The Price of Beauty

Wednesday, August 12 was the release of The Beauty # 1, a comic created by friends Jeremy Haun and Jason Hurley. The Beauty is a detective series where the murder weapon is a sexually transmitted disease. The intrigue of the comic lies in the main symptom of the STD–beauty. Those infected become attractive until the disease kills them.

The concept is pretty mind-blowing…as illustrated in the first few pages.  Just hearing the basic premise stirs up all kinds of imaginations. I find myself asking:

  • What if someone was accidentally infected? What positive/negative reactions might they have? They’d become more attractive, so they’d be more likely to transmit the disease because they get more offers.
  • What if someone wanted to be more beautiful? Whether they are attractive to begin with or not doesn’t really matter. Are they willing to risk death? Will they have an interview process to make sure their sexual candidate actually has the STD and isn’t just naturally beautiful? Would there be imposters, saying they have the disease so they can get some action? How would they screen for partners to ensure they don’t get the disease?
  • Does the disease cause birth defects? The concept of beauty has always been a drive, but the concept of beauty has often been based on features related to fertility (curves indicate “birthing hips,” large breasts can feed children, full lips and blushing cheeks indicate arousal and fertility). Will the characteristics of a population of people who are unable to propagate healthy children still be considered beautiful? Or will the characteristics that keep someone from being beautiful become the idea of beautiful?
  • Will society be split on beauty? Will stars become ambiguously attractive? Beautiful but also not? Will the beauty industry cater to both those who still have the traditional concept of beauty and to those who now avoid the beautiful? Will the beautiful become a class of people who now experience discrimination and possibly murdered to prevent the spread of the disease?
  • How can someone manipulate this disease to gain power? Someone with the cure could eradicate the disease. Someone could develop a “cure” that isolates the symptom of beauty but extends the life of the infected, possibly indefinitely, but at what cost? Could it be used as a weapon or intimidation factor?  Who has an interest? Who are the spokespeople for the disease? Those infected will die off.
  • What happens if the detective investigating the disease becomes a victim, willingly or accidentally? What if a proponent against the disease becomes infected, either by consensual sex or rape?

Unofrtunately, I don’t know the details of the disease, so my questions will morph as the series continues, I’m sure. But, as you can probably tell, I get really excited about all the possibilities.

The creators have challenged fans to create a meme with the hashtag #beautyfree. (Submit yours here.) I explored the idea of beauty and that #beautyfree means either I am not beautiful, or I am naturally beautiful. I went with the idea that I have to put effort into my beauty, since I am #beautyfree. Even in my picture I make myself not beautiful (by contorting my face), so I can be beautiful.


And that’s what I really want to talk about. What is the reality of beauty in today’s society?

Haun and Hurley encourage readers to compare the cost of beauty in this fiction to society’s obsession with beauty in reality. In The Beauty, people are willing to risk their lives. Is it that extreme in real life?

What do we do to make ourselves beautiful? Makeup, grooming, fashion. Diet, exercise, meditation. Coloring our hair, waxing our bodies, hoisting our bosoms. Scraping out our fat, stapling our stomachs, injecting into our faces. In truth, many of these are solutions for health, but if many of the people afflicted felt they were attractive, I suspect they would be less likely to pursue these measures.

And how does the beauty industry play into the game? Cosmetic companies and plastic surgeons are obvious players, but even media’s construal of beauty is part of the industry. Doctors, not just plastic surgeons, encourage weight loss strategies (diets) rather than endorsing healthy lifestyles. Employers are more likely to promote attractive people, attractive students make better grades, attractive orphans are more likely to be adopted. The concepts of beauty permeate our culture.

When I was young, I understood that comics catered to dumb kids and were contributing to the downfall of youth. Now, comics are emerging in popularity and are on the cusp of literary validation. Just as the novel was shunned in its early life (it was, after all, novel at one point), so also comics are gaining esteem as art. Intellectuals who once rejected superhero stories and Archie shenanigans are finding their intellectual pallets satiated in comics like The Beauty. There is even a doctoral thesis written completely in comic form. This is some legit stuff!

Show the world you want to see art in comics. Get a digital or print copy of The Beauty #1 (Get it, it’s good.)and find other comic series that explore societal issues. If you buy it, they will produce it.

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