Beautiful is natural, healthy, make up?

Last night I helped my wife purge some of the surfaces in our bedroom. The dresser and a set of shelves donned piles of earrings, clothing tags and old makeup that she didn’t need and wanted to be rid of. I possess a powerful anti-clutter gene and was glad to assist in sending superfluous items into the trash or recycle bin.

We ditched a lot of makeup last night; a few eyeliners or lip pencils I took to the studio to use as marking pencils, but quite a number of old cosmetics are headed for the dump now. My wife doesn’t wear too much anyway. Back when we were dating I stated that I didn’t really prefer the fake-face look, and in fact am turned off by overdone layers of caked on foundation (Or what not; I don’t know in reality what cakes and what doesn’t.) and unnatural colors ineptly masquerading as something inconspicuous.

Regardless of my own opinions, though, make up is a very significant part of American culture. In fact, it’s been a significant part of many cultures going back thousands of years. Egyptian Pharaohs used it more than 5,000 years ago (see photo below). Modern cosmetics manufacturers would love for men to begin using make up again, mainly out of greed.

Narmer’s Palatte, 3100 B.C. Palettes were normally used for make up,
although this one was most likely just decorative.

Being content with a natural beauty — a healthy beauty — in this fallen world, internally or externally, isn’t as easy as it might sound though. War and disease certainly do their part to externally (and internally) disfigure what God intended when he breathed life into the dust of Adam and Eve in the Garden. The consequences of humanity’s sinful state remain obvious.

That said, things like make up and plastic surgery do have a place in our cultures. My question today is “What place?” What constitutes reasonable physical modification? And who has the authority to determine what is reasonable?

Most parents will (hopefully) establish limits for their children. No make up until you’re fifteen, or whatever age they deem reasonable. Cosmetics are pretty innocuous in and of themselves. They are temporary indulgences that can be removed at will. A person could easily make arguments both for and against the use of lipsticks and blushes and eyeliners. In the “For” column fit things like “boosts self esteem, beautifies the visual environment, enhances femininity.” Things to jot down in the “Against” column might include “artificially boosts self esteem, just a vanity, potentially dangerous to your health, wasteful and bad for the environment.”

What about plastic surgery though, a much more permanent cosmetic alteration? At what age do parents allow their daughter to get a nose job or breast implants? Apparently some parents don’t mind signing off for or offering these surgeries to their children. Some girls get boob jobs at sweet 16 or as graduation gifts, which I eluded to last year while talking about Alissa Quart’s Branded: The buying and selling of teenagers.

Plastic surgery has its practical uses, but more often we hear about its employment as a luxury. We see Extreme Makeovers on television and dream about being the next one chose for the show to go under the knife.

Is this a slippery slope? How much further down the line is a scenario like the one posited in the film Gattica, where a person can change his or her height by having bone added or removed to his legs? How far away are we from the movie’s dystopian prediction of genetically predictable and perfect offspring? Are we so comfortable (and oblivious or cocky) in our scientific prowess that we fail to consider ethical or psychological ramifications to these kinds of alterations. Are comfortable enough (read “foolish enough”) to play God?

Why are so many people not content in the way they look? Advertising, probably. Peer pressure, likely. And what about an innate but unspoken understanding that things are not the way they are supposed to be, that the world is amiss (on account of the Fall)? Does something in us, even if we can’t put it into words, understand that God had something better — all around — in mind for humanity?

Photo from Wikipedia.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

3 Responses to Beautiful is natural, healthy, make up?

  1. jim janknegt says:

    I’m not in the market for plastic surgery but could sure use some of that anti-clutter gene. Know where I can get some??? I’d like some for every member of my family. We seem to believe that any flat surface’s intended use is to pile things on – lots of things.

  2. pNielsen says:

    I believe it came from my dad’s side of the family. Dad was always getting in trouble for throwing things away that mom couldn’t find later. Course, mom wasn’t really a clutterbug either.

    I’ll see if I can’t extract some of the anti-clutter essence from the fam while I’m up there for Christmas and send it your way.

  3. Sarah says:

    In defense of makeup… Because we live in a fallen world, circles form under our eyes, grey fills our hair, pimples pop up everywhere, etc. etc. If I were perfectly healthy, my skin would be radiant, I wouldn’t need glasses, my hair would be shiney and brown and I’d be the perfect weight. That isn’t my reality. I use powder to smooth the imperfections on my face, eye shadow to enhance the shape of my baby blues and hair color to return my hair to the color of my childhood. A 15 year old doesn’t need any of this stuff yet.

    Is it vanity? Maybe. I am also an artist, a person whose job it is to make beautiful things. I contemplate Beauty all day and fail to see it on my own face when I look in the mirror. Am I just vain? Or longing for the Sarah that God actually created, not the one who has been battered by this Postlapsarian world?

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