I have a life-long love affair with Denmark, only heightened by the fact that I’ve never actually been there. It’s not even that far away, but I’m a little afraid: what if it’s just as great as I’ve been led to believe? I would never come home. It’s a risk.
But, judging by the fact that Viggo Mortensen was raised in this wonderful country, it would probably be worth it.
Anyway. Being beautiful and being Danish, are, according to Oliver James in his book ‘Affluenza’, one and the same.
It’s a great book, which looks at how people across the world deal with the pressures of consumerism, or manifestly don’t deal with these pressures, ending up emotionally ‘distressed’. In first and second place, step forward America and Britain. Turns out working on the career treadmill all your life to pay for shiny, impressive possessions doesn’t lead to a very healthy emotional life. Surprises. He puts forth the terribly sad opinions expressed to him by a succession of high earning individuals, along the lines of ‘my plan is to work for thirty years, pay for my daughter’s wedding, and then die’. It would be bleakly amusing if it wasn’t so, uh, bleak.
When James turns his attention to beauty ideals, those feisty Danish women appear, all statuesque and glowing, with lessons for us all. They have got it going on.
Firstly, James makes the distinction between being beautiful and being attractive – i.e, finding yourself beautiful by your own intrinsic values, and therefore feeling pleased with your appearance, regardless of what the world around you thinks, and, on the other hand, being ‘attractive’, ‘using physical attractiveness to gain praise or manipulate others’. Put like that, everybody can be beautiful, and nobody would want to be attractive. Guess which kind of person the pushers of beauty products prefer? Not the people with a mind of their own, anyway.
Danish women, though honest that ‘a lot of work’ went into their look, favoured looking natural and healthy. James went so far as to suggest that Danish men tried a lot harder with their appearance, as, in a society that values good fathering skills and social equality, a big pay packet wasn’t really cutting it with the women. Handsome Viking men? Handsome Viking men indeed.
An innate pleasure in their appearance was what women aimed for, for themselves, and it makes for heartening reading. Clothes were chosen as self-expression, to create something ‘lovely looking’ each day.
James writes, “However conventionally ugly the sitter for a Lucien Freud portrait, faithfulness to the original plays an important part in its beauty […] forget about how you look through others’ eyes, concentrate on what you find pleasing and amusing”.
Amen to that. This means that a) I don’t have to stop buying insane jumpers in charity shops, because to me, dear reader, they are innately beautiful. Also, b) I think I must move to Denmark.