They say that beauty is only skin deep. If so, that’s the kind of skin I want.
My mind was wandering a bit during church the other day. Instead of putting much-needed effort into improving my spiritual life, I found myself examining the other worshipers. As a group, We The People aren’t much to look at. Some of us are downright dogs.
The unique gifts of youth – firm, unlined skin and the glow of health – hide our faults when we’re young. That mantle falls away as we get older and reality is revealed in the harsh light of age: chubby cheeks sag into wrinkly jowls, prominent noses become downright beaky, and a receding hairline keeps riding off into the sunset.
Beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, but we only say that so ugly people won’t feel so bad. Babies instinctively recognize and respond to the same beautiful faces. Although there are obviously cultural and individual preferences, there are universal standards.
People once felt that beauty signaled goodness. That attitude was reflected in movies like The Wizard of Oz. The Good Witch was beautiful Glinda while the Wicked Witch was a homely crone. Nowadays movie stereotypes often swing in the opposite direction, especially when a producer wants to lecture us.
Take the movie Shallow Hal. Hal was hypnotized so he could see a person’s inner beauty. Every good, kind person was grossly obese or extremely unattractive in real life, but looked like a model to him. One Peace Corp volunteer had such bad dandruff he could have hired on as a snow machine in Vail. The only character who looked ugly to Hal was a nurse who everyone else saw as gorgeous. She was so rotten she was even mean to sick kids.
The director spared no hammer to hit viewers over the head with his message:
beauty = shallow
ugly = noble
Of course neither stereotype is true. Just as Marie is a little bit country and Donny is a little bit rock ‘n roll, so most of us are a little good and a little bad. Which trait wins out doesn’t seem to have anything to do with our looks.
I got to thinking about all of this that day at church because I saw a vision. It wasn’t a religious vision, which one might expect in that holy place. In the midst of all the Ordinary that is the rest of us, Beauty glided down the aisle. Lots of people are attractive and many deserve the adjectives pretty, cute, or sexy, but real Beauty with a capital “B” is rare.
The young woman’s face was a perfect oval, her complexion a clear and glowing coffee and cream touched with a blush of pink. Her lips were full and rose-red, her brown eyes large and sparkling, and her dark hair long and shining. She had the figure of a Barbie doll come to life; tall and slender, yet curvy.
I stared at her – gawked, really. I couldn’t help it. Such perfection of face and form is something you see in the movies, not everyday life.
As a society, we’re ambivalent about physical beauty. We worship at its altar, are awestruck by Beautiful People and lavish them with attention. On the other hand, we disdain those who pursue beauty as a goal, and sneer at its celebration. Witness the ridicule that many heap on those who participate in beauty pageants.
To me, physical beauty is a gift to be admired as much as a quick mind or the ability to compose music. Its possessor has a right to be proud of that gift. It’s also a gift that most of us would love to have, if we’re being honest with ourselves. And no matter how much we might like to think otherwise, it’s something to which we instinctively respond.
I suspect that if the Prince in the story had come upon Sleeping Good Personality instead of Sleeping Beauty, he might not have stopped to administer a wake-up kiss. That poor young woman would still be snoozing on her Posturepedic to this day.