aware of this transformation when, in front of mirrors, they must erase themselves in order to apply their makeup, and when, by applying their makeup, they make themselves into a pure appearance denuded of meaning. How can one mistake this "exceeding of nature" for a vulgar camouflaging of truth? Only falsehoods can alienate the truth, but makeup is not false, or else (like the game of transvestites) it is falser than falsehood and so recovers a kind of superior innocence or transparency. It absorbs all expression within its own surface, without a trace of blood or meaning. Certainly this is challenging, and cruel - but who is alienated? Only those who cannot abide this cruel perfection, and cannot defend themselves except by moral repulsion - and they are wrong. How can one respond to pure appearances, whether hieratic or mobile, without first recognizing their sovereignty? By taking off the makeup, tearing off the veil, or enjoining the appearances to disappear? How ridiculous! An iconoclast's utopia. There is no God behind the images, and the very nothingness they conceal must remain a secret. The seduction, fascination and "aesthetic" attraction of all the great imaginary processes lies here: in the effacing of every instance, be it the face and every substance, be it desire - in the artificial perfection of the sign. - Jean Baudrillard, "Seduction"]
VEry interesting :)
Hm, the question 'what is beautiful?' being completely subjective and according to context, beauty also manifests in different ways.
While cosmetics increases a socialized beauty by emphasizing symbolically what is there, so does alcohol;... when in excess, it can go such a distance as to pervert its magnification to something not so beautiful and yet, still human. This is part of the allure of things like Cabaret (a very good movie starring Liza Minelli) and Moulin Rouge (one of my very favourite films), emphasizing womanly youth and physical pleasure; isolating it into a 'gorgeousness' which displays only part of human beauty and is starved for other kinds. It does not mean there is no place for this kind of beauty, but that it may not be healthy to solely invest in such a materially manifested type.
The obesession with cosmetics seems a way by which we can 'feel better' about ourselves by attracting the attention of others... when a woman looks at herself when she first wakes up, all she sees are negative things, things to cover up and to get rid of. We no longer embrace our own bodies, so we yearn to attract others who will, but first we must wear the mask to draw them to us. This is because of the womb our perspective has been birthed from: impressions of beauty which media has instilled into us since childhood, the unstable relationships which have been nurtured out of our individualistic culture and the disembodiment we experience out of the rational imperialism of much of our culture; still residue of the enlightenment and which cheapens any spirituality AND any physical reality.
It does this by transforming our bodies according to our mind's desire. Our mind is unconsciously, or even consciously for survival defenses, appealing to the ego of our age by complying and ruling over our bodies. We work ourselves to death exercising, develop eating disorders, paint our faces, all for some control over our situation, to get us ahead, not to reach some sort of spiritual ideal.
True spiritual beauty is recognizing our disembodiment, learning to love our bodies and nurture them instead of rule over them with 'Shoulds.' Only then can cosmetics be a tool of self expression and secondary to our confidence of being.
And you say?: