Monday, January 14, 2013

How can the desire to feel/be pretty coexist with beauty?

I did not create this image. I found it in a google image search.
If this is your image, thanks for making it.
Let's get one thing perfectly clear: beauty and pretty are not the same thing. A conventionally attractive person is no more guaranteed to be beautiful than a conventionally unattractive person or a person who is just sort of average-looking. Beauty isn't about outside stuff, beauty is about inside stuff. You and me, we have beauty if we choose to cultivate it; if we decide to show it off through our choices and behaviors. 

What's more, the image at left is 100% true. Beauty exists in each of us independent of the decorations we don. As RuPaul says, "You're born naked, everything else is drag."  

But, if it's what is inside that really counts - and really, everything starts with character - how do we reconcile the desire to bare our naked beauty for all its value with the desire to be seen as physically attractive or the desire to feel pretty? Can these two things coexist? Is beauty only in the eye of the beholder? Can we really get by in the world ignoring what other people think about how we look?

The answer to all of these questions is: it depends. The reason that we struggle with these questions is that their answers are nuanced and require effort to understand. We live in a very dualistic culture: hot/cold, yes/no, in/out, up/down, wrong/right, black/white, Perry*/Gaga, etc. When a question comes along that has an bit of depth to it, it is simply glossed over**, and we stick with what is superficially available. Everyone does this. As a society we are almost exclusively visual, and perception that is based in a single dimension is by definition, shallow.

The "beauty" industry is the worst offender as far as this shallowness goes. Do you ever see articles in Cosmo for character development? Nope. Sex, makeup, be skinny. What about Self magazine? A magazine dedicated to making its readers better!? Nope. Exercise, be skinny, makeup. The only magazine I've ever read that has any amount of character development included in its pages is Yoga Journal, and even that is fairly superficial. Now, something highly specialized like Success is reported to contain articles on the importance of character development in success, but people looking for beauty advice aren't going to read Success magazine for those tips, are they?

So what do we do? Ignore the messages? Abandon the "beauty" industry in droves? Those things haven't worked. Not only is the "beauty" industry not affected by people who actively avoid their products, demonizing makeup and fashion products creates antipathy at best, and enmity at worst! When we place a value judgment on makeup and fashion products, by extension, we also judge the people who do or don't use those products! That makes the world less beautiful, not more, and wasn't the point of all of this to make the world more beautiful?

Okay, so abandoning the "beauty" industry doesn't work. Judging people who do or don't value conventional physical attractiveness is counter-productive. But we still want to reconcile the desire to be beauty-full, with the desire to look how we want and have our character revealed through that venue. 

I have a revolutionary idea for you then: 
There is no moral imperative regarding how a person looks. None. Fat, skinny, average weight: all have the same determination of character. Makeup, no makeup; great skin, blemished skin; whatever color. Same diff. Natural hair color, wild hair, dreads, buzz, long curly blonde locks, a punky red reverse bob. All have the same impact on a person's value.

There is no moral imperative regarding how a person looks. That means you can look how you want! Maybe there are some standards for appearance based on your life-situation, but that doesn't affect your value, that is, your beauty. Your life-situation does impact who you be. What does have a determinant affect on your value is how you behave

You are beautiful without your makeup; and also with it. And while how you look may reveal the nuance of your character, how you act reveals that you actually have character in the first place.

*See what I did there?
**No pun intended, ahem.

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