What’s probably becoming clear is that I question quite a lot of the cultural or social attitudes of our times and, to be clearer, when I do so it’s more to stretch out the conversation in an attempt to provide space for re-evaluating things. In that light, today’s topic is beauty.
I talked a little in Age, Image & Self Worth about the correlation between outer appearances and inner qualities, and that’s pretty much my starting point here. Then, I spoke of beauty being mainly associated with youth and how the notion of beauty as we age may lie more in the realm of truthful resonance between the inner self and the outer form we offer the world.
However, we live in a society which embraces more superficial ideas on beauty: concealing imperfections or signs of time, creating illusions with makeup and fashion, asserting our individuality through consumer choices, praising and rewarding those blessed with looks coinciding with current trends. This isn’t said dismissively, none of this is necessarily bad and much of it seems part of shared culture and meaning.
My main concern, as touched upon in Relating to cultural benchmarks and How many aren’t well represented?, is the extent to which it’s wise to assess people’s inner worth based on such external markers.
There’s a book by Edward de Bono called “How to Have a Beautiful Mind” which starts from the premise that inner qualities are more lasting, more important to cultivate than the pursuit of externalities destined to fade or alter. I do wonder to what extent that’s true in today’s society – it seems superficial concerns can get you a long way in our fast-paced world of image, aesthetic, branding etc. Honestly, I see very little motivation today for people to develop character and inner beauty.
It’s something I imagine we’re aware of from a young age. For some reason we often seem blinded or caught up in the beautiful, losing sight of other factors. There’s certainly an ‘unfairness’ there, but I think it’s one we accept and perpetuate in many ways.
I could argue beauty is often inverse to character: that those blessed in this respect are even less motivated to develop inwardly as others tend to defer to them and desire their presence regardless. But I imagine it may well be a double-edged sword: to be treated favourably without needing to make effort, possibly having your wisdom ignored in the process may be a burden for the beautiful.
For me, appearance – be that looks, age, belongings, or whatever else – doesn’t register as much as the way a person is, how they relate, the ideas they hold and their willingness to share them, to listen, to care, to change their mind. Sometimes that correlates to looks, sometimes it doesn’t – some people are just beautiful souls, and that shines through regardless.