Is beauty frivolous? Is it merely the pleasing gloss over the truly important things in life?
I’m the sort of person who will stop mid-sentence so I can take in beauty wherever it strikes me, whose train of thought can easily be interrupted by the sight of a magnificent tree, for instance. I am aware that this reverence for the beautiful is not shared by all. Some people take love of beauty as a sign of small mindedness. Women are frequently ridiculed for having a penchant for flowery prose and sunsets. In fact, women are often dismissed as mere beautiful creatures themselves.
Women are beautiful, men are handsome. Such is the general dictate of common society and such was the admonition I witnessed directed at someone who had mistakenly called men “beautiful” the other day. Whatever does this mean? I’d always thought the words were interchangeable especially since Jane Austen was fond of using the latter adjective to describe her female characters. Wherefore the genderization of adjectives? Consulting Merriam-Webster, I found that beauty is “a set of qualities in a person or thing that give pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit”. On looking up “handsome”, I found “having a pleasing and usually impressive or dignified appearance”. Well, now this is very interesting. While beauty confounds the senses, handsomeness pleases us because it is appropriate or conveys power. It has a sort of practicality, a kind of respectability about it. Beauty, in comparison, takes on sort of magical and mystical properties. No wonder it’s thrown over to the feminine side of the fence! We’re generally seen as the mysterious lot of the species.
One of the first compliments a girl is paid is that she’s beautiful. From then on, girls and women are encouraged to think of themselves as and to strive to be beautiful. I find it odd when society then turns around and says beauty is frivolous. Odder still when girls and women are taught that artifice is beauty. That beauty is good grooming, make up, wearing a Miss Some Country crown. I’m almost tempted to say we’re given these restricted spaces to be paraded about like freaks: the beautiful women and their love for beauty. In the meantime, maybe we won’t tap into real beauty.
Despite what the media and advertisers would like us to believe, beauty is not regimented, manufactured, controllable or comparable. Beauty is wildly alive, vibrant, diverse and unmanageable. Life, in all its majesty, is beautiful. Whenever we are aware of beauty, we are fully present and in touch with the world and with the spirit within and around us. Yes, you guessed it; beauty is a force to be reckoned with. It makes sense then that it gets downplayed and synthesized for mass consumption.
Society gets one thing right: with their honesty and aliveness, the passion, and the incredible capability to connect on a meaningful level, women are truly beautiful, beautiful people. Of course, men can also be beautiful. Sadly, they are not encouraged to invest an interest in beauty and as such are rather out of touch with it. Half of what makes women so beautiful, I suspect, is how they reach for and embrace it.
Beauty is as far from frivolous as you can get. Do not be ashamed of your beauty or your love for beauty. Be beauty and share it with the rest of us.
Originally published in the Guyana Times, November 2011