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The great beauty divide; With different expectations of attractiveness around the world, what do women find they need to do to look beautiful? Cathy Mayer reports.

Byline: Cathy Mayer

With her flaming auburn tresses and curvaceous figure, actress Alex Kingston won countless admirers when she starred in the bodice-ripper, Moll Flanders.

But the 39-year-old star now says she felt like the 'butchest' woman in Los Angeles following her move to America because of its 'fascism of beauty and physicality'.

Her comments highlight the divide between European ideals of beauty and the American notion of attractiveness which appears unable to forgive imperfection.

Josephine Fairley, who has written The 21st Century Beauty Bible which will be published later this year, says expectations in America are so high that British actresses working there often end up feeling entirely inadequate.

'In Britain if someone's got crooked teeth or a wonky nose it's a sign of individuality. But in the American film and television industries, flaws are there to be erased and not celebrated.

'So if a British actress wants to make it over there, they had better be just as prepared to look perfect as to learn their lines.'

Kingston is not the first celebrity to find the beauty stakes are raised across the Atlantic.

In January this year, actress Minnie Driver sparked outrage when she highlighted the glamour gulf between British female stars and their counterparts in Hollywood.

'In England, with all due respect, we have some of the plainest actresses in the entire world as our greatest,' said the star of Good Will Hunting.

Driver, 32, went on to describe Dame Judi Dench as 'a very small, round, middle-aged, lovely, mothering-type playing Cleopatra'. She concluded: 'Here in the US, she would melt into the crowd in a second.'

And last year American channel NBC promoted its launch of quiz show The Weakest Link with airbrushed photographs of host Anne Robinson.

TV chiefs altered promotional material to give her less wrinkles, fuller lips, blue eyes to replace her normal greenish-brown, and an entirely new jawline.

Many British actresses who have crossed the ocean to enhance their careers have undergone physical transformations to keep up with the competition.

When Kate Beckinsale, 28, joined the stars migrating to LA, she lost weight and developed high cheekbones as well as a passion for Stella McCartney haute couture.

Catherine Zeta Jones, 32, has allegedly succumbed to the glint of the consultant's knife. The stunning Welsh beauty, who is married to actor Michael Douglas, is reported to have had her eyelids lifted.

Liz Hurley is alleged to have had lip and breast implants in the past. Critics point out the differences between her honed appearance of today and the chubbier, bushy-eyebrowed look she sported ten years ago.

Janine Phillipson, stylist and beauty editor of Zest magazine, says British ideals of beauty are more about personality and feeling good within yourself.

'In the States they have a different perception of perfection.

'Alex Kingston is more of a character actress than, say, Jennifer Aniston, who might be seen as more 'perfect'.

'We have lots of gorgeous actresses including Kate Winslet, Judi Dench and Catherine Zeta Jones, but they don't always conform to the Hollywood ideal.

'In America there is more pressure on looks from an early age - for instance, at 13, everyone has braces.

'There is a greater emphasis on looking trim and fit, perhaps because the weather is different and the culture more sporty.'

Martin Skinner, a social psychologist at the University of Warwick, says the ideals of attractiveness in the US are more heavily based on self-improvement.

'In America, a public figure who has undergone some sort of transformation can sell you the idea of changing yourself.

'In this country we are not quite so obsessed with youth and health because we are less wound up as a culture.

'Our capitalism is more naive so the appearance of success is not such a big issue.' But Skinner says Britain is more Americanised in its youth-focused beauty and fashion than other parts of Europe.

'Because we speak the same language, there are no linguistic barriers between England and America, and their culture can zap straight into ours.

'Other westward looking parts of Europe, such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain, are more fiercely independent about their culture and have more indigenous ideals.

'People in Mediterranean countries are also darker skinned and so do not have the same admiration for the blonde, blue-eyed look as America.

'The idea of sophistication is a bigger element in countries like France and Italy, and their fashions have more elements of chic and savoir-faire. This means they are not so obsessed with youth.

'American popular culture, on the other hand, is quite anti-intellectual and dumbing down is a big element.'


British beauties (clockwise from top left) Minnie Driver, Alex Kingston, Kate Beckinsale and Catherine Zeta Jones
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 20, 2002
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