Il faut souffrir pour etre belle. As always, the French say it the best but it seems to be a truth universally acknowledged by all women that one must suffer to be beautiful.
Down the ages, women have religiously followed this dictum, no matter what the cost to their personal well-being. They have blinded themselves by applying lead-based kohl in their eyes, had their skin ruined by the arsenic-based powders used to lighten their complexions, had their feet mangled and deformed so that they would look tiny and child-like forever. And on occasion, they have, quite literally, had the breath knocked out of them because of the tightness of their corsets. You would think that by now, as we march inexorably into the 21st century, we would have learnt our lessons. That we would have cottoned on to the fact that this beauty business is not all that it is cracked up to be. And that suffering in its cause isn’t the smartest thing to do. No, not bloody likely.
If anything, the advances of the modern cosmetic industry have meant that women are more in thrall to the cult of beauty than ever before. And they are willing to suffer any amount of pain, undergo any sort of ritual humiliation in order to experience that ephemeral moment when they feel beautiful.
Now it is no longer enough to wax your legs and underarms every month; you must have laser treatments to ensure that those pesky little hairs never stage a comeback. Bikini waxes are for sissies; the real woman books herself in for a full Brazilian (and no, that doesn’t refer to a man from a certain South American country). The monthly facial will not cut it beyond the age of 35; you must get rid of those wrinkles with a discreet dose of fillers.
If detox diets can’t get rid of that stubborn roll of fat around your abdomen, sign yourself up for a spot of liposuction. If power yoga doesn’t give you the perky breasts of an 18 year old, then it’s time for a boob job. You can go down a size, up a size, or just simply go up. These surgeons are miracle workers, you know.
But even after you’ve got the face and figure of your dreams, the pain doesn’t go away. No, it follows you every step of the way as you mince through your day on four-inch heels that look more like instruments of torture than regular footwear. But even if you can’t feel your feet for the pain at the end of the day, you still slip on those stilettos/slingbacks. Those extra inches are crucial in your battle to look your best in front of the world. They tighten your calves, lengthen your leg, change your centre of gravity ever so slightly that your stomach remains tucked in as your bum sticks out proudly. They help you stand taller, look slimmer. They make you feel, yes, more beautiful.
No surprises, then, that women are willing to fight the good fight to hang on to their heels. Yes, over in the UK, the ladies are up in arms (beautifully toned and perfectly waxed, I’m betting) over a trade union edict that sought to ban high heels from the workplace on the grounds that they were a health hazard. No, said the women, they were quite willing to take the bunions, the corns, the pulled ligaments, the bad backs, the excruciating pain. But they were not prepared to give up on their high heels – that’s what gave them an extra edge at work.
So, I guess, one must suffer to be both beautiful and successful. And now, it seems that the men are coming to the party as well. It isn’t just Nicolas Sarkozy who is wearing high heels so that he doesn’t look too short next to his willowy wife, Carla. Even the man next door is getting some discreet lifts in his shoes so that he stands just a tad taller.
It doesn’t end there either, I’m afraid. After Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan have shown the way with their well-muscled and suspiciously hairless chests, the new man is not afraid of a little body waxing. From there on, it’s only a short step away to the manicurist’s chair and a bit of Botox. You have to look your best to get ahead in today’s competitive world. And as women have known for so long, and men are only just learning, one must suffer to look good.
So, what’s the next stop on this manly quest for perfection? Cosmetic surgery, of course. Shekhar Suman is quite the trailblazer in this regard, with his miraculously wrinkle-free face and freakishly tight jawline. But nearly every star has had some work, both major and minor. Zapping away those bags under the eyes, refreshing the lips with a shot of collagen, getting a new head of hair, it’s all part of masculine grooming now.
And it’s not just the stars who indulge in a bit of nip and tuck. Liposuction is as popular among middle-class men of a certain age, Botox is as common with the husbands as it is with the wives, and face-lifts are an equal opportunity field for both genders. I guess it’s only a matter of time before we get the Blahniks for the boys as well.