Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Perfection and Death

"To be beautiful is to be almost dead, isn't it?  The lassitude of the perfect woman. The languid ease.  The obeisance. Spirit-trained. Anemic.  Pale as ivory and weak as a kitten," Vanessa Ives (or is it the demon?  Or Amen-Ra?) Penny Dreadful.

These lines were written by a man (given that they are about the Victorian standard), so they are only half true.  I've often gotten the impression that men envy beautiful women's ease in getting attention, admiration and sex.

I've been considered beautiful, and fat, and old, ugly, and many other things.  I'm very fortunate in this; my world view is not skewed by the privilege of beauty as it is for some.  Very beautiful women tend to ride the privilege hard, without even realizing it-a phantom stallion of expectations.  They often leap over the rest of us, but jumping too high lands them in gullies sometimes, just like the rest of us.  Sometimes, just sometimes, they are reminded that they are not as beautiful as they were, or as they hoped to be, or as they thought.  It's a painful landing.

There is, in beauty, "A peace of mind that religion is powerless to bestow," to quote Wilde.  But even supermodels are ragingly insecure.  The painful landing is built into physical beauty, first because we change; as Carrie Fisher said thirty years after her bikini scene in Return of the Jedi, "I didn't know I was supposed to stay exactly the same," But there's another pitfall as well: comparison. When your date sneaks a look at the waitress, you're painfully reminded that there will always be someone prettier, thinner, younger.  Beauty is a perilous track, not a languid ease.

But there is a bone-deep obeisance, infectious as cancer.  It sets up shop in a young girl and grows into an all-consuming disease of the mind that can spread to the body.  Obedience to the narrow male search image of "hotness" chokes the vitality out of the female population.  We'll never know what works of genius or what solutions to world problems would already have sprung from the minds of young women who are obsessed with their thighs or their hair.  Beauty is a virulent dictator.

But in the last few years, there are more and more glimpses of hope.  The "third wave feminists" are more outspoken, more uncompromising and assume more entitlement.  They assume the right to be valued apart from physical beauty and rail against sexism.  This is the latest rebellion against the assumption that a woman is only to be valued for some constructed idea of physical beauty, which is a variation on the idea that a woman is not a person. The third wave are casting off the dehumanizing obeisance, the spirit training and the spiritual anemia.  They stomp on the racist ivory standard and the stale pose of weakness.

Perfection is completeness.  A living being is only finished, only complete, after its final breath.  No living thing is perfect and beauty is a static measure of value; as living humans, we must not accept any static measure.

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