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Beauty? It depends on who’s looking…

Warning: image may be distorted due to societal pressure. Image credit: Piotrus | Wikimedia Commons
Warning: image may be distorted due to societal pressure. Image credit: Piotrus | Wikimedia Commons

A man of my acquaintance, who shall remain nameless, is currently going through something of a midlife crisis. Just a few years ago, he accepted an expanding waistline and greying hairs with equanimity. Now, he has begun an aggressive campaign against these things. He practically lives in the gym. He is contemplating cosmetic surgery to rid his face of its tiny, almost imperceptible, lines. When he isn’t doing these things, he’s complaining about how he isn’t quite as handsome as he’d like to be. And there I was thinking that obsessive anxiety about one’s appearance was a female trait…

Dissent may be the stuff of life, but sometimes tact demands silence. I think, but don’t say, that this man looked better before – before, that is, his excruciating awareness of his own imperfections began to poison his perceptions of himself. What can I say? It’s not for me to tell him how to live his life. I just wish I could make him see that beauty, whatever it is and wherever it may be found, almost certainly does not reside in the airbrushed images that glower down at us mere mortals from a million or more billboards, like this one:

Image credit_ Clemensfranz | Wikimedia Commons
Image credit_ Clemensfranz | Wikimedia Common

Beauty is, quite possibly, indefinable. At the risk of making myself look stupid, I’m going to have a shot at defining it anyway. Beauty is odd, relative, particular rather than generic. Like the old debate about whether a falling tree makes a noise when no one is around to hear it, so you could reasonably wonder whether unobserved beauty is in fact beauty at all. Beauty is, in the words of the old proverb, in the eye of the beholder. Since tastes vary so wildly, something or someone that strikes me as being outstandingly beautiful may leave you cold.

Every Age and society has its own ideal of beauty, of course. The difference, perhaps, is that in the past that ideal was an unattainable archetype, associated with gods and heroes rather than ordinary men and women. In our own Age the ideal has become an inescapable tyranny. Those billboards with their artificial icons, the modern equivalent of wayside shrines, do a ruthlessly effective job – not just of reinforcing societal and cultural ideals, but of producing crushing feelings of guilt and inferiority in Mr and Ms Average when they compare them with all the bumps and oddities and flaws that make them – well, them.

Maybe I’m just strange (all right, I’m definitely strange), but I find these men…

Image credit: Horticulture Week | Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Horticulture Week | Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Mariusz Kubik | Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Mariusz Kubik | Wikimedia Commons

infinitely more attractive than these men…

Image credit: Kevingoerner | Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Kevingoerner | Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Gwtcorp | Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Gwtcorp | Wikimedia Commons

The first group of men have unique identities, definite personalities that are etched into their faces. They look appealing, intelligent – somehow, you just know that you could sit down and have an interesting conversation with them. Above all, they look like their own people, not faint copies of someone else’s model. They are not at all like the insipid, paint-by-numbers ideal of beauty. And guess what? They’re all the better for it. Who wants bland uniformity, when you could have glorious distinctiveness?

As I said, every Age has its own ideal of beauty. It may surprise some to learn that this lady was once considered beautiful enough to be the model for the Goddess of Love and Beauty:

Titian, Venus and Cupid with an Organist. Image: public domain | Wikimedia Commons
Titian, Venus and Cupid with an Organist. Image: public domain | Wikimedia Commons

Oh dear. If you dressed Titian’s pale, pudgy Venus in modern clothes and got her to walk down an average shopping street, she wouldn’t get a second glance, would she…

…Or would she? Because doesn’t beauty depend upon who’s looking?

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10 thoughts on “Beauty? It depends on who’s looking…

  1. Ha, Ha, this will make you smile, Mari, I’ve always admired far more heavily built women than the current ideal, and so I think Venus of Urbino is lovely. I so agree with a lot of your comments on the absurdities of people basing their ideal on blatently airbrushed images. I have often been startled at the way writers of historical novels give their heroines an appearance that would be admired today. In Regency times, slim figures and short noses or wide mouths were NOT admired…

    1. I think we’re in agreement there, Lucinda. I get a bit annoyed with historical fiction when the hero and heroine just happen to be stunningly gorgeous by modern standards. It reminds me of the old editions of Jean Plaidy novels I enjoyed reading when I was a teenager. Jean Plaidy herself wasn’t guilty of this, insofar as I remember, but whoever was responsible for the cover designs certainly was. Almost all of her female protagonists bore a striking resemblance to Sophia Loren…

  2. The amount of emotional energy, money, and time expended in the attempt to become someone else is astonishing and sad. I am with you in finding beauty and attraction in authentic, imperfect faces. All the people I love fall short of standard beauty, but they are perfectly, wonderfully, exactly who they are. It is the nature of who they are, and not what they look that I love.

    Great post, Mari.

    -aniko

    1. That’s just right, Aniko – “authentic imperfection” perfectly describes what I’ve always, always found attractive! You can give me someone who’s happy being who they are over someone who’s desperately, miserably trying to be someone else any day!

  3. There are many men who feel the same way about beauty in women. Give me a woman with character etched into her face and perfect imperfections, and character inside, and I’ll take that woman over model beauty any day of the week.

    1. It’s nice to know that, Kingmidget, because I think a lot of women get very hung up about not looking like supermodels! And “perfect imperfections” sums it up nicely: I’d choose a man with a beer gut, bald patch and character over a chisel-jawed dreamboat every time.

  4. I had a mid life crisis about ten years ago. I looked in the mirror and, fortunately, my eyesight had deteriorated so much I looked better than I did in my thirties with 20/20. The crisis occurred when I bought new glasses. It lasted ten minutes. My grandson wiped the lenses with Weetabix and the status quo was restored.

    You know, I love the cold beauty of a Lamborghini Gaillardo Spyder, but I couldn’t live with the Lambo or afford it and would probably kill myself trying to enjoy it. And I would have to employ an expert to service it. My wife says it wouldn’t wash my socks either.

    1. I know what you mean, J.D. – I admire Michelangelo’s David in a distant, disinterested sort of way. I couldn’t hold a conversation with it, empathise with it, or live with it. I certainly couldn’t love it.

      Interestingly, this statue – which might invoke all kinds of feelings of inferiority in ordinary mortals – is completely out of proportion; Michelangelo created it to be looked up at from below. A man who actually looked like David would, in reality, look decidedly odd. Interesting, that…

  5. Yes! Mari, I am so on board with YOUR choices of attractive men instead of the chiseled models. The most beautiful men, in my opinion, are unique, intelligent, and open-hearted. And it doesn’t hurt if they’re eccentric too!

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