The Semiotics of sexy…baby…tiger*

We are well into the self-improvement months. There is a new wrinkle to the diet and suffer thing, stopping drinking and suffering, suffering at the gym and so on. But no worries, there is still pain involved. It is about manipulating your face to make it look the way you want it to look. Younger women want to look like Kylie Jenner, a heavily sexualized siren presenting as much older than her actual years. If you are 50 and under, like Jennifer Lopez, say, you want to look like yourself at 30, sharper angles, idealized, and very slightly threatening. Both are possible. Costs range between $5,000 and $30,000, depending on your location and involve no surgery or not much. Over 50s are still working on the old paradigm, wellness, and rejuvenation. For now.

Kylie Jenner before and after

The difference is that whatever iteration you choose, you can do it yourself for a fraction of the above prices. You can whisk control from The Man, or rather, from the insanely rich plastics in the megacities busily turning out copies of Instagram Face. Glancing through Youtube will tell you, that this is everywhere, in every single country, rich or poor, women are performing these procedures on themselves far into their 70s.

the 8-point filler facelift

The average price of a syringe of filler at a clinic is $683 US. Calculate one syringe per decade, meaning at 50, you need five or $3,500 US per year to keep up. That does not count Botox ($1000 3 times a year) micro-needling, peels, IPL, etc, etc, etc. You can buy filler for $40 US, and Botox for $50, which means we are seeing the democratization of beauty. For $500, you can slowly over time, create the way you want to look, yourself. It’s not that safe, you can really fuck up. But so can the plastics. Various health authorities are trying to stop it, but the desire is too strong, it’s spread too far, it is unstoppable.

Disturbing, right? But beauty is disturbing, it’s supposed to be.

Beauty can be consoling, disturbing, sacred, profane; it can be exhilarating, appealing, inspiring, chilling. It can affect us in an unlimited variety of ways. Yet it is never viewed with indifference.

Roger Scruton

The New Yorker ran a story on Instagram Face in mid-December by Jia Tolentino who investigated the increasing prevalence of the cyborgian beauty of Kim Kardashian, who, over the past ten years has turned herself from human into something out of a digital war game, something unearthly and all-powerful. Some elements of Kim’s beauty are fairly easily re-created: remove the buccal fat in your face, slowly, over time, inject hyaluronic acid building that desirable cartoonish smoothness. There are dozens of other non-invasive procedures that can create a facial imperturbability that is both repellent and seductive.

So what are we considering beauty in a woman these days? Instagram Face tells us. First of all, it is multiracial. Secondly, it is decidedly not a vulnerable beauty, like that of Marilyn Monroe. Lips are invariably African-American and telegraph a deep sensuality. the high (called top model) cheekbones, American-Indian or Middle-Eastern. The eyes (Bella Hadid, the K Jenners, Emily Ratajowski, Chrissy Tiegen) have an Asian tilt – making the windows of the soul a mystery, out of reach, setting up a tension between the eyes and lips. The nose is refined Caucasian, leading the beauty, arguably.*

Our response to beauty is mostly unconscious. We cannot inform ourselves enough not to be taken by it, even when it is an obvious commercial play, like those of the Kardashians. This too tells us something about where we are going, which is towards cultural multi-racialism. It is also telling us what men are finding attractive in women, which on the evidence, is strong, mysterious, sensual women who can out-earn them. I’m not saying it’s complex, thoughtful, or virtuous. It is precisely what it is.

make-up artist Colby Smith*