I remember having a discussion about beauty and what is really is. From century to century, place to place the definition of what is pleasing to the eye often changes, and is indeed in the eye of the beholder. That being said, we are continuously bombarded with images designed to show us what is most attractive and how to achieve such distinction on our own by honing our bodies and purchasing products designed to bring out our best. We are made to feel that there is a particular kind of appearance that is lovely, and if we work hard enough we too might recreate ourselves in such likenesses. Billions of dollars are made by the purveyors of the world of beauty.
I do not wish to demean those who offer us the chance of enhancing our natural state. I partake of cosmetics, lotions, exercise, healthy choices, hair products, vitamins perfumes and all sorts of aids. I enjoy how they make me feel and I am happy that that they are available for they surely add a bit of joy to my life, but I worry sometimes that our emphasis on such things also contributes to making many people feel less than. I’m old enough and have enough confidence to find my own skin to be quite comfortable. I am long past the days of worrying that I do not measure up or impress. I don’t mind being seen without makeup, but I my skin enjoys the lotions that I feed it each day so I indulge in pampering myself. Still I worry that there are people both young and old who somehow have been made to feel not so beautiful by a society obsessed with pulchritude.
I love the movie The Greatest Showman because its theme of the variety of loveliness resonates so beautifully in the songs and the scenes. The circus acts are peopled with unique individuals who are beautiful in their own right simply because they are alive. The anthem This Is Me shouts the gloriousness and importance of every life, something that we don’t impress on our young nearly enough. I suppose that if we were to teach our everyone to see that there is no one way of being or appearing we would all be a bit happier.
So many of our problems occur simply because of appearance. The color of skin, texture of hair, height, weight, composition of features often tell us stories before we even have the opportunity of knowing someone. Even when we don’t mean to be that way our biases sometimes cause us to judge. There are those who laugh and make fun of shoppers at Walmart as though their choice of merchants tells us all we need to know of them. We see someone and begin making all sorts of unconscious assumptions about them often without even realizing we are doing so. Our eyes lead us to draw conclusions when instead we should be reserving our thoughts until we have had time to truly understand the person we are seeing.
I think of times when I was guilty of reacting to appearance and later realizing how incredible the person that I judged actually was. When we truly get to know an individual it is amazing how much more beautiful he/she becomes to us. We cease to focus on flaws and instead notice the kindness, the smile, the determination, things that are far more meaningful than looks.
So how do we better appreciate the uniqueness of each of us? I believe that it begins with easing out of our comfort zones. It’s important that we make efforts to be with people unlike ourselves. We must learn more about those who appear to be strange, for in the process we may learn that they are not so different as we may have thought. We all love our children and want the best for them. Much of what motivates us revolves around providing them with better lives. Sometimes we simply need to remind ourselves of that simple fact whenever we react negatively to someone based only on looks.
In times of distress when we are all in the same sinking boat we are more likely to set aside our biases and prejudices. With the common cause of survival we are not so concerned with appearance, particularly with the good soul who is saving us. Why should we have to wait for tragedy to set aside superficialities?
One of my all time favorite photographs is a famous image from the dustbowl era. It shows a woman of indeterminate age who is suffering from the poverty inflicted on her by climate and economic depression. She sits with her hand on her face in a gesture of hopelessness. Her eyes are blank with a faraway look perhaps of fear or remembrance of better times. Her hair hangs lifelessly without over her furrowed brow, and yet she is so beautiful to me. No movie star or royal personage might be as lovely. She seems to represent a part of each of us that fights to be heard and seen and survive. I want to reach out to her and take her hand and tell her that I understand. I want her to know that she is pretty and important and that she will see better days.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be celebrated by the people around us. It’s fun to paint our toes, style our hair, brighten our faces. We just need to always be aware that these things do not represent our souls or those of others. Inside each of us are hopes and dreams and needs. The packaging of them should never prevent us from seeing and realizing them. Look beyond the exterior. Celebrate difference.