On Beauty

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8 Quotes: Unwise words that reveal the wide range of human lunacy when it comes to physical beauty.           

Beauty. It’s like hard-core porn: People can’t agree on a definition, but as the late associate justice so tersely phrased it, in his judicial musings on indecency:

I know it when I see it.” –Potter Stephens

The “knowing” starts early. I remember the moment I became aware of just how blunt-force those assessments could be. I was stuck at a dismal 7th grade makeout party, fluctuating between revulsion and a desperate wish to stop being the only wallflower, while everybody else slow-danced across the dingy shag rug.

I spotted a boy who’d said hi to me earlier, and I edged closer, hopefully. He did a hammed-up stage sigh/eye roll, then pulled me into the dance scrum. As I buried my face gratefully into his shoulder, he swiveled his mulleted head to the swaying, slurping preteens and bellowed:

“All the good ones are taken!” –Mullet Boy

As if that weren’t humiliating enough, get this: I. Kept. Dancing. With asshole mullet-guy. Just so I wouldn’t be standing all by myself while I absorbed this appraisal: I didn’t have “IT.”

Sure. We can do a whole cheerleadery thing on making peace with that hapless, boobless 7th-grader who foolishly bothered to care what some mulleted jerk thought in the first place. I shouldn’t have cared then, and I shouldn’t care now. But there are times when the constant assessments of our physical beauty, helpfully mansplained to us by folks who don’t seem to own mirrors, start to wear us down a little.

Of course, sometimes those appraisals are presented as compliments, and we’re expected to be grateful for them. After all, prettiness is the gift that keeps on giving. Not only do mulletheads ask you to dance without mocking you in the process; you’re also likely to earn more money and even to be happier, says a 2011 University of Texas study.

Apparently, the Father of Western Philosophy concurred:

“Personal beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of introduction.” -Aristotle

It’s hard to say whether this is a wry aside or an earnest declaration. Was Aristotle wry and edgy? Did he examine his own visage critically? Irony seems unlikely, somehow, from a guy who (allegedly) believed that females were just deformed males and, therefore, deserved little better than slavery.

For all that, it’s not so much the lower wages, the slimmed-down chances of happiness, or the sheer invisibility that gets to ITless-girls after awhile; it’s the open scorn. Although blunt-force mockery dissipates a bit after junior high (with a spike during the frat-boy years), a simmering disdain for the unhot masses remains, surfacing in surprising little flashes of assholery, in person and in media:

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DJT doesn’t need 1,000 words; he gets to the point in only 13, plus a diptych: The highest-quality females are the best looking ones. And their “quality” reflects on the males they decorate. With one crass tweet, he’s made his belief system clear: Women are service animals, created to enhance male power and prestige with their ornamental properties. And if they’re not ornamental, they’re not worth much.

Here’s the rub: By his measurement of worth, his beloved Melania is depreciating rapidly. Physical perfection, as measured by the likes of DJT, simply doesn’t last — or at least, so says everyone’s favorite 80s-era soap queen:

“The problem with beauty is that it’s like being born rich and getting poorer.” –Joan Collins

How delightful! Turns out, even IT girls can’t win, because their shelf life barely exceeds that of buttermilk. The “weathered” look doesn’t constitute ITness in our modern era. Wrinkles and grit are, apparently, sexy on men, but an invisibility cloak for women.

We may have exited the age of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (Joan Collins’ first stage role, by the way!), in which women were to be tiny, decorative china tchotchkes, eternally shielded from sunlight, property ownership, and decisive action of any kind that might pull at the corners of their eyes unattractively. But to many folks, female beauty still equals youth and dermatological flawlessness, it seems. So take your pick: beauty or downhill skiing; beauty or sailing; beauty or hiking the Camino, with all that dry air and UV damage. Beauty or living past age 33.

Which do you choose? To do or to be?

Maybe it’s just as well to get old and disappear, because according to no less a mind that that of an American Founding Father:

“Beauty and folly are old companions.” –Ben Franklin

Not totally sure what he means by this: That female pulchritude leads to runaway male idiocy (as his own personal history might indicate)? Or that it’s stupid to get wrapped up in your own hotness and forget to be a complete human? Does this actually happen?

