Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Best Face Forward

Is animation changing the world? I ask because the strangely expressionless faces of the characters in Avatar bear a frightening similarity to the face of today's fashionable beauty: no lines, no expression apart from that in the eyes, no engagement with the other person – and of no interest at all. Ever since Snow White, beauticians have tried to make women's faces bland and boringly predictable (or all identical, to put it another way) in the mode of the moment.

Now, of course, it is much easier thanks to the developments in Botox, plastic surgery, nips, tucks and a million and one ideas spawned by fashion's Hell's Kitchen in an endless onslaught to destroy female individuality.

Fashion is predicated on change and the best catalyst for that is to engender insecurity – something fashion discovered with Marie Antoinette in Versailles, if not long before. Insecurity is about inadequacy and feelings of inferiority. Fashion gives women a simple answer: buy yourself out of it, darling. How? Clothes? No, everybody
does that. Get a real new (for which read young) you by changing your actual face. If Anna Wintour can do it, it must be the latest fashion, surely? And why stop there? Are you happy with your body? I thought not. But don't worry, the benign scalpel in the caring hand of the plastic surgeon can make it all right again – and not for so much money!

So, we have reached the point where changing the colour and style of your hair is not enough in the constant paper chase after youth. It's about flesh and skin now. A celeb fest or a red carpet affair is the scariest thing imaginable on planet fashion. Nobody knows who anyone is anymore. "Is that X over there?" "You know, I am not sure." "It
looks like her but she's different, somehow." You bet. She's had the knife, along with most of her friends.

And it isn't just older women who crave the blandly expressionless face of beauty. Botox is popular even with teenagers in America and Brazil. And it is sad. Like most people over Christmas, I have probably spent too much time looking at old movies starring the classic actresses, each one of whom had her own strong face. And the
variety was great. I also saw a magazine picture of Jerry Hall, whose character and personality, not to mention her very individual beauty, made her an outstanding model light years ahead of today's contenders. And even she has gone bland and expressionless in that Avatar way.

So what are we left with? Where is the excitement of facial variety to be found?

Thank God for Pat McGrath, the world's undisputed makeup genius who, working with bold designers like John Galliano, is creating extraordinary looks based on tribal face painting and, rather ironically, the slapdash makeup applied by the demented in Bedlam. So far, it is only used in fashion shows and deliberately self-conscious magazine features but it might just be exciting enough when tamed to the level of real women to break the stiff face of the drawn cartoon character that is current beauty.

Wouldn't it be great if fashionable women could laugh – or at least smile – again and even show some animation in faces that have become masks as grotesque as any seen in the carnival of Venice?


  1. Born and raised in Los Angeles, I am highly sensitive to the power and popularity of cosmetic surgery. Back for a visit recently, the only reprieve I could get from the plastic-fest that is L.A. was by going to a Polish restaurant in Santa Monica. I had a "we're not in Kansas anymore" moment when I looked around at the other patrons, who all looked like happy human beings.
    Quite the startling contrast, pitifully.

  2. Incidentally, I had not been aware of Anna doing that to her face, but after reading your post, I googled and saw, very very sadly, a rubber-faced makeover. I suppose what I celebrated about "The September Issue" she decried, namely, her age/success/age. Very unfortunate.

  3. Somtimes I wonder if the whole fashion industry is based in women's fundamental insecurity with their appearance - though, gradually, the viewpoint that nature and art are superior to science and superficiality seems to be gaining ground. Thanks for adding weight to this important issue in this brilliant post. The reference to animation and avatars is inspired! Here's hoping for more sanity and style in 2010...

  4. I knew something seemed familiar about those Avatar critters.