Like Fashion, beauty is a way to communicate your social status. There is a hierarchy of beauty that has been set by, what Veblen could call, the “leisure class.” In The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen explains that through conspicuous consumption, leisure classes put their wealth into evidence. Being conspicuous, however, must be absent from any productive consumption and therefore, it becomes a “meritorious” act. This lifestyle must be kept at all times, not just at the sight of the spectator. As Veblen says, the evidence must be tangible and must serve for exhibition in the way a trophy does. (Veblen p.28) Beauty becomes a form in which women can signify their status and It can also be a class signifier for them. The practice of beauty, embellishing one-self, is an expenditure of time that sets the standards and ideals for what beauty ought to be. Therefore, it creates a hierarchy of beauty, and it determines who is beautiful and who is not.
Conspicuous consumption refers to the unproductive consumption of goods as a mark of prowess and a perquisite of human dignity. (Veblen p.44) The more women consume to evidence their wealth, the more power and honor they achieve. Therefore, the more women invest time in their beauty knowledge and look, the more beautiful they are. In Distinction, Bourdieu explains that cultural needs are taught and that in fact, they serve to differ people from one another, ideas of culture and their particular relationship with culture. Consumption is a process of communication, act of deciphering, decoding, which presupposes practical or explicit mastery of a cipher or code. (Bourdieu p.2) Notions of beauty are created, taught and modeled by one’s body. The ways in which women relate to ideals of beauty is closely related to their social positions and class. Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make between the beautiful and the ugly (Bourdieu p.6) Taste becomes a way to divide notions of beauty and allows for a categorization to occur. Taste, is a class culture turned into nature, that is, embodied, it helps to shape the class body. It is an incorporated principle of classification which governs all forms of incorporation. (Bourdieu p. 190) The body becomes a canvas in which through materialization or in this case beautification, it displays class taste. It is precisely through the body that we perpetuate notions of beauty and at the same time the body becomes a class determinant for beauty.
How do we rank beauty?
Like appreciation for fine art or good food, beauty is also a creation of culture that is taught. There are standard notions of what beauty is and how one should decently present oneself in everyday life. However, not everyone has the education, time or money to be able to fully keep up with these ideals. Those in the leisure class can create and perform notions of beauty. When the rest of us, must either live up to the expectation, or simply be signified by the standard. The hierarchy of beauty is made up of “classic beauty”, “runway beauty”, “faux pas beauty”, “overdone beauty” & “careless beauty”. I will speak about each of these categories, how they are created, recreated and who fails to achieve them.
The hierarchy of beauty begins with classic beauty. Icons such as Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor embody this ideal beauty. Sites such as Fashionologie.com, Allure.com, and Self.com have named Elizabeth Taylor the hollywood beauty icon of all time. Ironically, this classic beauty look is based on the no-makeup look. It must be “natural.” To achieve it you must have the time to doll up yourself by doing your hair and makeup. Resources must be available, such as skin care products and high quality cosmetics. Last but not least, one must have the expertise, either services, or personal access to trends, and skills to be able to recreate the “classic look.” Hairstylesweekly.com shows how to re-create elegant up do’s. However, if you notice this how-to, it requires quite some time to recreate. You also need beauty tools, such as a blow dryer ($50-$200), curling iron($40-200), and cosmetic products. To recreate this look you need about $250.
The next step down is runway beauty. Fashion Week makeup is usually done by top beauty artists for the best designers in the world. Therefore, they set beauty trends, similar to the way fashion does. Classic beauty differs from runway in the sense that, runway beauty can be creative and adventurous. It requires a high knowledge of beauty and fashion insight, skill, and creativity to pull off these looks. There is a fine line between achieving the look and not. Although runway beauty is not necessarily used to display wealth, it still requires artistry skills, tools and the proper products. Harper’sBazaar.com highlights this look created by Pat McGrath (top beauty architect) as one of the best runway trends.
Faux pas beauty refers to the attempts to imitate runway beauty. It is when the runway look is mediocrely recreated because the person creating it lacks the eye (for beauty or taste), skills or adequate tools. Sourz.co.uk demonstrates the smokey eye gone wrong. It could be a recreation of a runway trend, such as the one above or a celebrity beauty trend.
The next category, overdone beauty, is brought to us by Glamour.com The magazine shows us some of the do’s and dont’s of beauty. In comparison with the previous category, there is not failure of achieving a look, but an issue of beautifying yourself to an extreme. Some of Glamour.com’s don’ts include the over tanned or as they say “pumpkin girl,” also the use of false lashes, and over doing one’s hair or makeup.
The last category is careless beauty, meaning that is sloppy or defective. In the blog For the Love of Beauty, Cupcakes and Color, blogger Eva wrote a post about Intolerable Bad Make-up Looks. She used Rihanna as an example to show how she was wearing a “mask made up of tons of foundation” and that she failed to blend her makeup, as she has the obvious foundation mismatch along her jaw line.
Beauty functions as a social system of distinction. It is hierarchy that is part of culture, reproduced by education and reinforced by performance.
Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print. (excerpts)
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. Print. (excerpts)