How to make beauty last

Kelly Yang says women who invest time and effort in their looks would get better returns developing their other strengths

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2012, 2:40am

One of the things I feel most fortunate about is the fact that I have never been the "pretty girl". I've been a lot of other things - "spunky", "funny", "gutsy", and "something else" (a term coined for people like me, not pretty but not entirely ugly, either, therefore literally something else).

I love not being pretty. I wouldn't be where I am today if I were that gorgeous girl with perfect hair and glossy lips. Knowing that I do not look like a million dollars gave me the resolve to work on other aspects of myself, such as intelligence, creativity and compassion.

Of course, there are also beautiful women who are highly intelligent, creative and funny. When I went to Harvard, the guys were always huddled in a corner talking excitedly about which girls on campus were hot - and, yes, there were a couple. These girls had it all - the looks, the legs and the brains.

As an average-looking person, I understand how frustrating it can be to see beautiful women walk by and turn heads. However, these frustrations never deterred me. I worked harder in school, knowing that simply batting my lashes would not get me anything; being average-looking saved me.

So when I heard that one woman had died and three others had been in hospital after undergoing beauty "treatment", the first thing I wanted to do was ask the survivors: why would you do that? Why try so hard to be beautiful? Why not try instead to be funny, or kind, or really good at something - all of which also make a woman beautiful? Unlike physical beauty, which is ephemeral, these other marks of beauty are timeless.

The problem is that these other marks of beauty, however long-lasting and wonderful, are also hard to attain. They take time and skill. On the other hand, Botox is quick and easy. So are anti-wrinkle, whitening creams, make-up and laser treatments. Not surprisingly, plastic surgery in the US alone surged to over nine million procedures last year - a 197 per cent increase since 1997.

It's not just women, either. US statistics show that the number of men undergoing plastic surgery has risen by 121 per cent since 1997.

Men's grooming is now a multibillion dollar industry. Example: the entire basement of the Landmark has been turned into a men's fashion section, full of high-end shops devoted to men's fashion and beauty products.

Ultimately, it's up to every man and woman to choose what they want to invest in - their looks, their brain and/or their character. For many women, it's looks. I don't blame them; sadly, as much as we've advanced as a society, it doesn't matter who a woman is and how much she has achieved, we still care about what she looks like.

But it doesn't have to be this way. I refuse to believe that's the way the world works. I think MTR advertisement boards can be full of nerdy looking women who are nevertheless awesome. The only way we're going to get there, though, is if more women stop putting on foundation.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School.