Beauty has Her Ways

Curvy and Beautiful put this up on Facebook

Curvy and Beautiful put this up on Facebook

I have a question that has been bothering me for a while and this is as good a place as any to throw it out into the world and start a discussion.  Please give me your thoughts.

I came across the picture to the left on my Facebook wall.  (I will include as much photo credit as I have.  If someone knows the creator, please tell me and I will credit that person.)  I am a fierce opponent to beauty being measured only by how skinny a woman is.  I certainly believe that a woman’s VALUE is only marginally related to her physical appearance {say maybe 0.0002% of a person’s overall value is appearance}.  I, also, understand that instead of allowing women’s beauty to include all varieties, we, as a culture, are narrowing the allowable parameters of MEN’s beauty.  (Once again the search for equality gets turned on its ear.) {We need to do something about that, but that is not the topic today}

Here is the topic I’d like to discuss – Are we doing a disservice by saying things like “Everyone is equally beautiful”?

Yes, I know that beauty is not skin deep and yes I know that even the Elephant Man was beautiful.  Hear me out.  Beauty means “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.”  That is a clear definition.  In order to be beautiful a person or thing must give pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalt the mind/spirit.  People do not do this in equal measure.  In other words, everybody is somewhere on a continuum between beautiful and ugly.  That being true, if you put the pictures of two different women in front of one person and said “Point to the more beautiful of the two” that person will pick one or the other.  Therefore, we as a culture use the word ‘beauty’ to classify something measurable.  The more a thing gives pleasure to the senses &/or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit, the more beautiful it is.  Therefore while beauty is a subjective quality, it is still a measurable quality.  It is NOT possible for every woman to be equally beautiful.  So my questions (at long last) are …

First Question – Are we doing a disservice to the Language by saying “every woman is equally beautiful”?  Is it destroying or neutering the word beauty by saying it applies to everyone?

Second Question – Are we doing a disservice to women by saying “Every woman is equally beautiful”?  It is a lie.  Every woman is not equally beautiful.  Furthermore it is an ineffective lie.  A woman can look around her and see that some people are more beautiful than others.   Beauty to ugly is a continuum and all people are at different places on the continuum.  Rather than lie and say everyone woman is beautiful, shouldn’t we rather say everyone woman is valuable whether they are beautiful or not?   It would be better if a cry “you’re ugly” is as meaningless as saying “You have five fingers”?  If someone whistled at a women going by and said, “Hey babe, you have five GREAT fingers!” the woman would probably think, “and your point is… what?”  She’d shrug her shoulders and move on.

Since we are people (I’m guessing) who are trying to change how women are perceived and valued both by our Selves and by the broader society, wouldn’t it be better if we created memes/cliches that stressed that every woman/every person is valuable.  Every woman is an important, valuable treasure who brings something unique and irreplaceable to the world.  Her value is no more hooked to her beauty than it is to the fact she has five fingers or that she has freckles.

Final Question – I would like to hear people’s thoughts on what is Beauty.  Beyond the dictionary definition.  What are the qualities that bring us to that pleasurable sensation; to that exultation?  Those qualities certainly have a subjective element.  Is there an objective element?  Maybe not completely objective in the way that 5 is 5 universally, but is it, at least in part, objective?  If so what are the universal elements of beauty?  Are they universal only to a specific group or culture?  For example, good food in Alabama is terrible food in Hong Kong.  Is there even a small number of qualities that are beautiful to ALL humans?

I know that these questions are both pretty deep and navel gazing bullshit.  However, I think they are important questions to ask.  The ‘Women’s Movement’ is only in its beginning first steps.  It is going to be going on for a long time because ideas about a ‘woman’s place’ are many layered and deeply entrenched.  It is going to take a couple of generations to dig them all out.  We are shaping how this revolution will move into the future.  All of us, whether we are loud mouth liberal activists or tight-lipped, conservative homemakers, are influencing how our daughters see themselves, the world and their place in it.  We owe it to them to make conscious decisions about how we are shaping them and the world they live in.  Whatever we choose, whatever answers we find individually, as a bunch of people chatting online, as a community and as a culture, we should find them consciously.

NOTE – I know that these are hot button issues for a lot of us.  It is hard to talk dispassionately about beauty and how society measures it and how we, ourselves, have been measured.  These are very personal issues.  So I ask that we all remember to keep this abstract both in our comments and our responses. Thanks.

The “Five Things” Rule

"Titania and Bottom" by Edwin Henry Landseeroil on canvas 1848

“Titania and Bottom” by Edwin Henry Landseer
oil on canvas 1848

The best dating advice, indeed the best lifetime advice I ever received was from my mom’s best friend.  I call her Penny for the Queen of Pentacles.  The Queen of Pentacles is a mature practical woman who is generous and intelligent.  She is the bountiful mother that sees to it that everyone has plenty to eat and clothes on their backs.  She is less concerned with abstracts and more focused on concrete practicalities.  This is Penny to a T.  I came home from college one weekend and went to see Penny.  She was overjoyed to see me and asked me all about my life in college.  She also asked how Benjamin, my first serious boyfriend, and I were doing.

