Lao Tzu

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Friday, November 23, 2012

Beauty or Truth: Will I be Beautiful, or True?

 A beautiful person I know posted the following article at Facebook. My response, too long and contrary for Facebook, follows this brief quote:

I've started telling my daughters I'm beautiful...
There are a lot of people like me. Women who know things. Women who have seen things. Women with diseases in their livers. There are a lot of women with scars on their arms and words that carry themselves like sparrows. There are women who were too big for this town, who had their backs bent carrying things like religion and a history that originated somewhere in the crook of a branch that extended over a stream. A place where a patch of the sky was visible through the leaves, where a little girl let her bare leg dangle too far down.

There are a lot of people like me, because we're all the same. We're all blood and electricity. We're lonely under the gaze of god. We're all wet with dew and swallowing hard against DO THIS, CONSUME, SHUT UP and BE AFRAID to die.

All of you women with lines on your brow, with cracks between your fingers… it's been a long winter. All of you, you are beautiful and so am I.”

And now for some stinkin’ thinkin’ because that’s what I’m good at and what’s beautiful about me.

Well, I admit the article brought a tear to the eye on first go ‘round, but then, because “denial ain't just a river in Egypt,” I decided it was nothing but Stuart Smalley on estrogen: “I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, I’m beautiful!

Right: So we may not make the same money men make doing the same job; we may not have an Equal Rights Amendment yet; maybe glass ceilings still exist in two-thirds of companies across America; and perhaps some of us have scars across our chests where breasts used to be, because some big-Pharma poophead decided menopause needed a pill— but not to fret, we can always tell ourselves we’re beautiful. And that’s because, to quote another SNL fave, Fernando, “It is better to look good than to feel good."  Except that in this case, looking good IS feeling good, and if you can lie to yourself, you’re all the more appealing to the rest of us. That way we don’t have to think about all those other pesky realities, or feel guilty for not doing so; but, especially, that way we don’t have to kill you for being negative.

In womanland these days, the ultimate sin is negativity. You may imagine when you admit to a flaw you’re going to earn points for humility, honesty and transparency, but, sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Instead, you’re going to lose points: In this world, honesty equals negativity, and negative people just “bring us down.” That is to say, if you admit to not exactly being Perfection Unlimited, but, rather, that for you the beauty train long ago left the station, then everybody else will risk facing their own imperfections. After all, we’re holding on by the most tentative of threads to a self-esteem scratched into the wall of second-class citizenship. Unless we bolster ourselves with phony affirmations, thinking to outsmart the opposition, we’ll be unable to manage. But that way we tempt the evil eye, only to drop to the ground like Wile E. Coyote, having outsmarted ourselves instead.

Of course, yes, the “beautiful” word means beauty in spirit and deed. But why lie about that too? Sometimes I am not beautiful in that sense either. I’d say it’s better to feel good despite our imperfections, than to pretend we’re perfect. I’d say the author’s daughters would be better off hearing, “Mommy’s plump and saggy, sometimes cranky and complaining, but being perfect is not something humans do so well. What’s beautiful is to know that real perfection is always flawed, and that “beauty is truth, truth beauty,” as a wise poet named John Keats once wrote."

Beauty is so central to humans’ most cherished beliefs and pursuits, that Keats’s forceful lines seem to challenge important aspects of our very selves. Once the reader moves beyond this reaction, though, it becomes possible to see that Keats’s truth is liberating. If humans no longer need to strive to create the perfect beautiful form in whatever medium, then it frees them to be imperfect. Imperfection, in turn, liberates humans to make and remake art, and to recognize that one form dies with each individual death, and is then born again with each new birth– a common theme in poetry from the Romantic period. Bloom and Trilling refer to this realization as Keats’s “gift of tragic acceptance” (495), which the poet hands to the reader and urges him or her to accept and then contemplate. —

My own mother was Vivian-Leigh-beautiful, or as beautiful as any movie star I've ever seen. But she never felt the need to remind me of it. Instead, she seemed wholly unaware of her beauty, and I remember the advice she gave me once when I was in high school and getting ready for a party: "Fix yourself up, but then forget all about yourself once you get there."  I think her example served us far better than an "I am beautiful" attitude would have.  In her case, the truth was self-evident; to say more than that would have been bragging.

1 comment:

  1. That caps it. I've got myriads of little hearts popping all about above my head...