Modern human exploitation takes many forms, such as forced labor and sex trafficking. Fortunately, charities and government organizations are working to increase global awareness of this distressing issue, and in a similar vein, Kirk and his crew did not approve of trading Harry Mudd’s ‘cargo’ either.
In ‘Mudds Women’ the Enterprise comes across the distressed ship of Harry Mudd, whom they save from an asteroid belt. After beaming him aboard, they find that he is allegedly trafficking women, leading to a confused effort by the crew to determine who these women are, if they are with Mudd under their own consent, and what makes them so mysteriously beautiful. However, this episode is much more transparent in exploring issues of society’s perception of beauty than it is in potential human trafficking. The controversy focuses on the interpretation of beauty as a function of one’s personal perception.
In 2004, the personal care company Dove endeavored to rebrand itself with a new advertising strategy called the ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’. This involved a series of commercials and graphics tackling how attractiveness has traditionally been portrayed in the media and encouraging women to embrace their natural beauty. Reactions to the campaign were mixed, as it treaded a fine line between being refreshing and groundbreaking to manipulative and exploitive. Both praise and criticism for what this company was trying to do are well founded and understandable. The campaign raised some questions. Was Dove exploiting women’s insecurities? What involvement should a company that sells personal care products have on defining beauty? Likewise, the commercials were sending a very mixed message: you’re beautiful the way you are, now buy our soap. Admittedly, even I was taken in with some of these, being emotionally moved by the stories of the women coming to terms with their self-worth…and then I was peddled soap!!!
In one of Dove’s more notorious TV advertisements, female volunteers who didn’t think much of their physical appearance were given a ‘beauty patch’ to wear for a week to improve their looks, and then they were asked to report the results. Of course the women felt more beautiful after wearing the patch…and of course it was a placebo. This commercial in particular received some backlash for undermining the intelligence of women, but it is possible that Dove’s intentions were good. In a sense, ‘Mudds Women’, without a soap-mongering agenda, achieved the same effect.
One of the stronger women caught within Mudd’s scheme was Eve. An intelligent and talented woman, Eve’s personality was overshadowed as she was forced by Mudd to focus only on her looks. The pressures of society and finding a husband take their toll on poor Eve, and as the episode progresses, she begins to crack. She sees herself not only as a commodity, but a broken one. Consequently, she stops taking the Venus Drug, medication given to her by Mudd to make her beautiful, and embraces who she is. In the last scene on the planet, Eve takes the drug again to make a point that looks aren’t everything, and that her new husband is only interested in shallow vanity instead of the domestically talented wife she could be.
Indeed, like the Dove beauty patch, the pill she takes was a placebo, and she was beautiful all along. For this particular scene, there was an obvious filming cut and makeup change, but I still think it begs the question: how far does one’s confidence translate into physical beauty? Personally, I actually find people to be more attractive when they are smiling or enjoying themselves, regardless of society’s conventional beauty standards. I also feel slightly more beautiful in the mirror when I’m having a good day, but that might just be me. :p
Beauty standards are complicated and certainly vary across cultures. Perhaps one can become more beautiful if they believe they are beautiful, but the key to this is having a strong sense of self-worth. Like the human traffickers who strip victims of their humanity, or a society which dehumanizes those who do not resemble an arbitrary standard, self-worth is important, lest we become exploited.