March 2, 2011
What standards of beauty are inborn, and what are imprinted in our minds by society?
If you haven’t yet read Part 1, I recommend you read that first.
Do you wish you could look like this model? What advantages do you imagine she has because of her looks that you don’t have?
Okay, she can get a job as a model, while I couldn’t. But aside from wanting to land a job in Hollywood, why we are so terribly focused on how we look compared with others?
Let’s Admit it, Nature Plays a Role
It is not surprising we find this woman attractive. Studies show that even little babies prefer faces that are considered more “beautiful” or “handsome” than those in which the features are less “attractive.” Interestingly, this happens within the first few months when babies have not yet watched television and movies. (I can’t put my hands on the exact resource right now, though I know there have been several studies.)
The baby will, of course, love her mother’s face as well, no matter what she looks like, but that is more a matter of loving the one who feeds you.
As adults, we continue our preference for classical features and if we all had classical looks, we’d all have classical marriages and perfectly handsome and beautiful children.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way nature designed it. We come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and our beauty falls on a continuum of beautiful to not-so-beautiful (or “ugly” to use a politically insensitive term) . Assuming the continuum is a bell-shaped curve, there are far more ordinary-looking people than those blessed with great looks. However, we have convinced ourselves that the beautiful end of the spectrum is the fortunate place to be. And woe to those who share the less desirable characteristics.
Many years ago I ate in a restaurant where my line of sight was a couple who could only be described as “ugly.” He had a large head and bumps all over his face. Her eyes lined up all wrong and her mouth was very crooked. They were laughing and having a great time. I remember being ashamed in realizing that I had assumed that if people looked like them that they wouldn’t be attractive to another person. I could see I was wrong.
Since then I have met a number of couples where one or both were not at all attractive, but their marriages were loving and stable. What allows some people to see beyond looks and into the soul of another? I would guess it is acceptance of life as a great gathering of souls in all their fascinating diversity.
Unfortunately, we can’t see beauty and grace in the souls of those who are “less attractive” if we don’t look.
Setting Beauty Standards for Ourselves
Okay, if we tend to like more “culturally-defined” features on others, what does that say about the beauty standards we set for ourselves? In our youth-centered culture, it means that we will fiddle and tweak to keep looking as young as we can.
Certainly I do my own share of fiddling with nature. I color my hair, as I said in the last post, and apply a little rouge, a little lipstick, and sometimes mascara if I’m going out someplace special. I wear clean clothes that my friends say look reasonably nice on me, though I’m far from being a fashion plate.
As I also said in the last post, I do enjoy having people think I am younger than I am. Every time I get my nails done, the woman doing them comments on how young I look, saying I could easily pass for being 65, although I will be 76 in June.
Partly I look younger because my skin is smooth. My skin is smooth because I was blessed with smooth genes. Can’t take credit for them. But if you thought I was 65 and watched me walk when my bones ache like a 75-year old, you’d feel sorry that I was falling apart so young. However, if I “looked my age,” would I write any better? Would I be kinder to others? Would I know less than I know? (My hard-won knowledge has come from living 75 years and I wouldn’t want to deny myself a single day of that experience, both the good and the not-so-good.)
On the other hand, if I were all wrinkled and looked as though I were 85, would that cause me to change what I wrote, or how I treat others? Would I know more? Would I want plastic surgery? I don’t think so. Years ago I had severe back pain and needed a laminectomy. When I woke up after the surgery, I thought, “why would anyone want to go through elective surgery if it hurts this much afterward?” So I wouldn’t want the pain or to have to pay the surgeon. There are many other ways I would rather spend my money.
No, if I looked ten years older than I am, I would hope I could accept myself as one special thread in nature’s quilt of colors, shapes and sizes.
It is the diversity of people that fascinates me about the world, especially since I live in Southern California. Every time I leave the house, I know that I will see humanity in all its various flavors. When I travel some place where almost everyone is the same color, I feel there is something lacking, as though I am passing through a quilt of gray no matter how colorful the locale.
I’ll end with two questions about nips and tucks, based in part on the website of Real Women Project I mentioned in Part 1.
If you have had nips and tucks, has your life changed the way you thought it would?
If you haven’t yet have plastic surgery, how do you think your life would be different if you did?
Continued in Part 3.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
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