The Pursuit of Perfection: Exploring Beauty in Brave New World
One of the most fascinating aspects of Brave New World, for me, was the novel’s treatment of the notion of female beauty. As a 20-year-old female college student, I am well aware of the inexorable demands placed upon young woman today in terms of beauty and physical appearance.
Everyday, in magazines and on TV, we are continually assaulted with images of models and actresses, their complexions pale and flawless, their bodies impossibly thin. We are taught, from a young age, that we must aspire to this unrealistic standard of beauty. We internalize these toxic images, becoming dissatisfied with our own less-than-perfect appearances.
And so we color our hair. We paint our faces with makeup. We starve ourselves. We undergo plastic surgery. We go to all of these extreme and dangerous lengths, all in the name of beauty.
There is a striking moment in the novel in which the World State citizens react to Linda’s haggard appearance. Trapped for decades in the uncivilized West, Linda has been denied the cosmetics, surgical procedures, and other beauty products that are so readily accessible in the superficial World State. The sight of Linda’s wrinkled, pudgy flesh and sagging breasts is utterly vulgar to a society accustomed to taut youthful bodies and flawless skin:
“Bloated, sagging, and among those firm youthful bodies, those undistorted faces, a strange and terrifying monster of middle-agedness, Linda advanced into the room, coquettishly smiling her broken and discolored smile, and rolling as she walked, with what was meant to be a voluptuous undulation, her enormous haunches” (139).
The physical process of aging has transformed Linda into a “strange and terrifying monster,” into something grotesque and repulsive. We may smirk at their seeming naïveté, but in truth are we really all that different from the World State? Isn’t our society just as beauty-obsessed, just as preoccupied with the pursuit of physical perfection?
Here, again, we see Huxley playing the role of social prophet, correctly anticipating a future in which physical perfection and youth are prized above all else. In the World State, medical advancements and scientific techniques have all but eliminated old age. In our modern world, likewise, we are essentially attempting to do the same. Old age—once a marker of wisdom—is now seen as repulsive, a sign of degeneration and decline. Individuals go to various extremes (Botox, face-lifts, liposuction, plastic surgery) in order to counteract the inevitable effects of time. God forbid we ever look like Linda, wrinkled and fleshy, a vulgar specimen of “middle-agedness.”
Like the World State, then, we are on a relentless pursuit of beauty and eternal youth. But the more crucial question is this: does beauty truly bring happiness? Does looking good on the outside make one truly satisfied on the inside? Yes, it would be nice to attain a “perfect” physique, but the reality is, as hard as we might try—no matter how many surgeries we undergo, how many beauty products we invest in—perfection continually eludes us. Personally, I’d rather enjoy life rather than focusing on these superficial trivialities. Thirty, forty years down the line, I may have a few wrinkles here or there, but I’ll be okay with that. Because a little bit of wrinkles never killed anybody.