Consider the story "The Birthmark" as an early version of our contemporary obsession with physical perfection.What significant similarities and differences can be found?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Birthmark" treats a number of themes that lead the reader to question concepts such as beauty, spirituality, and the connection between the physical and ethereal realms.

Young, bright physical Aylmer--much like his would-be contemporary Victor Frankenstein--has invested the products of his vast knowledge into the pursuit of the unachievable: longevity, the re-creation of nature and, in Aylmer's case, the pursuit of physical perfection.

If we take the theme of the pursuit of physical perfection and adapt it to our modern perspective, we can find a lot of similarities to the current craze for plastic surgery and non-invasive rejuvenation techniques.

First, Aylmer bypasses the natural beauty of his young wife and, rather than appreciate what he has, he pinpoints on the ONE slight thing that makes his wife unique and different from the rest: a tiny red mark in the middle of her left cheek. The mark, which holds the curious shape of a minute little hand, had been appreciated by everybody else as something that sets the woman aside

Georgiana's lovers were wont to say that some fairy at her birth hour had laid her tiny hand upon the infant's cheek, and left this impress there in token of the magic endowments that were to give her such sway over all hearts.

However, the mark reflects the personality of those who observe and judge it

...the impression wrought by this fairy sign manual varied exceedingly, according to the difference of temperament in the beholders. Some fastidious persons--but they were exclusively of her own sex--affirmed that the bloody hand, as they chose to call it, quite destroyed the effect of Georgiana's beauty, and rendered her countenance even hideous.

Here we see a strong similarity to the modern world: the trait is only as influential as its observer. What is beautiful to one person may be "hideous" to another, but the consideration on both parts is equally null: beauty is in the eye of the beholder; what is considered beautiful by some can equally be considered ugly by others and none of them is right.

Another significant similarity is the sad reality of it being none other than the man Georgiana loves the most who effects prejudice upon her. She obviously did not care whether the fastidious women thought her ugly, or pretty. What matters to her the most is the opinion and validation of her husband. How sad that it is the selfishness and misguided ambition of this man what, ultimate, eats away who she is and her place in this world. In modern days, we find how mothers, fathers, and other family and friends use their influence over someone to egg them into changing something about themselves. We find this in pageant moms, dance moms/dads, plastic surgeons working on their wives as models, and the overall pressure of the media on younger men and women.

The "ideal" of beauty changes depending on who is who on the cover of the hottest magazines. It also changes depending on what designer comes up with whatever style fits a preferred body type. It is a sad reality but it is reality as it is.

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