There are, I think three forms of beauty. Not all are equally available to all people at all times. All are equally valid, and valuable, and some are prone to abuse and exploitation…
The beauty of body: This can come from having good genes, being fit, healthy and is most readily available to the young. It tends to be associated with breeding potential, but that’s not the only thing at stake here. At any age, health and fitness to whatever degree you can manage them confer some degree of physical beauty. Almost anyone can seek the beauty of graceful movement as well. These things are most attainable for the young.
It is worth noting that a huge industry exists around dieting and fitness, which focuses our collective attention on certain forms of physical beauty at the expense of others. There is also a huge industry around ‘beauty products’ basically mimicking or replacing the appearance of good health – sleek hair, good skin etc. We are encouraged to replace the actual beauties of healthy existence with the bottled illusion of it, and to consider the illusion more important than the actuality.
Body adornment and modification creates beauty through skill and artistry. This can be manifested through how we dress, what we do with our hair, tattoos, jewellery and other forms of decoration. This is beauty based on taste, skill and creativity, it is a beauty that is born of the mind and is available to anyone at any life stage who wishes to hone their abilities. Adornment can be highly expressive, and may be more representative of the inner person than the genetically sourced biology we happen to stand up in.
Again, there is a huge industry around this kind of beauty, in which your creativity is replaced with fashion, designer goods, and other people’s ideas. We are encouraged to think that what we buy is better, aesthetically, than what we might put together for ourselves. We are given very narrow options in terms of what, at any point in time, is deemed beautiful.
Finally, there is beauty of soul. This is the beauty that comes to a person who has lived richly and well, has made peace with themselves. It is the beauty of a face that has smiled a lot and eyes that have love in them. Anyone can achieve this over time if they live in ways that take them towards warmth, compassion and joy. It is more available to people in their later years than to the very young. There is no industry offering to replace this for you, and as a consequence it is the form of beauty our culture has least interest in and tends not even to mention.
The beauty that is your own, coming from who you are and how you live is worth celebrating. I am convinced that the ‘beauty’ we feel pressured into buying in shapes we are told are the only acceptable ones, is not worth having at all. It is simply a way of making us cough up money. Cultural definitions of beauty are dreadful. That the beautiful bodies of powerful female athletes get their muscles photo-shopped out by the media says it all really. The bodies of women who have born children. The scarred bodies, the ones that were never perfectly symmetrical, the faces that are striking rather than pretty all have a value, all deserve to be celebrated in their own right.
Each of us should have the right to explore beauty on our own terms, or not bother with it at all if it does not offer us something we want. The pressure to be all the same, all ‘beautiful’ in the sense of skinny, youthful appearance with narrow wardrobe options… means that no one gets to shine. If we didn’t all have to try and live up to these impossible demands, maybe those of us who have honed and capable bodies would be more fairly celebrated. Maybe those who are truly creative in the beauty of their adornment would be allowed to stand out. Maybe we would start to see the beauty of age and wisdom. We don’t all have to be Disney Princesses, and there would be more room for true beauty in the world if we were able to work with what we have rather than trying to fit those restrictive models.