the Truth About Beauty


Most days, I don't give even a passing thought as to whether I'm beautiful. My few minutes in front of the mirror every morning are quite careless. My closet so familiar, I could dress in the dark. It's only in those every-so-often moments when I find myself walking a few steps behind a beautiful woman in a crowd and notice every set of male eyes turn her way, completely passing over me as though I don't exist, that I pause to wonder where I rate on a scale of one to ten.

Obviously, I'm not a ten.

In an attempt to understand this outrageous injustice, I've read countless articles in magazines and on blogs about society's impossible ideals. You've probably read them too. How do we change the way people see us? they ask. How do we make those extra pounds desirable? How do we make short legs and crooked teeth and gray hair attractive? How do we ensure that no woman is considered more beautiful than another? But I'm not comfortable with these questions. And I'm not sure the answer lies in blaming the media, the fashion industry, Hollywood or men, at least not entirely.

I know. I know. Hyper-visually-responsive males make easy targets.

But can I really actually despise someone for thinking another woman is more beautiful than me? Should I then censure myself for being attracted to one person over another? And if I'm less attracted to a person, does that mean I must appreciate, value or respect him any less?

It's true that we've gotten well out of hand. It's true that we judge too quickly on physical appearance and expect perfection where it cannot be found in reality. I would love to have someone appreciate my particular style of skin, hair and thighs. But even if I managed to coax society at large into admitting that my not-so-flat belly is amazing, I'd still be depending on popular opinion to decide my worth. I'd still be grasping for approval.

Perhaps the real problem isn't that not enough people think I'm beautiful - it's that I need them to in the first place.

Popular beauty is a happenstance. It's a fickle standard of a moment that encapsulates a few people at a time. The high-fashion models that sashay fiercely down the runway were chosen because they fit an ideal that will change. So I can sit back and let them have their moment, because I was destined to have moments of a different kind. Physical superiority is not my gift or my talent. Neither is math or volleyball and I'm certainly not going to complain that the rules of volleyball are unfair to those of lesser athletic ability. If someone is a better writer or photographer than I am (which isn't hard), I'm not humiliated, I'm inspired. So why shouldn't I feel that way about physical appearance?

The truth about beauty is that it's subjective, transitory, and superficial, so shouldn't we be free to enjoy it when we see it and find other qualities to admire when we don't? The truth is, we have become even more obsessed with not being beautiful than we are with being beautiful. We don't take the opportunity to enjoy physical beauty, we envy it. We are scornful of it, even when we try to emulate it. We teach ourselves and our daughters to begrudge others because they fit some mould we claim not to acknowledge. We actually tell ourselves that the really hot people must be in all other respects horrible human beings.

We pull others down in order to lift ourselves up. This is the opposite of equality.

So let me ask you this.

How liberating would it be to sit on a beach next to a bronze-skinned Goddess and instead of inwardly chastising the world for preferring to look at her bathing-suited body rather than ours, we simply smile and go happily back to our book and mango smoothie?

Let her be gorgeous! She deserves to be noticed for it, as one of her many attributes, just as she deserves to be noticed for her grace, her intelligence, her creativity and her kindness. No one loves her based solely on her flawless complexion. The only real advantage to having such a desirable appearance is winning validation from perfect strangers.

Perfect strangers y'all.

Yes, there are those who only date, hire, or befriend the superfluously attractive. But I kinda think they punish themselves, don't you? Don't such shallow people usually end up alone with a bottle of vodka and a copy of Vanity Fair, frantically examining their reflection for signs of aging before overdosing on diet pills?

That's how I imagine it, anyway.

Beauty is not the only quality nor is it the most important. We could manipulate the standards of beauty - in order to fall within them - but there will always be some who just don't fit. There are people who will always be corporeally ugly, no matter how hard we defend them. And that's okay. They are still loved.

You are still loved, whether your arms get jiggly or not.

I am still loved, even though my skin is so pale and thin, I look like an exhibition of "Bodies".

And so I have come to terms.

Whatever happens in the ever-shifting vernacular of political correctness, there will be people who don't think I'm beautiful. And if a man ever falls madly in love with me, no amount of lecturing will convince him that I'm only as lovely as the next woman. This is how human beings work.

Instead of seeking blame for this alleged "inequality", maybe we should be more focused on those qualities we wish to draw more attention to: those qualities that ought to be apparent in the way we speak, act, and treat others. Maybe then we can stop haggling pointlessly over what defines physical beauty and truly begin to recognize and value its many other forms. Maybe we could stop trying to convince the world to change their opinion of stretch marks and actually get them to admire the woman behind the stretch marks.

We could teach young people to stop whining about the rules whenever they're made to feel inferior and actually move forward boldly in life on the strength of their character!

It's not about abolishing the idea of physical appeal, because that is a losing battle if ever there was one. But let's put it in it's place. Give it only the amount of attention it warrants. Nod and smile and move on.

The most important truth is not that we are all equally beautiful.

It's that we really don't need to be.

*Photo by the oh-so-talented Devon Durocher*