I keep pondering external validation in regard to American culture, which is dominated by extrinsic motivation, incentivizing, reward, money, and external beauty.
The stuff on the outside.
I was thinking about it while watching The Devil Wears Prada again with my daughter. In that movie, based on a book (a roman à clef, ack, the kind I sort of hate, except when I love them, but I haven’t read this one), a young woman starts out with inner beauty and ends up with it again, but the bulk of the movie—containing her fashion makeover and the “dragon lady” boss woman editor of Runway Magazine that we love to hate—is all about external beauty.
“Oh, sure,” says the Stanley Tucci character of Nigel, “this is a multi-billion dollar industry based on…inner beauty.” He is mocking Andrea, pre-makeover, for having a hard time as the personal assistant to a fashionmonger.
Next, we watch him re-dress Andrea in designer clothes, with designer accessories, until a professional model can say, honestly, “You look good.”
And isn’t part of the fun of this movie that we get to see her “look good” right before she returns to inner beauty? Maybe she will retain her new sense of style, but she’s giving all the designer clothes back. Maybe she will continue to cut her hair this way, but maybe not, based on her restored priorities, her low salary, and her lack of a built-in “beauty department” at work. I have a feeling she won’t keep wearing spike heels.
And, of course, we wouldn’t be happy with the ending of the movie if the main character didn’t get to “make good”—get a new job—or be watching the movie at all if the author of the roman à clef didn’t “make good” by writing a bestselling novel based on her experience as the personal assistant to a high-powered woman in the fashion world.
Do we really value inner beauty?
Or do we just keep repeating platitudes about it until somebody “makes good”?