Wednesday, 5 March 2014

What is Beauty?

On one of my regular blog reads today I was moved to tears and to the desire to share this blog post with you.  Sarah Greenman writes La Maison Boheme and to describe her and her blog would be a whole post in itself.  If you don't know her blog, I encourage you to discover it for yourself but here I would like to bring your attention to a particular post.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and beauty is often determined by cultural factors; we all know this.  Men are not as likely to be described as beautiful, though male children may be.  The language of beauty and the worship of beauty is usually reserved for children and women, which makes it a contentious feminist issue.  Should we want to be beautiful?  Should we try to be beautiful?  Should we weep at night if we believe we are not?  What if we are beautiful and it seems too much to our advantage?  Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

Did your mother ever tell you that it was more important to be beautiful on the inside?  She probably did and she was right, though that wouldn't necessarily make it any easier in a world that values beauty, sells us beauty and denies our beauty all as a way to have power over us.  How easy is it to simply decide you ARE beautiful and celebrate that?  Or to decided that beauty is irrelevant and ignore it?  As humans we are captivated by beauty in all things.  We see beauty in nature, beauty in human created art, we accept imperfections and variety readily until it comes to humans and perhaps even more so, until it comes to ourselves if we are female.  We have been told there is only one way to be beautiful, only one standard, only one measure.  It is physical and it is elusive.  Other women have it but we don't so we must strive for it, we must buy it.

Deep in our hearts we know this is total crap!  But the message pushes at us daily.  As an artist I am in love with faces.  All faces.  I see beauty in faces because I see the expression of a human being in them.  I see the range of emotions that can flicker across a face.  I see the life that has been lived or the promise of a life yet to come.  The most beautiful faces are not found on a plastic mannequin.  They are not found in a photoshopped image in a magazine, though they may offer up flawless skin and symmetrical features.  Why does this blog post feature only female faces?  It is not because only female faces are beautiful, but because it is mostly females who are targeted with destructive messages about what beauty is.  

I cried, small soft tears leaking slowly, as I watched and listened to the speech made by Lupita Nyong'o at the Black Women in Hollywood Awards, hosted by Essence magazine, which I found on Sarah's blog, La Maison Boheme.  Sarah added images of faces, a variety of female faces all of them showing us that beauty does not come from looking the same.  Beauty comes in character and individuality.  Beauty comes in an expression of emotion, a light in the eyes and even in a surprisingly unique feature that sets someone apart.  Yes, there is good photography involved allowing these faces to look their best.  But there is no deception involved, no marketing of one single type of human beauty.  There is just the opportunity to observe that every tree in the forest has its own beauty.  The lens of the camera represents the lens of the human eye.  It shows us how to see properly.  How to look and see the beauty.  It may sound cliche to say we are all beautiful, but sometimes something is a cliche simply because it is true.

Go here to read Sarah's blog

11 comments:

  1. Shawna, I am so moved by your response to my post today. Thank you for engaging in this dialogue. I am honored. And I love what you have to say at the end about how to see real beauty. Thank you again. And thank you for being a reader of La Maison Boheme - I so appreciate it.

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    1. You are welcome, Sarah. You have one of the best blogs out there and I have been reading for years.

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  2. I have heard Lupita Nyong'o's speech (lots of people posted it on facebook) and it is very eloquent and touching. The variety of images which Sarah included in her blog post are wonderful, great photos.
    Beauty; I don't know what to say about it really. It matters and it doesn't. Most of us live perfectly well without it. Are we all beautiful? No, I don't think so, not really. But we can all be interesting, thoughtful, kind, funny, make an effort to find a style which makes the most of what we have, ignoring the templates imposed by others. It took a LONG time for me to stop longing to be beautiful; now, I recognise that being myself is far more important. xxx

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    1. I think it depends on how we define beauty, as to whether or not we are all beautiful. I too went through a time of longing to be conventionally beautiful. I thought it would make my life easier. But I do see beauty in everyone except perhaps for the most extreme of awful people. I do also agree that we can make the most of what we have but even the definition of what making the most is will differ between people. I don't think beauty matters in the way that compassion matters, but I think there is something that fills my heart when I look around me and see beauty.

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  3. It makes sense to be attracted by beauty, because it is a sign of fertility and health. After all, the purpose of producing is exchanging valuable genes and on a subconscious level, no one wants crappy genes :D If this makes any sense :D Women are attracted by prosperous men, not handsome ones. So society is giving a big middle finger to men population too. Either you have money and you're able to support your family, or you don't have money and you're basically shit. I think our whole society is fucked up and you touched a painful subject. We live in a world, where both men and women are pressured into "being something" they don't have the power or are unwilling to be.

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    1. Yes, I agree with you Keit. We either need to be able to completely ignore the artificial constructs of our culture or we need to understand how they are designed to have power over us so we can prevent that. Because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, we all have a shot at being considered beautiful by someone. Wealth and power are not so much the same way. It makes sense though, that if men have been taught that their masculinity lies in their ability to achieve wealth and power, they would resist having that wealth an power taken away from them or the potential for wealth and power taken away from them, and might thus feel very conflicted or downright hostile to competition from women in the workplace. What a complicated world!

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  4. i need to go read this...what a lovely sentiment. i love how you say some things are cliche because they are true....so true!

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  5. How do I know which bird I am talking to? ;-) Both birds are lovely birds but I am fairly certain they only speak one at a time.

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  6. What a lovely post Shawna. I actually made this comment today to one of my colleagues who is African about an African male who I think is really nice looking and she pulled her face at my comment. Therefore beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

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  7. It's a good thing it is! It happens that way with celebrities, I often find. Someone will comment that so and so is really beautiful or really sexy and you think, oh no way! LOL However when it comes to Paul Newman there should be no dissention. ;-)

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  8. I see beauty everywhere, I agree with you here. When you watch people talk, laugh, you see a sparkle in they eyes - they all ARE beautiful (or should I say we all are beautiful, since I am people too), and the photographers and film makers, and artists, and sculptors who are truly in touch with themselves, they all know it - they see it...
    Beautiful post!

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