Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Thing of Beauty

I'm obsessed with human beauty. This is not something I'm proud of. It was a standard that I was to taught to reach, but it was always the carrot on the stick. Like so many fat women, I learned early that "you have such a pretty face" is a left handed compliment if there ever was one. The implication is that you could be pretty but you're not because you're fat. At the same time I was taught that 'pretty is as pretty does' and 'beauty is only skin deep.'

So many people say these words because that's what we're supposed to think. No one wants to think of themselves as shallow, yet physical beauty has great benefits and its lack bring consequences. This is seen on the playground, the boardroom, during political campaigns, and in different branches of the media, appearances can seem almost as serious life or death.

I don't pick friends on their appearances. I've known many physically stunning people who have left me cold or feeling so gross after being with them that I longed for a shower. I know that beauty is an artificial standard, yet my eye is still drawn to it. There have been studies that show what the eye finds beautiful in another person is symmetry and proportion. It didn't matter if the study participants were New Yorkers or members of an Amazon tribe, young or old, the more symmetrical the face, the more beautiful the person. The more hourglass shaped in proportion, regardless of size, the more beautiful the woman. The desired bust-waist-hip ratio fell within the same parameters again regardless of culture or age. The researchers additionally compared measurements of beautiful women through the ages. The women in Rubens and Michelangelo paintings, Clara Bow,the It girl of the silent picture era, Marilyn Monroe, Cindy Crawford and Kate Moss all shared the same proportions while differing in era and scale. Kate Moss, the queen of waifs, and Marilyn Monroe, voluptuousness walking, share the same proportions as those queens of the derriere in Rubens artwork? It doesn't seem possible, but according to this documentary on the History Channel, they do.

In short, our preference for beauty show some indicators for being a hardwired preference, which means I can blow off some of my concerns over being shallow. I find though that what I see as beautiful is changing. The other night at my Weight Watchers meeting, I came in irritable and annoyed. I didn't want to hear a bunch of middle aged women talking recipes and points, so I took a seat off to one side and started reading the new materials for the week. That ended quickly, and I just started to look around, and these women started changing without doing a thing. I saw the temporary camaraderie born from a mutual challenge, soft laughter that was usually directed at oneself, and I found myself sitting in a room full of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. The softness, the wrinkles, the roundness, the flaws all became beautiful in and of themselves. Not the beauty I expected, but beauty nonetheless.

It's nice to know that the mind can supersede the brain sometimes, that those hardwired preferences can be educated. I like knowing that I can control how I perceive what is front of me. I remember an art exhibit I went to years ago. Sadly I've forgotten the artist's name, but his work is stamped inside my mind. He made abstract sculptures of women, well, one woman -- his wife, according to display information. Her disproportion was part of her beauty for him. The sculptures all celebrated a large bust, a waist so tiny that I wondered how it supported the rest of her frame, generous height which included quite short legs. These sculptures varied in size from almost fitting within a large hand to not quite life sized. Each one seemed to radiate or vibrate something vital, living and indefinable. It was all I could do not to touch. I was dying to gently run my hands over the roughly textured cast metal. There was one small piece called "Dynamo" which was his wife giving birth that was truly as powerful as his name. There was nothing commonly recognized as beautiful in the unusually shaped woman he married and sculpted, but I have rarely seen the beauty of women celebrated so.

I was reminded of this exhibit when I stumbled across this quote from Sir Francis Bacon today. "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion." My eyes will be open today, and I have the feeling that almost everything I see today will be more beautiful.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might enjoy seeing Tom Maley's whimsical works in the sculpture garden at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury, Martha's Vineyard. http://www.praxisgroup.biz/Maley.html

November 14, 2006 6:43 PM  
Blogger Lisa :-] said...

I very much ave an eye for beauty, though not particularly human beauty. Never having had it, I guess it pretty much fell off my radar screen.

November 14, 2006 10:39 PM  
Blogger AlbGlinka said...

I've wasted too much of my life chasing beauty, err, beauties-- I'm trying a different approach these days! But I hear ya, Cynthia. Hope you are well... xxoo, Albert

November 15, 2006 9:46 PM  
Blogger Wenda said...


November 15, 2006 11:31 PM  

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