Yesterday Helen and I went to Villa 32 for onsen. In the female section of the hot spring women of various ages and body types bobbed around naked in the water, lounged in loose robes in recliners, or sat and chatted on the edges of rock pools - relaxed, naked, without make-up, their hair pinned in bathing caps and towels.
Everyone glowed with health and well-being; bodies glistened from the moisture in the air. I thought it'd be a marvelous place to sketch, but that would be against the rules (no cameras, no mobile phones - so drawing other people is probably out of the question as well, though I didn't ask).
What occurred to me is that these women seemed so beautiful in their relaxed and comfortable poses. Perhaps they would wish for (if you asked them) washboard abs or a perky bottom, or simply for the return of taut, youthful skin - but if they felt inadequate in any way, it wasn't immediately visible to me.
Inadequacy is a theme that I've been noticing in beauty marketing. The ploy goes: 'you are so pretty! except this one little thing' - and then of course the product that is just what you need gets introduced. I used to go to a spa across the street for facials and it always surprised me that the women who worked there found fault with so many things on my face. Then I realized that they had to because otherwise I would not feel inclined to purchase their services/wares. It's like a doctor trying to make you believe that you are ill. Except there are objective indicators of health. I remember the women at the spa I used to frequent telling me that I have all these skin problems, and their shock and horror when I said 'Thanks! But I think I look pretty good. So I'll not be buying these.'
I'm not arguing that I (or anyone else) look perfect, though I have to admit that as a young healthy female, I feel fairly good about my looks on most days. Either way, I don't think looking less than perfect on some days detract from my confidence. On the whole I believe that my attractiveness and sex-appeal are linked to things other than appearances alone (not such a radical notion, though not one which the fashion and beauty industry, nor mainstream media, is keen to promote). What are these other things? Well, confidence, for one; at least, confidence and comfort with oneself is something I find attractive in others.
This doesn't mean that I don't consume beauty products or buy fancy clothes (mea culpa), and it certainly doesn't mean that I don't want to be more beautiful than I already am (or believe myself to be). I would be happier though, if I felt that I was being encouraged to be confident & content with my own notions of beauty, rather than feeling as though my opinions are being co-opted and coerced. I'd be happier if the beauty that I saw at the onsen, without social pressure and commercial packaging, devoid of extraneous elements, were were pervasive.
I guess what I'm trying to get across is that we don't need cosmetics or fancy clothes to be beautiful. Again, not a radical notion - but also not one which is often affirmed (based on my own observations) in the society in which I live.