Skin Deep: AGiddings

In his poem, The Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed, Jonathan Swift discusses the steps that a prostitute named Corinna must go through every night in order to get ready for bed, and in doing so, he illuminates a great deal about the nature of vanity. Corinna began getting ready for bed by removing a wig from her head; plucking a fake eye from one of her eye sockets; and pulling a set of false teeth from her mouth. Nor did the plucking and pulling stop there, in fact, by the time she had finished removing all of her makeup and cosmetic accessories she was reduced to an almost indiscriminate sack of flesh. I would argue that Corrina’s physical appearance without makeup was an outward manifestation of her inner character. Every single day and night, Corinna would have had to have spent hours upon hours putting herself together and pulling herself apart. Corinna had no time to develop any sort of inner character because she spent essentially all of her time desperately trying to maintain her physical appearance. Unfortunately for Corinna, outward beauty is far more transient than inner beauty and because she had spent no time developing any sort of inner beauty, when her outward beauty failed her, she was left with nothing.

The photograph that I took, was an attempt to get at the issues raised by Swift in his poem . The corset, wig and various kinds of makeup spread across the table (in the photo) were placed there to illuminate the fact that the faceless woman in the mirror put a great deal of time and effort into maintaining her appearance. Under the woman’s makeup and various appearance enhancing accessories existed a profound nothingness. Like Corinna, the woman in the photograph had to totally reconstruct her face every morning and pick it apart every night. In order to maintain her appearance, the woman in the photo would have had to have dedicated almost all of her time to the upkeep of her surface appearance. In short, because the woman in the photograph spent almost all of her time maintaining her outward appearance, she had no time to develop any sort of inner character – hence the profound nothingness beneath her makeup. What I found truly alarming about the entire process of staging the photo was the fact that all of the beauty enhancing products in the photograph were items that I found in my own home (except, of course, the fake nose, lips and eyes). Swift’s poem, The Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed, may focus on the existential shallowness of one vain prostitute, but it tells many of us something about our vanity and shallowness. It is easy to shake one’s head at Corinna’s vanity and lack of depth, but the arsenal of beauty enhancing products found in my own home suggests that – unless my home is an exception – many of us have to some degree embraced a similar lifestyle to that of Corinna’s.

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