Sunday, 29 July 2012

Beauty and the Beast: The Ugly Face of Prejudice

Series 2, Episode 3

Channel 4

9 o’clock

Channel 4 is renowned for its provocative, distasteful titles but does tend to scrape the surface of some rather poignant matters.

This time, the focus is on our obsessive relationship with a very narrow definition of beauty that an increasing number of women and men are cutting, injecting and butchering themselves to fit.

A handful of highly desired features are sought after by the individuals who pursue the never-ending search for idealised beauty: full lips, long luscious locks, large glimmering eyes, pearly white teeth, a smooth, wrinkle free forehead, a slim figure complete with large breasts and an ample bottom (buxom and gravity defying of course) and skin the colour of untrodden golden sands.

Few, if any of us, are naturally endowed with the majority or all of these attributes but yet this has become the pinnacle of perceived human attractiveness. The achieving of such beauty has generated a market of make-up, plastic surgery, hair extensions, false tan and various other products designed to strip the bank balance of girls and boys with disposable incomes (or their harassed, harangued parents) and the far reaching grip of the marketing machine is targeting younger and younger age demographics, forcing girls and boys to become preoccupied with their appearances earlier and earlier.

There has always been a pressure to look good and it’s not difficult to envision that there always will be. Beauty has always been valued, but over the years the definition of beauty has shrunk to fit a narrower, more defined margin, to the exclusion of an assortment of various other looks.

Magazines, movies and newspapers tend to portray a certain kind of look, to the exclusion and alienation of all others.

So what happens when the cataclysmic combination of a self-confessed beauty worshipping narcissist shares life’s with a person with a facial disability/disfigurement?

What can the two exchange and learn from one another?

Is there merit to the fanatical pursuit of beauty? Do we need to shift our priorities? Is our quest for beauty draining us emotionally, mentally and spiritually? (As well as financially).

You might come to this show with preconceptions about the ‘beauty’ and the ‘beast’. You might assume the beauty is vacuous, insecure, self-oriented, lacks will power and has all the sustenance of cotton candy. You might also assume the ‘beast’ is warm hearted, has triumphed over adversity, and has a greater grounding and understanding of what ‘really’ matters. This show attempts to unravel these preconceived notions, or solidify them. The interesting thing is that many of the beauties are adamant that they are self-confident and completely at ease with their dedication to a strict beauty regimen, perceiving it as both achievable and necessary. Some light probing though, suggests that the majority of the women are caught in a cycle of both short sightedness and deep rooted insecurities. By fixing the outside excessively, they feel they are soothing some great internal monster that threatens to engulf them with a yawn. What the show tends to reveal, as a trend, is that the beauties, despite being aesthetically appealing are often dealing with a ‘beast’ of their own in the form of a mental disfigurement, rather than a physical one, be it depression, an eating disorder or devastating insecurity.

This week we meet Holly Kent and Nelly Shaheen. Holly is a model and pole dancer, who initiated her career at the tender age of seventeen. Self-assured and assertive, Holly appears entirely in control of her destiny with the same cold tenacity worn by successful glamour models such as Jordan. She finds pole dancing liberating and claims she never feels happier or more at ease anywhere else than in a gentleman’s club. Although she doesn’t claim so directly, it appears that her career enthuses her with a sense of identity and womanhood.

Nelly by contrast, suffers with harlequin ichthyosis, a skin condition that forces her to partake in a gruelling skincare regime every morning to sooth her blistering skin.

The two instantly click. Both are confident, direct women who are cardinal in their approach. But Nelly exposes Holly’s less than glamorous past, revealing her battles with bulimia and crippling insecurity. Holly then turned to plastic surgery, parting with her cash for fillers and Botox at the tender age of twenty-two to combat the looming signs of aging long before their onslaught.

Holly is stubborn in her declarations that her chosen path makes her happy, but Nelly whisks her away to LA where hardened ex industry girls reveal their disillusionment and dissatisfaction with a world that centred itself solely on their looks and had no use for them when they were no longer novel and fresh out of the box shiny.

The girls become firm friends, cementing a new ideology that the external may be shallowly and superficially important, but the inside is the generator of all potential and power that can inspire a life. Nelly shines as a happy, warm and powerful young woman with the perspective to guide and inspire legions of others who struggle with disabilities or insecurities, and hopefully Holly will put her powerful ambition to a more worthwhile cause that will benefit her both in the short and long term.