Tuesday, February 5, 2013

If The Devil Wears Prada, What Does The Haddock Wear?



If I were to say, "Women with fish lips," I suspect many of you would know what I'm talking about. Apparently it's called the California look: botox, plastic surgery and God-knows-what-else used in hellish combination to create a face that seems to have been cross-bred with a mackerel, stretched on a rack and then brought into contact with a swarm of irate bees. Get the idea?

The reason I mention these paragons of modern beauty is that I was surrounded by several of them at a recent charity fundraiser in Mayfair. There they all were, with their strategic fringes, their cunning, fingerless gloves and their silicon orbs squeezed into Size 0 dresses. Unable to smile, they stood with their glasses of Bollinger, pretending to be interested in the people next to them, whilst furtively eyeing up the discounted Hermès handbag... a bargain at £6000.

I found myself unable to stop staring at what they'd done to themselves, to pull my gaze away from what had once been natural contours and lines. And the only word that came into my mind was 'hideous'. I realise this is dangerously judgemental of me, but I really did think they looked awful. Frightening perversions of humanity, unable to embrace reality with any grace or dignity.

However, I'm pretty sure I was in a minority in that room. I have very little doubt that many of the people there found the fish femmes extremely attractive. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? And if the beholder is in constant contact with carps, then his or her ideas of what constitutes beauty will eventually change. After all, across our history, 'beautiful' has been synonymous with the whole gamut of shapes, colours and sizes, from fair to dark and from weighty to skinny. Today, in certain sectors of society, 'beautiful' is synonymous with 'surgically enhanced', which, in turn, links up with 'affluent'... and that finally brings me round to the subject of perfume.

Not only did these women look terrible: they smelt pretty appalling too, even though the perfumes they - and their menfolk! - were wearing probably weren't cheap. I won't name the brands whose wares had been given an outing that evening, mainly because I can't be certain that I identified them correctly... and, no, I didn't go up to anyone to ask what they'd spritzed upon their costly flesh. But the constituents of their fragrances were pretty obvious: tons of ambroxan, gallons of white musks, an entire cellar-full of synthetic sandalwood. In other words: dull, unimaginative compositions of the sort touted by firms which seduce potential customers by sticking hefty price tags on garish bottles.

But I'm sure that in the same way, and for the same reasons that the women's faces were perceived as beautiful by the attendees, their perfumes were perceived as beautiful too. Affluence generates awe, and even if the scent wafting off someone's skin is bereft of any creativity or originality, it becomes codified as 'gorgeous' and 'high status' purely by virtue of the context from which it emerges.

An interesting - and depressing - thought to ponder for those of us who are trying to find a balance between subjectivity and objectivity in the field of perfume criticism.

Persolaise.

14 comments:

  1. I do not understand the yearn for that look (though if it what makes you happy, so be it) - my inspiration are women like Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Beatrice Wood and Tasha Tudor.

    I was watching some of those Real Housewives shows, and I could not tell the women apart! ;)

    My husband and I watch a lot of British TV and are happy to see that the plastic surgery phenom hasn't affected that many British actresses - for instance, I love Harriet Walter! I want to get my hands on her book "Facing It".

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    1. Carol, I looked up the Harriet Walter book you mention. Sounds fascinating.

      What I don't understand is why no-one is telling these women (and men!) that their 'new and improved' faces are almost completely devoid of any expression. Don't these people have honest friends?

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    2. Maybe their loved ones are plastic surgeons themselves!

      I have no idea - it boggles my mind. But I bet the pressure to have surgery done in that type of clique is huge!

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    3. Yes, I'm sure you must be right. And I'm sure it must also be hard to stop once you start.

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  2. As a doctor and a middle aged woman I am appalled at how widespread esthetic surgery is becoming. I won't even call it plastic surgery, that is the profession used to patching up burn victims and the like.
    What is wrong with growing old gracefully?
    Thanks for this post!

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    1. Austenfan, good point re: plastic surgery.

      To my mind, there's absolutely nothing wrong with growing old gracefully, but I seem to be out of step with the rest of the Western world on this one.

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  3. "Frightening perversions of humanity, unable to embrace reality with any grace or dignity." -- This quote stuck with me since I read your article. It's an honest and genuine impression, as harsh as it sounds. I tend to agree, and it's the saddest aspect of what these women do to themselves.

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    1. Lean, I know. Maybe in a sense we're all to blame, because we've allowed the obsession with youth to become so powerful and corrosive...?

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  4. I really enjoyed this post, and the Harriet Walter book does look great. As an antidote to your depressing evening, I recommend the Advanced Style blog, street photography of stylish older people growing old gracefully (or disgracefully). It makes me feel more optimistic and positive about getting older.

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    1. Annie, thank you! I'll have to check it out.

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  5. My friends and I refer to it as "Trout Pout". Yes, I am amazed at the women who are teeny-tiny (emaciated) and yet wear a size 32-double d. They look as thought they are about to fall over onto the trout pout. We are supposed to grow old anymore, gracefully or otherwise.

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    1. Trout Pout! Perhaps if they fell over they'd just bounce back up...

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  6. I loved this post. Here in the states one sees this even in the Midwest. I live in Indianapolis Indiana and it is often very easy to identify the women from the newly affluent areas...same color hair, same clothes and YES same boring perfumes. I am not certain what contributes to this lemming like behavior but I find it disconcerting and kind of scary in a Stepford wives way. I have a sister in law that lives in the "Mcmansion" area and once attended a party at her home...honestly nearly every woman there had the same blond streaks, stretched face and stringy too skinny bodies ..it was truly frightening. At that party nobody had anything to talk about except their interior designers or where they shopped. I remember thinking I may have gotten a "reverse" lip job as I was so bored my favorite silly expression came to mind "she bored the lips right off my face"! I have seldom been happier to get back to my old and comfortable bungalow. The first thing I did was run to my perfume collection and spray one of my favorites....I feel I have earned the painterly strokes of age on this face and am most fortunate that I am not compelled to erase these treasures to simulate a very sad attempt at "youth". The whole purpose of these cosmetic efforts..to look younger, unfortunately often results only in a garish caricature and thank God not everyone buys into it!
    Loved your observation! Love from Michelle in the Midwest!

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    1. Michelle, thanks for the detailed comment :-) You're absolutely right: the weird thing about this whole situation is that the surgery is so obvious. It's supposed to make people look younger, but it just draws more attention to the fact that they're ageing.

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