Beauty is a gift, bestowed at random on an unsuspecting individual, usually at birth. But unlike those other gifts also allotted at birth: talent, strength, wit or intelligence --which you have to cultivate to fully develop before you reap rewards-- beauty is instant. Just add water, and boom, you can get lots of extra attention from people, and later, you can become a model, a stripper, a girlfriend of someone famous or a TV personality.
Generally, if you are given something of great value, the least of your responsibility is to make use of it. Which is exactly what I did, and became a model. But here's the twist. Since you don't actually have to do anything to pursue a career based on the way you look, it is seen as a shallow calling indeed. And worse: Vain. Narcissistic. If, say, you had an amazing voice but instead of going on "American Idol," you chose to nurse leprous orphans, you would be wasting an amazing talent. However, if you were born beautiful and dedicated your life to nursing leprous orphans, you'd have done the strong, the brave, the right thing.
Imagine a beautiful girl standing on a podium, taking a deep breath and then launching into: "First of all, I'd like to thank God for my amazing beauty."
So what is the responsibility of beauty if you shouldn't use it? I struggled with this question for my entire twenty-plus-year career as a model, while using pretty much nothing else but my looks. Little girls were looking up to me, sending me letters, wanting me to know that they wanted to be just like me. All because of the way I looked. I was young. I was beautiful. I was rich because other people thought so. That I smoked like a chimney, drank most men under the table, and swore like a truck-driver was not immediately apparent from my magazine pages, nor was the fact that I was also an arrogant asshole. Youth is a bad time to be given loads of money and no rules. With my arrogance of youth came the conviction that my success was well-deserved. If people thought I was a bad example to the little girls that idolized me, they could fuck off. Responsibility and obligations were as unpalatable and pointless to me as raw cabbage and wheatgrass juice.
But, if you glorify a fifteen-year-old because she fits into sample size clothing and has the sort of bones that reflect light, what else can you expect?
It's not beauty per se that confers magical powers, it's the fame that may follow. And achieving fame because of the way you look is just a matter of great timing and plain old stupid luck. It's all about being in the right place at the right time with the right look. (Had you plunked me down a century earlier, I would have been a sallow, forbiddingly tall and angular chick with few marriageable prospects.) In turn, to be held up to a higher standard because you got lucky, well, that's like expecting those who won the lottery to become exemplary citizens even if they were toothless, mullet-haired, intermarried cousins when buying the winning ticket.
Having been idolized did in no way prevent me from, in turn, idolizing. But the women I looked up to weren't famous only because of their looks. These women were primarily known for their talent: beautiful actresses, not acting beauties. They are in no specific order: Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Jane Birkin, Jacqueline Bisset, Nigella Lawson, Tina Fey and Tilda Swinton.
There used to be more famous names on my list, but they felt the need to "improve" themselves and so lost my respect. Imagine if Audrey felt she needed to whittle her nose down a bit? If Nigella started pumping iron and got lipo? Jane got implants? I'd have to strike them off my list. Even if they were still as talented, still as nice, still as smart. Their beauty is what drew me to them, and it was their particular unique beauty I wanted to see. I suppose you could say I felt it was their responsibility to stay who they were. Their special brand of beauty didn't have precedents; they were the ones who set the parameters. Audrey's nose may have been a bit flary, with the nostrils and all to be conventionally pretty, but with her charisma and talent, that nose became a thing of beauty. Now, girls with large nostrils could rejoice for they looked like Audrey. Girls with no boobs needed to look no further than flat-chested Jane to see how sexy small breasts could be. Curvy, juicy women may well be as delicious as Nigella. Bony, androgynous girls had only to look at Tilda to see how that particular beauty is carried with confidence.
And in the end, this is what I've come to believe is the only responsibility of beauty: To stay true to itself and to be worn with confidence.