Either way, it seems that BenF managed to pinpoint a downside after all: Even if you have IT, insanity will swirl around you, and you will still get judged unfairly: hot enough to ensorcel helpless males (Ladies! You’d better wear a burqa so we don’t accidentally rape you!), too hot to work at this bank, so hot you can’t possibly have any brains at all, etc. Plenty of folly to go around.

There is no winning. And with that, let’s turn to this most cynical of all the quotes that Google coughed up as I “researched” this topic:

“Beauty, n: the power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband.” –Ambrose Bierce

Oh, please. I don’t share Bierce’s narrow view of human nature: that all relationships are power struggles, and boobs and butts are women’s nuclear option. Sure, pop culture is beauty-obsessed. But in my world, the people I choose to spend time with do not actually go around tweeting mean, condescending photos of other people’s wives, nor do they divide the world into The Good Ones and Everybody Else on the basis of decorative properties.

For our final quote of the day, here’s what my husband Hal said when I told him I’d squandered 1,100 words obsessing about the importance of prettiness, or whenever I ask him stupid and boring questions about my appearance:

“Seriously? Stop being a butthead.” –Hal Humphreys

Translation: Move on. The time to stop worrying about this bullshit was right around the time I crossed paths with Mullet Boy, and an unkind assessment that should have been comical instead of devastating. What I’ve learned in the intervening thirty years is that I’m not interested in any man who’s only interested in “young and beautiful pieces of @$$.”

I know without a doubt that I’m Hal’s IT Girl, and he is the highest quality male I have ever known. From the very beginning, we’ve been too busy flying, hiking, and adventuring together to worry too much about our skin care regimen. And here’s what Hal had to say about impossible beauty standards a year ago, in an email response to the “Minimalist Pixie Dream Girl” phenomenon — this is Hal’s definition of a Dream Girl:

She drinks wine, likely a bit too much at times. She is bawdy. She writes. She cooks. She cries. … She is a wife. She is a friend. She is amazing. She is herself. Anyone who gives her pause for even a split second about her beauty, her self-worth, her all-consuming freaking amazingness — anyone who doesn’t adore her for who she is — can seriously eat a bag of d***s. —Hal Humphreys

I’m giving Hal the final say on this, because I can.

Come to think of it, Hal doesn’t have a mullet. Not at all. And I get to dance with him every single night.

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11 thoughts on “On Beauty

  1. “From the very beginning, we’ve been too busy flying, hiking, and adventuring together to worry too much about our skin care regimen.” I think that means that you’ve actually lived life. 🙂 I’m the same way – who the hell cares about the outside when it is what’s on the inside that sustains you? For the record, some of the most beautiful faces I have ever seen were full of wrinkles and wisdom. I don’t have time to wallow in the shallow views of the ignorati. Great post!

  2. I remember those awkward days at school when I was rejected at the school disco but pretended I didn’t care…… And do you know what……..I am so grateful for those rejection because it toughen me up for “life”. I wouldn’t want to be an “It” girl for all the tea in China. My life has far exceeded theirs as far as I’m concerned 🙂 And as for you Kim Green…..you fricking ROCK…… I love ya xxx

  3. Well said! I’ll leave you with these
    words from my current guru… “All of the experiences I’ve learned and every ascended master you’ve studied will say the exact same thing: Life is not to be taken seriously. Most people are dumb as fuck. If you look at their voting habits and their eating habits, you realize people are stupid. So we could talk about stupid people or we could just stay with smart people who know how to have fun and not even focus on what dumb people do. It’s not worth it. I tell you this as someone who’s a smart motherfucker: Don’t waste your time fooling with dumb people or trying to figure them out or trying to educate them. It doesn’t work. It’s a lose-lose situation.
    It’s been the same since the beginning of time when shamans, witch doctors, or court jesters were the drags queens. Which is to remind culture to not take itself seriously. To remind you that you are not your shirt or your religious affiliation. You are an extension of the power that created the whole universe. You are God in drag. You are dressed up in this outfit of a body, which is temporary. You are eternal. You are forever. You are unchanged. And this is a dream you’re having. So don’t get to attached to it. Make love. Love people. Be sweet. Have corn dogs. Dance. Live. Love. Fuck shit up. But it’s all good. You can’t fuck it up because you’re eternal.”- RuPaul

  4. Great article. I was especially glad to read a quote from Hal. He abides. My motto that I always live by is: ” When life starts to suck, and people aren’t too nice, just pull your pants down and slide on the ice.”
    Hope all is well.

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