The Beauty Trap

What is beautiful to you? Is it something you can clearly define – do you have a certain standard for what you find beautiful? I’m not even certain the word has its own meaning. Beauty seems to be an entirely subjective construct. I could say that the ocean is beautiful – but if someone you knew and loved drowned in the ocean, long ago, it’s likely not going to seem beautiful to you. The aurora borealis is beautiful – but if you were living long ago, and you saw those lights for the first time, they would be portents of something bad, or good, or at the very least deeply mysterious. You wouldn’t necessarily want to see them.  Is beauty something we want to see, or is it something we avoid?

My closest friend said that ugly people find each other and somehow want to have sex and babies and then breed more fugly humans. This stuck with me like a phantom limb. I can’t even put my finger on why, exactly. She and I have very different views of the world, but that’s not surprising. I don’t think people are, typically, ugly. It never occurs to me to judge them on appearance level. I’ll certainly wear my judgey-pants about other things. Everyone has those judgey-pants and different things set us off.  For me, I deeply judge anyone who’s an asshole in traffic, who is against programs that help people who are disadvantaged, and anyone who would bully other people to get what they want. What I judge most harshly is any behavior that doesn’t lead to a peaceful, harmonious group.  (And yes, I know I’m a bit of a Pollyanna but I’m okay with that.)

I think part of the problem for me is that physical beauty is in everything I see. The sky never looks the same way twice – and if I don’t take time to notice the nuanced beauty of the sky in the morning on my drive to work, then I know I’m completely too self-absorbed and/or feeling down. This morning I didn’t even see the sky until I was already at work. I stopped before I went in and took some time to notice the world, feel the beautiful 75 degree temperature, the completely unblemished sky, the tips of leaves just barely beginning to curl outward and contemplate giving their greenery to us. But this morning I had to remind myself to do it – usually this is an automatic thing.  Everything is beautiful to me. People are beautiful and they all have amazing stories inside of them that just want to be told. They are beautiful because they are human. And they lose that beauty when they give up part of their humanity.

She believes that’s like giving out participation trophies for having a face. That really has been just eating at me. Why would beauty be a thing to give a trophy for anyway?  So what if everyone would get trophies?  Why would that be bad?

If you’re talking sexually attractive, appealing – again, that’s incredibly subjective. To me what’s sexy is a combination of someone who uses words well, someone who is highly intelligent, someone who is yielding, someone who is calm and patient and bides their time, and someone who doesn’t rush though everything. Taking the time to savor things, not necessarily food, but just experiences. I find people the most attractive who I know are going to be a good fit for me – I really think, once we grow out of our adolescent purely hormone-driven phase, that everyone is really going to find the people who are going to be a good fit for them the most attractive.  Either that or the people who fulfill a certain need. Like, if you’re one of those women or men who just really needs validation, you’re going to find people who don’t give validation easily the most attractive, because then it’s going to “mean something” if they stop to give it to you. Or if you really see yourself as at heart a member of a certain group, you’re going to make sure that your partner also fits that certain group – and the closer the fit, the better.

So why is it eating at me? I’m not angry about it – but I can’t stop thinking about it, either.

I guess maybe it’s because I have two daughters, and I really want them to come to learn the same lessons I’ve learned about beauty. It’s subjective, it’s everywhere – and you can see it if you choose to, in every living thing.  I fucking hate snakes, and I still think they’re gorgeous. There are acts and actions and inaction that are ugly, small, petty, cruel, even on a grand scale purely disgusting and yes, even evil. But those are acts, and actions. Everything has the potential for great beauty. There are plenty of people I don’t find beautiful anymore, because I know their characters and when I have worn my judgey-pants and seen that the character of a fellow human is meager and small, and they are given to acts of vengeance and cruelty instead of kindness and love, then I’m going to see them as ugly.

I don’t think self-esteem should be tied to feeling beautiful, but the fact of the matter is that it is, especially in young women just learning who they are in a world so obsessed with the physical. It took me 30 years to believe I was beautiful. I really hope it doesn’t take them that long. Sure, before then, I definitely had flashes of “hey I look nice today,” and “yeah! this haircut makes my face look awesome.”  But to really understand the fact that I’m beautiful – that took a really sadly long time.

If I’d understood beauty when I was a teenager as a thing that is part of us that we just have and we get to preserve by being true to the best in ourselves, and that beauty was not a thing that needed to be a target and an achievement, I wouldn’t have worried about it. It really doesn’t need to be worried about.

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