The psychological and social value of Beauty

Interview with Prof. Antonino Giorgi, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist

The search for eternal youth is a fact that imprisons man in an apparent aesthetic durability. The current separation between the expectations of consumers and the offer of cosmetic products and services consolidates this theory and seems to be destined to increase: a culture of product and service that has never been recorded in the past and that generates new ways of purchasing is spreading among consumers, so companies and operators of Beauty and Wellness are struggling more and more to understand the real needs of users.

The demand, or rather the need, of Understanding, Competence, Quality and Innovation towards cosmetic companies is born and grows in consumers.

The Beauty Salon has remained perhaps one of the last places in the world where people can find a protected space of intimate relational exchange. But where does this situation come from? How has the perception of one’s own body and beauty been experienced in the present day? And what are the personal and social factors that cause the need for greater aesthetic response from people?

I talked about it with Prof. Antonino Giorgi, psychologist and psychotherapist with whom I have been collaborating for several years.

GA: Dr. Giorgi, in modern society how does the individual live their body and what has changed since a few decades ago, before the advent of social networking?

AG: Today the body is invested with a fundamental and growing importance: social networks, advertising, mass media, all promote a perfect body image beautiful and immutable over time. The body in contemporary culture has lost the deep sense of intimacy with the self to be reduced to a mere character on stage in search of an author. What you are looking for is a perfect body that you can show to others so that you can be “adequate” and conform to those models that you have to follow to stay in competition with others. Quoting K. Fraser in “Makeover television: realities remodeled (2007)”, you need to be able to “buy” the desired image. The important thing is to be able to transform yourself into the ideal you have in mind.

GA: To what extent has the obsession with the perfect body conditioned people’s aesthetic choices and what are the psychological risks one can run?

AG: About this, D’agostino and Rossi Monti (2016) report two interesting examples, both appeared in an American talk show a few years ago: Valeria Lukyanova, Ukrainian, and Justin Jedlica, American, both now in their 40s. Their desire has always been to “resemble” as much as possible Barbie and Ken, the Mattel dolls, until one day they decided to “become” really Barbie and Ken.

They call them living dolls and between the two, it seems to “win” Justin for the number of aesthetic interventions done: 140 declared from 18 years to today for a total of more than 150 thousand dollars spent. Among them: several nose surgeries, a remodeling of the frontal bones of the skull and implants on cheeks, lips, buttocks and chin.

Both living dolls talked about their appearance as an extension of themselves and their creativity. Meeting, however, in another American TV show, the two of them attacked each other verbally, criticizing each other’s physical appearance as too artificial. These extreme examples make us understand how one’s appearance concretely influences the psyche, also leading to the realization of an extreme ideal, failing – in many cases – to strengthen one’s self-esteem and instead encouraging a distorted perception of oneself and one’s appearance.

GA: The decision of the two living dolls you mentioned to tell their experience in the context of the talk show underlines two important aspects of modern man: the desire to be looked at and to be a guide and inspiration for others, and the fact that the mass media play a fundamental role in sponsoring an ideal of beauty of a certain kind. What is the consequence of such interference by the media and social media on the masses?

AG: Just as paradigms of beauty are created and promoted, so is the discomfort created in those who do not feel conformed to these parameters and from this will arise even more the desire to be in step with the times, with fashions and with what manages to make “adequate”, albeit always in competition. And the judgment is very severe, reciprocally. However, in the face of a standardization of beauty and body, individual, historical and cultural differences of Bello’s judgement are still living, with difficulty, because different and specific are the aesthetic models of the various cultures and community affiliations. If some things appear beautiful to almost everyone and make us think about the existence of an objective beauty, we can say that such beauty is the result of a series of intertwining psycho-socio-anthropological conditions and aspects: behind the apparent objectivity of beauty and body live the relational and identity experiences of people.

GA: In my professional reality I often deal with young people, many of them still of school age. How can one educate to Beauty in post-modernity? In your opinion, can we adults and Beauty professionals have a concrete role in guiding young people to appreciate authenticity in Beauty?

AG: Beauty education is essential for the person to be able to recognize himself or herself as a being endowed with Beauty of his or her own, giving himself or herself well-being. He who is educated to Beauty is capable of developing relational skills worthy of his personal being: he recognizes that the object possesses an intrinsic Beauty, which derives from his sharing in the Beauty of Being. Let us think of the teachers, who in their task of educating to knowledge try to put students in a position to perceive the Beauty that culture produces. That is why, once we become aware of the beneficial effect of knowledge, we should in turn commit ourselves to communicate the inherent strength of culture, that is, its ability to infect and fascinate every human spirit with Beauty: only by making others understand that culture opens the way to Beauty will we be able to enrich ourselves and not fall into the trap of the same post-modern understanding.

GA: “Culture nourishes and educates to Beauty, which must be pursued and found in every corner of our lives. This is in fact one of the fundamental points of Humanistic Cosmetics, which intends Culture as a “feeling good with oneself, in balance”, valuing one’s own authenticity, without chasing after exasperated myths of youth. What do you think?

AG: Eternal youth is a myth and sometimes an omnipotent difficulty that man has always carried with him over time. However, the drive to prolong youth, achieved in a balanced and healthy way, can be generative of individual and community well-being. Obviously this tension is a reason of attraction towards cosmetics, a remedy capable of giving light to the best part of oneself.

In general, the little scientific literature on the subject suggests that when the first signs of aging begin to appear, side effects are generated: lowering of self-esteem that often pushes compulsively towards the cosmetics industry of the product and service; growth of anxiety generated by reduced self-esteem; reduction of relational well-being that generates a malaise so strong that it can determine the closure in oneself.

In this sense I find myself aligned with the objectives of Humanistic Cosmetics, that is to denounce the distance between those who expect real and concrete results from the Universe of Beauty and those who give false promises. And on the other hand, to sponsor and promote the Extension of Youth, the Strengthening of Self-esteem, the Reduction of Anxiety, Relational Wellness. In the current trend the cosmetics of the product and service speculates instead of focusing on the real needs of the individual.

GA: As a psychologist aware of the effect that Beauty and aesthetics have on man, what do you think the goal of cosmetics companies should be?

AG: The objective must be to create Beauty products and services designed around Man as a complex unit. In other words, the mission is to take care of the bio-psycho-social-spiritual characteristics of Man and his context of belonging. It places Man at the center of its action, intends to create and sustain a new Renaissance of Beauty, just as Humanistic Cosmetics declares. In this vision, the cosmetic is like a holistic medicine and Beauty is an experience of Self and Self with the Others, that goes beyond the bodies, that infuses well-being in a human totality that is more than the sum of the parts that compose it. I am certain that Humanistic Cosmetics will be the backbone of this great progress.

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