What Cosmetics Can't Accomplish

I read a quote once that at a point, one pretty woman seems as pretty as the other and the effect is numbing. There are millions of beautiful girls and women out there. Cosmetics promise to enhance what nature offered us and nature can take away. If you read any Buddhism, you will note their anti-physical beauty mantra: There is always another more beautiful face out there, so the attention you receive for it now won't last. The ego that seeks this attention will ultimately be disappointed.

Paradoxically, I love the idea of what cosmetics can accomplish: on a very surface level, they can eliminate perceived flaws, enhance interesting features, and just make us more visually appealing. But I also know this pursuit is fleeting: For anyone who lives into her 80s, about a quarter of your life will be spent epitomizing the youthful beauty our culture so admires.

I don't advocate endlessly chasing efforts to maintain that look, cosmetically or artificially or desperately. The challenge is to see each phase of your changing physical self as a new opportunity: You are beautiful in your 30s in a way you weren't in your 20s; actively look for and appreciate these new qualities. The same goes for your 40s, and so on.

I've thought a lot about enduringly beautiful women and why our fascination with their beauty has long outlived the women themselves. Marilyn Monroe is a great example. There have been thousands of blond bombshells since she died, but she still epitomizes the ultimate sex symbol and inspires imitation to this day. Why? It goes far beyond the artifice: the breasts, the red lips, the mole over her lip. Marilyn was also a talent as an actress. She could not only be sexy but also hilarious and self-deprecating. She was kind, vulnerable, human. We see all of that in her images, and it touches something primal in us to this day.

So the ultimate lesson is to remember that your outer self reflects your inner self: There is nothing uglier to me than a physically beautiful person with a terrible personality or a mean spirit. Cultivate your interior like you do your exterior. The character you build with time won't fade, cost you tons of money at a department store, or become mind-numbingly forgettable.


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