Wednesday, March 22

Beauty, outer and inner


“WHICH is more important, inner or outer beauty?” said Albert.

I was sitting with Albert and Wong at Sri Shan Restaurant, one of my favourite hangouts in Kuching, viewing a video clip from the Internet. It was an interview of Ms Ris Low, who was crowned Miss Singapore in July 2009.

Physically, Ms Low is undoubtedly beautiful, after all in that contest she bagged a number of other titles, including Miss Photogenic, Miss Catwalk and a few other forgettable accolades. Unfortunately, her stock fell drastically when she opened her mouth.

Miss Low’s lack of proficiency in English, a language which the island republic touts as its main language and her less than intelligent answers to the questions in the interview brought her much ridicule and parody on the Internet.

Appropriately, the most hilarious spoof was done by Phua Chu Kang (played by comedian Gurmit Singh), who specialises in being dumb to get his laughs. If you are in for a giggle, check it out on YouTube under Phua Chu Kang Ris Low.

Now back to the weighty discourse of outer and inner beauty at the curry restaurant.

“What is inner beauty?” I asked.

“Well, when I think of inner beauty I think of good personality, kindness of heart and gentleness of soul,” said Wong, ever the philosopher.

“What about outer beauty?”

“Honestly,” said Albert, “it is all about curves, tits and bums. For the men at least but I don’t know about the women.”

We were stunned by the Albert’s somewhat crass retort but had to admit that there was more than a grain of truth in it.

Though there are lots of pious remarks about the importance of inner beauty, we cannot escape the fact that the world is obsessed with outer and physical beauty.

Twelve years ago in the same month of September two famous people died within a week. One, a beautiful real life princess in the form of Princess Diana, who lived royally without having to do a day’s work and the other, the not beautiful Mother Teresa who devoted her whole life to help the sick and the downtrodden in the slums of Calcutta.

While Mother Teresa lived a life of almost ‘unhuman’ piety, Princess Diana was an adulteress who had flings with many of the men she came into contact with. After their deaths the world was saturated with the outpouring of grief and sympathy for the beautiful princess — a song was sung for her; books were written and a movie made. For the saintly Mother Teresa, however, apart from a few requiem masses and many heartfelt silent prayers there were not too many ripples in the news media.

Maybe our obsession with beauty is linked to our fear of death. Beauty is associated with youth. Every year, billions of dollars are spent by all and sundry to arrest the impending sign of age, a precursor of our inevitable demise.

Movie stars, particularly, feel the acute pressure to maintain their beautiful youthful looks. It is not a surprise because, for most of them, looks is the currency of their trade. Therefore they are quite willing to go under the surgeon’s knife to seek what they consider as improvement on God’s work.

Korean movie stars are quite unabashed about this. Their soap operas, which are such a rage in Asia, are peopled by flawless beings.

Many are enamoured with these celluloid beauties. My friend, Shirlina, is one of them. Imagine her disappointment when she went to Korea last year.

“None of the men looked remotely like Bae Yongjoon,” she lamented.

Of course, there is a limit to the magic of plastic surgery. Age is relentless and ultimately it will have its say. This was brought home cruelly by a series of photos floating around in the cyberspace. Someone took the trouble of compiling ‘now and then’ photos of some of the most famous sex bombs of the movie world. It was such a shock to see the pictures of the wrinkled old faces of what were once delectable and desirable beauties.

Thus, in a sense for film stars like James Dean (died aged 24), Bruce Lee (died aged 33) and even Michael Jackson, early death was a blessing. Their youthful images will remain locked in our memory forever.

Personally, I don’t think I can stomach a 70 year-old Michael Jackson trying to do his energetic crouch grabbing routine.

While we can argue endlessly about the relative importance of outer or inner beauty, one fact is obvious. Outer and physical beauty is ephemeral and transitory.

Recently, I read an interesting piece on the Internet. It was about a beautiful young lady who posted on a forum: “I’m going to be honest of what I’m going to say here. I’m 25 this year. I’m very pretty, have style and good taste. I wish to marry a guy with $500k annual salary or above …” Ms Pretty.

The following was purported to be a reply from the CEO of JP Morgan:

“Dear Ms Pretty, I have read your post with great interest. Guess there are lots of girls out there who have similar questions like yours.

Please allow me to analyse your situation as a professional investor. My annual income is more than $500k, which meets your requirement, so I hope everyone believes that I’m not wasting time here. From the standpoint of a business person, it is a bad decision to marry you. The answer is very simple, so let me explain.

“Put the details aside, what you’re trying to do is an exchange of ‘beauty’ and ‘money’: Person A provides beauty, and Person B pays for it, fair and square.

However, there’s a deadly problem here, your beauty will fade, but my money will not be gone without any good reason. The fact is, my income might increase from year to year, but you can’t be prettier year after year.

Hence from the viewpoint of economics, I am an appreciation asset, and you are a depreciation asset. It’s not just normal depreciation, but exponential depreciation. If that is your only asset, your value will be much worried 10 years later.

“By the terms we use in Wall Street, every trading has a position, dating with you is also a ‘trading position’. If the trade value dropped we will sell it and it is not a good idea to keep it for long term — same goes with the marriage that you wanted. It might be cruel to say this, but in order to make a wiser decision any assets with great depreciation value will be sold or ‘leased’. Anyone with over $500k annual income is not a fool; we would only date you, but will not marry you. I would advise that you forget looking for any clues to marry a rich guy. And by the way, you could make yourself to become a rich person with $500k annual income. This has better chance than finding a rich fool.

“Hope this reply helps. If you are interested in ‘leasing’ services, do contact me …”

All I can say is, “Well said, Mr CEO.”

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