Dec 22, 2021–A group of us fuddie-duddies (people born in one of the previous centuries) were discussing the appeal and purpose of tattoos and piercings.
Why, we asked rhetorically, do humanoids feel the need to ink their limbs and force metal objects through septa, lips, and lobes? We were not being judgmental, just curious.
Then it came to me that humans have been practicing some form of that ritual across cultures for millennia, painting our faces, coloring our hair, and yanking it out by the roots.
In fact, we are so accustomed to our own bodyscaping we don’t notice it. For most men, shaving off your beard is so common we don’t even question it as normal behavior. The whole flowchart of determining where the presence and absence of hair is acceptable is a baffling exercise. Why, for example, do modern women shave their legs but not their arms?
Hair in general seems to make us uncomfortable. An entire industry exists to keep hair off of various body parts. I don’t care to know what barbaric procedures take place behind the doors of a beauty spa advertising depilatories, waxes, and weaves.
As a thought experiment, what if we as humans simply ceased all cosmetic procedures? How would we react?
I imagine we would appear as actors in those dioramas popular in natural history museums. In this no-makeup world, men would slouch around with flowing beards and long, matted hair. Come to think of it, for traditional males the world would not be much different than the late 1960s.
For fashion-forward females, the change would be more disconcerting. With no makeup, eyes would be less defined. Lips would revert to their natural thin, pale outlines. Hair follicles would sprout in unexpected places. Brows would flourish and follow nature’s path across the forehead.
With hair coloring disallowed, lighter shades of pale would mushroom, as would hair styles, reverting to natural, stringy, curly, or chaotic, down to there, spangled and spaghettied.
Fingernails and toenails would no longer be painted in fire engine red, goth black, or miniature holiday scenes.
Our fashion modifications would extend to the garments we choose to drape our bodies in. Or, more accurately, restrict our forms with. Banish all foundation garments, and natural body shapes would return to distract some and embarrass all.
I haven’t even mentioned the various “de-odorants” designed to mask our natural pheromones. These have a powerful effect on our brains–I’ll bet all of you can remember the floral scent worn by your third-grade teacher.
It feels uncomfortable writing this out. I’m sure I am violating cancel culture’s obtuse protocols by even referring to groups using historical gender roles. But the observations apply, regardless how one identifies with various flora or fauna.
I’m not sure how comfortable any of would feel in this all-natural world. But let’s try! It would be enlightening to announce a “no makeup” week, where we all dispense with razors, Spanx, and Chanel No. 5, and get reacquainted with our natural physical bodies.
I suspect it wouldn’t work.
Because while we all claim to embrace and honor our physical self, we will never abandon the compulsion to paint, pierce, and pluck it to live up to some elusive external ideal.