Recently a friend and I walked past a poster for one of the gossip mags which screamed the headline "Celebrities Without Their Makeup". There was Cameron Diaz and other stars with not a scrap of foundation on.
"God they look so ugly without their makeup on," said my friend. Mind you, these pictures would have to be the worst ones they could have found. We had a discussion over cake about the whole makeup thing and both admitted to being relieved that, after the sun sets, these celebrities are just like us.
Over the years I have weaned myself off mascara and eye shadow and now settle for a little powdery foundation to 'even up my skin'.
But I spread these chemicals on my face even though I won't be seeing anybody that day! Why do I bother? It's only me. The cat loves me with or without makeup.
We all say that beauty is skin deep and in the eye of the beholder and it's what's inside that matters...you know all the cliches.
But despite all of the above, we still scrub, pick, paste, spread, pluck, pour chemicals over, starve ourselves, and have sucking instruments inserted into our thighs to remove fat, all in the name of beauty? WHY?
UK psychotherapist Michael Sones publishes the beautyworlds.com website in an effort to understand this obsession.
Dr Sones has treated a lot of people with eating disorders and says many women have an almost overwhelming preoccupation with being beautiful.
"If they don't feel themselves to be beautiful they strive for it. When they are beautiful they often feel worried about other women's envy, that men just want to sleep with them, or that no one is really interested in what they are like, but just what they look like," he says.
Well known author and trailblazer Nancy Friday makes a great point in her book The Power Of Beauty:
" 'Be good, be kind, be generous,' the teacher says, but none of these virtues gets a child anywhere near the amount of attention that the latest Reeboks instantly buys....Meanwhile children are born into families who pretend that appearance isn't what really matters. The child grows up maneuvering to fit that lie."
Does it again come back to advertising and fashion mags? The arbiters of what's cool?
Author of Good Girls Do Swallow and TV host Rachael Oakes-Ash interviewed the male editor of a top selling Aussie fashion magazine who admitted the thin, beautiful front cover girls were unrealistic...yet he continues to feature them because they sell!
In fact, the magazines which feature stars putting on weight or 'being caught out' sell like there's no tomorrow. We are obsessed by beautiful people yet love it when they turn out to have flaws after all.
Advertising would have no effect unless it had resonance in our psychology, according to Dr Sones. It is the desire to be beautiful which is important - not necessarily the size of waistlines.
"In a society which promoted fatness women would try to be fat and in a society which promoted thinness they would try to be thin. To be beautiful means to be an object of desire and to be wanted," says Dr Sones.
Here's where it starts to make a little sense. We need to belong to something or someone, and be noticed.
A classic piece from 1890 is The Principles of Psychology by William James, who wrote:
"A man's Social Self is the recognition which he gets from his mates. We are not only gregarious animals, liking to be in sight of our fellows, but we have an innate propensity to get ourselves noticed, and noticed favorably, by our kind."
We like to feel a sense of belonging and that we matter in this world. This is right from birth. It explains how religion became so popular, and the existence of social clubs...even street gangs.
So perhaps this obsession with beauty is a kind of 'club'.
Dr Sones says people don't know what to believe anymore and worry about many things like how long their jobs will last. "This increases anxieties about not being wanted and is a situation which is just ripe for the beauty message: 'If you want to be wanted you had better be beautiful.. and there is a lot of competition'."
The obsession with beauty runs right throughout the animal kingdom. Look at a peacock's beautiful plume and the antlers on a magnificent stag - all to attract a female mate.
And don't think being fashion conscious is a modern society thing. The ancient Egyptians were way ahead of Revlon!
Okay, so it's natural to be attracted to beautiful things. But what I think is attractive may be totally different to what you think....thank goodness for that, or you'd be after my partner!
An old acquaintance recently told me he was leaving his successful broadcasting career to try acting. "Don't laugh!" he said, "I know I haven't got the looks or anything but I figured, why not?"
I pointed out to him that only a small proportion of actors looked like Heath Ledger or Mel Gibson, so clearly talent is what's needed. All this time, he'd put off pursuing what he really wanted because of his looks.
There's nothing wrong with making yourself feel more attractive. It's not necessarily just to snare a man either, or else we wouldn't bother putting makeup on when we're alone. We need to know that we look okay in the privacy of our mirror too.
But don't get caught up in the obsession. If you don't look like Claudia Schiffer, why waste your life in pursuit of the unachievable?
Your talents lie in other fields...all it needs is you to explore them and make the best of your life!
If you're interested in fashion and cosmetic history, a website called the Life Of Ancient Egypt makes good reading. We will explore this subject more in a future edition.