The thought occurred to me yesterday that I don’t spend enough time around young people, at least not that segment of youth between 20 and 30. Not that I can think of any reasons why I should: an effort to stay relevant? The thought occurred as I found myself catering the wedding of a young couple, at a beautiful house by the ocean in Malibu, in an unusual sweltering heat, the sort of heat that hits Southern California only a handful of days a year, when the breeze goes into hiding and, if you are trapped in a chef’s coat, standing under a palm tree, preparing appetizers, you risk going mad from dehydration and sunstroke.
An Italian colleague, in her mid-40s, who moved to California only a few months ago, remarked under her breath at the spectacular beauty of the youth in attendance. That is when I raised my head from the 200th bruschetta I had been smearing with pesto and took a look.
If the highbrow fashion magazines are to be believed, a new crop of models deemed to be “unconventional beauties”, is taking hold. That might be concealed speak for “we have to market diversity if we want to stop the streak of criticism” but the faces peering out of Vogue and many couture ads this Fall are indeed outside the conventional mold, some even plain by fashion standards.
Alas, the message hasn’t trickled down to the mass-market fashion consumed by the majority of 20-somethings in America today. The bridal party at the wedding in question seemed to have been assembled on the same factory line, each girl absolutely indistinguishable from the next: the same mid-back length hair in a deep chestnut hue, styled in soft waves; the same copper skin, compliments of spray tan salons; the same make-up, a prime example in contouring and foundation application; the same thick fake eyelashes; all of them teetering and walking uncomfortably on 10” heels. The bride, the maid of honor and every other female in attendance were hard to tell apart, all products of the Kim Kardashian beauty factory.
They were attractive, in a cellulose sort of way, but without an ounce of individuality. My eye was drawn to the only two women who stood out from the crowd: a young blonde of perhaps 25, six feet tall, with straight hair and blue eyes, wearing a short blue tunic, flats and little make up; and the mother of the bride, a petite Japanese lady with hair pulled up in an exquisite bun and wearing a dress that could only be described as a deconstructed kimono, with a flat panel in front that both enhanced her figure and made her look taller. Everybody else was a visual blur.
One of youth’s hardest task is achieving individuality: blending in is a security blanket and, these days, blending in is made easier by YouTube make-up tutorials and readily available surgical interventions. It takes guts to rock an aquiline nose, a flat butt, unassuming cheeks. I realized that, if women my age obsess over wrinkles and overdo Botox and fillers, thus creating a generation of ageless expressionless fifty something, young girls inhabit a similar conundrum: an obsession to conform to beauty standards, not just dictated by Photoshop, but by what they feel is one of the most photographed women of our time, one who has made it her business to influence through over sharing: Kim Kardashian.
From a marketing standpoint, I cannot help but admire the Kardashians. What a brilliant coup. From a cultural one, how sad.
Still sleepy the morning after the wedding, I woke up to a beautiful photo of Serena Williams on the cover of the Sunday Times Magazine. Besides being an impressive athlete and a model of excellence, Serena Williams is also a beautiful woman. But her beauty is not celebrated: on the contrary, countless times she has been vilified, on and off the court, for being too muscular, unfeminine, all the way down to racist epithets best left in the gutter. Yet, she is beautiful because she looks like Serena: confident and comfortable and devil-may-care.
The only true marks of beauty which most of us were too stupid to embrace when wrinkles were still a few decades away. I would like to think it’s never too late.