At the moment, I’m reading Jane Meredith’s ‘Aphrodite’s Magic’ which is raising a lot of questions for me about how we think about beauty. I’m reminded of things Penny Billington said at Druid Camp this year about how we view trees compared to how we view people. It’s much easier to see the beauty in a tree, and to accept the bumps, twists, eccentricities, damage and so forth as part of what makes the tree itself, not things that detract from beauty. When it comes to judging humans, we’re a lot more critical.
I recognise this is a whole subject area that makes me very uneasy. I can talk about beauty in regards to anything that isn’t a human person. Once we get round to the subject of people I feel tense. I’m more willing to think about how we craft beauty, through clothes choices, decoration, movement, or how the grace in a soul can shape a face. The accident of our genetic makeup and the degree to which it conforms to a narrow bandwidth of culturally defined norms, is something I don’t get excited about. I’ve never been that excited about the kind of youth-beauty, shiny, unmarked and fresh out of its clingfilm wrap, that seems to dominate at the moment. I like people who (with all due reference to Stranger in a Strange Land) have their own face.
Of course even so, as a teen and a young woman, I wanted to be beautiful and agonised over the fact that I wasn’t. Always too plump, fighting a losing battle against a pale skin dark body hair combination, broad shouldered. Even so, I chose muscle bulk (for drumming, and later for Viking re-enactment) over seeking waifdom, repeatedly. I chose not to invest vast amounts of time in nails, hair, makeup, accessories. I didn’t have the patience for it. I also felt that trying to hide my rather plain face under a lot of makeup in order to feign a beauty I didn’t possess, was a bit pointless. Largely persuaded by the need to fit in with mainstream beauty norms even though I’m not at all attracted to those same norms in other people, I never considered that I might be ok on my own terms.
I’m going to make a conscious effort to think about beauty. Not magazine beauty. Not movie beauty. The people around me, with no reference to age, gender, race, body shape or personal style. The idea that people could be looked at like trees, in appreciation not criticism. The idea, tentatively, that it might be possible to consider life as beautiful, just for being, and to remove all the weight of judgemental baggage from the experience of being in the world.