“Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”
At the root of Albert Einstein’s life’s work is a single fundamental truth: beauty is our birthright. He understood that beauty is the basic law that governs the universe. All creatures respond instinctively to beauty – color, taste, touch, smell and symmetry – and adapt accordingly to survive. Consider the flower, arguably one of the most beautiful gifts of nature. Flowers engineer the shape of their petals, the length of their pistil, the smell and texture of their sweet nectar and their trapping mechanism to ensure their captor is sufficiently covered in the flower’s DNA. Beautifying itself is how the flower ensures its species lives on.
Since the beginning of humanity, we have abided by these laws of nature. Whether a rite of passage, a tribal practice or a self-care ritual, we’ve been altering our appearance with artistry and artifice in celebration of beauty.
Dating back to the earliest civilizations, it was the Ancient Egyptians who put sophisticated beauty rituals on the map, thanks to Cleopatra’s infamous kohl-rimmed eyes and luxurious milk baths. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite’s mulberry-stained lips and embellished brows were well-documented features that rendered her beauty immortal. Many rituals of the Romans are still in practice today, from hydrotherapy to exfoliation. And in Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of India, beauty rituals were a celebration of the divine and a reverent act of self care.
In all cases, nature was the primary source for ingredients and inspiration. An ancient vanity might have contained magnesium dioxide, lapis lazuli, copper, red ochre, insects like cochineal and kermes, mulberries, strawberries, beets, turmeric, milk and honey, to name just a few. From herbal masks to honey baths, from whitening chalk to rouge, our natural born instinct to beautify is as fundamental to our existence as sleeping and eating.
In the day and age of the selfie stick, it’s difficult to imagine a time when we honored beauty as our birthright, rather than a metric of comparison. But for thousands of years, beauty rituals were accepted as a daily practice, a celebration and a meditation. It wasn’t until the advent of print media and TV that beauty standards became idealized, rapidly accelerating the ‘business of beauty’ that subtly played on women’s insecurities, rather than celebrate her innate beauty, both inside and out.
But even in the earliest days of print and TV, when suddenly all levels of society had the same exposure to trends, and the game of “who wore it best” officially commenced, there was still a hardwired desire for women to come by their own beauty naturally. In the same way women today evade the truth about plastic surgery, botox and fillers, hoping the convince their peers that they’ve naturally maintained their taught, line-less skin, women in the beginning of the twentieth century didn’t admit to wearing color cosmetics or adding any enhancements to their skin. It was, and still is, more socially acceptable to nip, tuck, paint and prick in private, then lie about it in public.
This is a good thing. Despite the fact that we now have tools and technology to fix just about any imperfection, our most primal instinct is to return to nature. And we’re witnessing the shift right now. With the rise in popularity of natural and organic product development and the demand for ingredient transparency, ‘clean beauty’ is the fastest growing segment in our industry. This consumer-driven shift is deeply rooted in women’s innate desire for nature-based ritual. The pursuit of the feminine ideal from a purely aesthetic angle traps us in a bubble of superficiality. It’s an invisible veil that separates us from the soul universal beauty that is in all of us, that connects us, that ultimately defines us.
So, though pop culture will always sensationalize certain trends, (the Kardashians come to mind), there’s always a counter-trend that begs us to consider an alternate point of view and a deeper context. Today, the counter-trend is calling for a return to nature, a call for celebration and a reclamation of beauty as our birthright.
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
~from The Swan by Mary Oliver