“Well, we just had this huge fight and I just don’t know if we’re gonna make it.”  I replied.

Penny tried to look concerned even though I knew she didn’t like Benjamin at all.  “What did you fight about?”

I sighed and replied with complete seriousness, “Artistic integrity.”

Penny burst out laughing.  I was amazed and sort of annoyed.  I was ready to tell all about our fight and how Benjamin was a complete jackass and totally wrong, to boot.  Penny just kept laughing.  Then she called to her husband and told him the subject of my fight and he laughed too.  By now I was completely annoyed and a little confused, too.  I was a young art student and integrity was pretty important to me.

“Oh honey, I’m sorry.”  Penny said wiping the tears from her eyes.  “I didn’t mean to laugh at you, but…” she started to laugh again, but controlled it.  “In my life I’ve listened to a lot of people talk about their relationships and NEVER have I heard of an argument over artistic integrity.  People fight about money and bills and if you’re cheating, not about artistic integrity.”

“Well, you always knew I was special.”  I said with a laughing smile.  This launched a long discussion about relationships and dating.  I was a late bloomer and kind of new to the dating scene and needed some guidance.  Towards the end Penny gave me a tool that has helped me throughout my life ever since.
“Gracie, here’s the thing.  When you’re dating you got to know what you’re looking for.  Before you even start looking around, you need to figure out your 5 things – five qualities that you want in a partner.  You can have as few as four or up to six, but keep it around there.  Now, if you’re just dating casually they can be missing one or two, but any guy you are even thinking about marrying has to have all five.”

That sounded like good advice to me, so I thought for a while and came up with my five things.  Now since I was young and idealistic (did I mention I was an art student), my list was heavy on ideals and WAY short on practicality.  He had to be intelligent.  He had to be creative.  He had to follow a spiritual path or at least respect my spirituality.  He had to have integrity and he had to make me happy.  Notice that there was nothing about responsibility, income or having a job.  I told you that I was an idealistic artist.  The partner that I had for fifteen year, not Benjamin, did have all five and we were pretty happy.  I did learn that when both partners in a couple are impractical idealists things are rough financially.  However, when my relationship of fifteen years ended, it was NOT because I had any false or misguided ideas about what he was or what he brought to the relationship.  Needless to say, my list has changed as I have grown older.

In the years since Penny passed on those wise words, I have shared them with friends, family members and countless Tarot clients – male and female.  Those who took the “Five Things” rule to heart may not have had perfect relationships thereafter, but they knew what they were looking for.  Now that I think about it, many of them did have solid relationships that lasted pretty long.

Eight of Pentacles from the Druid Craft Tarot

Eight of Pentacles from the Druid Craft Tarot

Years later after I got fired from a job I hated, I finally saw the obvious fact to which I had been blind for years.  The “Five Things” rule works for more than just relationships.  If, instead of taking the first job offered out of financial desperation, I had a list of Five Things I MUST have in a job, maybe I would have better luck in my job hunting.  That very day, as I drove home, I decided upon the first item in my new “Five Things for Work” list.  My new job had to have flexible hours.  As a single mother, I needed to be able to leave work for doctor’s appointments and to stay home with sick children.

My “Five Things for Work” is actually four things – Flexibility, a small company, $X00.00 per week and work that I find interesting.  Just like with dating, if I find a job which is missing one or two items, I might take it for a year or so.  However, I job I plan to be at for more than five years needs to have all four.

We like to think of Love as being something that just happens to us.  Cupid shoots us with his bow and BAM we love the next person we see like Tatiana in Midsummer Night’s Dream.  However the truth is that we pick the objects of our desire.  It is just that usually the choice is made by our subconscious.  In today’s workplace, most job seekers feel even less in control that a teenage girl in the throws of her first crush.  A person submits his resumes and waits passively in hopes that the employer will pick him.  In these days of online applications, their usually isn’t a way to contact the employer to follow up.  All the job seeker can do is wait and hope.  The “Five Things” rule empowers a person whether they are looking for the love of their life or just a job.  If you want to be more in control, before you date or job hunt make sure you know your five things.

The Anthem of Teenage Crushes – “The Sweater”

I am in kind of a whimsical, silly mood so I thought I would post the lyrics to a very special song, “The Sweater” by Meryn Cadell.  While I never experienced the exact details spelled out by Meryn, I definitely came close enough.  Back in the heady, anxious days of junior high when every week there was new ABSOLUTELY gorgeous boy who pulled my eyes to them every time they were within fifty feet of me.  Each one was my new Prince Charming and if he would only notice me, I knew he would sweep me off my feet and we would ride a way together to some perfect world and live happily ever after.

