Cornhill Magazine,  7 (1863), 391–400.

Aids to Beauty, Real and Artificial

[George H Lewes]




Aesthetics, Darwinism, Anthropology, Health, Physiology, Gender, Error, Race

    Remarks that beauty will always give 'its possessors a thousand advantages in the "struggle for existence"', and that the 'art of adorning the person' in order to 'hide [...] defects' and 'present a more agreeable aspect' is a 'universal practice of mankind' and the 'earliest art acquired by savages' (391). Nevertheless, many of the artificial cosmetics currently available are 'impositions' that prey upon the 'credulity of vanity, supported by blank ignorance', and, more importantly, incur 'serious risks [...] of injury to health' (392). As 'those who are instructed in physiology' know only too well, popular cosmetic treatments such as the 'painting or enamelling' of the skin (which aim at 'bestowing the radiance of health where nature or disease has set a very different sign') are 'tantamount to destroying it, for the enamel prevents transpiration, and the skin, recollect, is a breathing organ. Experiments have often shown that if an animal be prevented from breathing by its skin (as when a coat of varnish is laid over a considerable surface) it dies in agony' (392–93). Explicitly constructing the audience as male (he comments, 'if the reader is getting alarmed at the rapidity with which his hair is falling off, I bid him do not despair' [395]), Lewes chides the 'Many women' who use 'cold-cream, pâte d'amandes, and the like' for failing to 'Understand the nature of the complexion', for 'in sober truth, the epidermis, or outer-skin—that which alone can be attacked by cream, milk or cosmetics—is [...] essentially separated from the colouring elements of the complexion [...]. The outer skin is a layer of dead cells [...] it cannot be modified by external agents into any beauty of living texture'. Similarly, 'To wash the negro white has long been recognized as an effort of romantic benevolence, even by those who believe they can make a brown skin fair, or a muddy complexion transparent'. (394) Advises that the only route to real beauty is health and exercise, although exercise may in fact 'be as hurtful as it is beneficial. In excess, or under improper conditions, it has seriously damaged many. The limit of excess varies with each organism; but Fatigue plainly marks the limit for each; all exercise beyond the point of fatigue is directly injurious' (397–98).

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