There are a 101 clichés about beauty…
beauty on the inside is more important than beauty on the outside
beauty is in the eye of the beholder
and so on, and so on.
My good friend from school did a killer 7 min presentation on body image and pregnancy and while I haven’t read her paper, her presentation was so wise and it really got me thinking. She talked about the body as a placed marked by culture and about how the way someone looks can lead us to make value judgments about their value. For instance, a larger woman might be seen as chaotic, out of control, lacking discipline. All this to say, the presentation got me thinking about beauty and why we strive for it.
Beauty in itself isn’t inherently bad. Makeup isn’t evil, fitness isn’t bad, haircuts aren’t bad. Yet sometimes the reasons that we want these things, or to look are certain way can be harmful.
But fist, back to beauty being a good thing.
The world can be shockingly beautiful. Overwhelming really. Anyone who has seen a sunrise or flowers in meadow. If you’ve stood at the shore of the ocean, I imagine that you know what I mean. Beauty can be intoxicating. Nature, life, people- sometimes the goodness and beauty of the world is enough to make us want to weep and joy. Beauty, for me, points to bigger picture, it reminds me that love is everywhere. Beauty reminds me that the earth is holy and that everyday I get to wake up and breathe is special. I think that we long to be a part of all of this beauty.
C.S. Lewis says it better than I ever could:
What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more- something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not merely want to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become a part of it.
We long for beauty- to melt into it and experience the joy and awe that comes from something that takes our breath away.
Sadly, this quest for beauty, for holiness and joy has been usurped by both capitalism and patriarchy. Women seen only through the male gaze can be objectified and literally segmented into their physical attributes. Capitalism is the machine that reminds us that we’re inadequate as we are and provides us with an infinite number of products that enhance our beauty, always at a cost- monetarily and often pain (hello, plastic surgery, waxing, dieting, 4 inch heels, etc).
Being aware of what capitalism and patriarchy say is “beautiful” is most definitely a step towards freedom. So often we find ourselves having to unlearn. And frankly, sometimes we
buy-in agree with capitalism and patriarchy’s definition of beauty. I think heels can be pretty rad.
All of this to say that beauty matters. We should hunt for it, make it and capture it where ever and when ever we can.We should dwell in beauty when we find it- mostly, because it connects us to the great force of life, to each other and to love.