But as the poets say, there is no happily ever after.  None of the boys ever noticed me.  At least they didn’t notice me enough to sweep me off my feet and carry me away to paradise.  I look back on those days and sigh.  It was all so glorious – the dreams, the hopes, the angst and even the pain.  The innocence coupled with the desire made for wonderfully intense dreams.  Looking back, I think that some of those dreams were more satisfying than my actual relationships later in life.  I don’t wish to go back to those days which were horrible in their own way, but I do look back on them and savor the memories.

So in honor of the junior high girl that I once was and that we all once were, here is “The Sweater.”


The Sweater
Girls, I know you will understand this, and feel the intrinsic, incredible emotion. You have just pulled over your head the worn, warm sweater belonging to A Boy.

Now you haven’t had a passionate kissing session or anything, but you got to go on a camping trip with him and eight other people from school, and you practically slept together, your sleeping bag right next to his, and you woke in the night to watch him as he slept, but you couldn’t see anything ’cause it was dark, so you just lay there and listened to his breathing, and wondered if your heart might burst.

The sweater has that slightly goat-like smell which all teenage boys possess, and that smell will lovingly transfer to all your other clothes. If you get to keep it for a few days, you can sleep with it, but don’t let your mom see because she’ll say, ‘What is that filthy thing, and who does it belong to besides the trashman?’ …. So you have to keep it under the covers, with you. You can kind of lie it beside you, or wrap it around your waist, or touch it on your legs or whatever, but that’s your business.

Now if the sweater has, like, reindeer on it, or is a funny color like yellow – I’m sorry you can’t get away with a sweater like that. Look for brown or grey or blue. Anything other than that and you know you’re dealing with someone who’s different. And different is not what you’re looking for.

You’re looking for those teenage, alpine ski, chiseled features, and that sort of blank look which passes for deep thought or at least the notion that someone’s home. You’re looking for the boy of your dreams who is the same boy in the dreams of all of your friends.

Now the sweater isn’t going fit you of course, so you have to kind roll up the sleeves in a jaunty way that says, ‘This is the sweater belonging to a boy, and the boy is a genuine hunka hunka burning love’, and this is not just some hand-me-down from your brother or your father.

Monday, wear the sweater to school. Be calm, look cute. Don’t tell him the dream you had about the place the two of you would share when you get older, just be yourself. The best, cutest, quietest version of yourself.
Definitely wear lip gloss.

He looks at you, and he looks away, and then he walks away, and the smell of the sweater hits you again suddenly like ape-scent gloriola. And you get a note passed to you by a girl in history that says he needs his sweater back, he forgot that you put it on in the tent on Saturday and he’s been looking for it.

And you don’t have to die of humiliation, you know. You are a strong person and this is a learning experience. You can still hold your head up high as you run from the classroom, tearing the stinking sweater from your body.
You look at that sweater, carefully, and realize that love made you temporarily blind. You’ve got a secret now, honey, and though you would never sink as low as him, you could blab it all over the school if you wanted:

The label in that sweater said 100% acrylic.

Night’s Children in Exile

Most of you aren’t going to get this, but many of you will. Those of us born to the night live from darkness to dawn. We shine brightest under starlight and street lamps. But there are those of us, many of us, who are forced to function in the cold bright light of morning, in the arid, acid smells of the city stirring to life. We walk past the garage with its rarnzz, zzzink, clang of early morning car repairs toward the bus stop bench roasted hot by the glaring morning sun. We wait under awnings behind dark $5.00 sunglasses (the good pair was lost at a club or somewhere awhile back) for disgruntled CTA bus drivers to pick us up. They have been on the job since 5am and had nothing resembling sympathy for our pain.

We go to everyday normal mundane vanilla jobs. We eat at normal mundane times although we often skip breakfast or eat it late. We’re just not that awake in the morning. We’re lucky if we can open our can of Red Bull or chug that cup of coffee or tea. Our relatives and friends see our day light habits and sniff to themselves either smugly or proudly, She had to grow up sometime. But that’s not it at all. Fate has dealt us a cruel hand. We are night’s children in exile. Forced by necessity to take daylight jobs so that we may care for ourselves or our children. Five days a week or more we wince from the glaring cheerfulness of the morning and get up. But we are still night’s children. We’re simply in exile.

We have not turned our backs on the night. We want to dance in the dark corners of her sanctuaries, to whisper or shout in coffee shops, to make love on linen sheets until the birds warn us of the coming sun. But we can’t. We have to work in the morning. We have to skip the concert, to take a pass on going for coffee, to ask you to go home around midnight. Those of you Night Children who can sleep past the sun’s glaring noon, who work at jobs under the starlight and the streetlamps, remember us and blow us a kiss as you pass. We are your sisters and brothers; Night’s Children in exile