Written by Adam Holzrichter.
A wealthy woman in my life once said, “beauty is cheap.” It felt like a profound moment in my history, as have a few other things she’s spoken to me through her nonchalant wisdom. I have always pursued romantic relationships with people who have a sort of richness in their attractiveness. I’m not talking about a universality of opinion on what attributes combine to form a beautiful person. I’m talking about what I’m attracted to. What I’m attracted to happens to be the same thing as most other people: a somewhat symmetrical face that contains a harmony in its features, an obvious attention paid to physical fitness, and an awareness of one’s own gifts. That’s not asking a lot. It’s also not asking a little. It’s what attracts me. Moving on..
Beauty being in the eye of its beholder has been made a moot concept by the advertising industry. We’ve all agreed on which faces we see as being most desirable to look at, since we were infants; let’s be honest, since Egyptian statues were being chiseled. It’s what has spawned the entire modeling industry. It helped in creating the dilemma of a self loathing teenage girl, which stretches far beyond adolescence. It scornfully holds hands and walks in step with anorexia and her cousin, bulimia. What will we do about it? What I’m saying is that wrong or right, we’ve established cultural norms with what is seen as worthy of the title “Beautiful.”
Now what can you do if you were born beautiful? What are your choices? Perform for the world? Bask in narcissistic delight, while you remain entrenched by every mirror you cross paths with? Monetize it by creating pornographic content? Use it as a built-in platform to teach others what you’ve learned from life, while you must actively maintain their desire to possess you in order to positively influence them? Marry into wealth and live on an island that hides you from the never-ending gaze of a million strangers, in exchange for a temporary gaze of that one person? Turn on your own body by making drastic physical changes which aim to “dethrone” yourself (tattoos, piercings, scarification, drug addiction, elective obesity, mental in-patient hairstyles, etc.)? Hey, at least you’ve got options! There are certainly burdens that come with these gifts. Maintaining platonic friendships often becomes an act of futility. It’s possible to be physically attracted to your friends, while recognizing there is no likelihood of a healthy romantic relationship. Anything is possible. Some people are born with two heads.
Walking around in the world that holds beauty as its gold standard makes for a pretty ugly scene on the streets. Good-looking women are endangered. Good-looking men are empowered. I believe both things are true, and interchangeable. Why would something that brings so much power – with an equal amount of suffering – to the world be called CHEAP by anyone?! Because beauty fades, even as the soul who possesses it remains. That’s one opinion, which I can thankfully say isn’t my own. I think the widely accepted concept of youth being the pinnacle of a person’s lifetime happens to be hilariously incorrect. It’s a fool’s mind who thinks that way about themself.
“If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.”
― David Foster Wallace, This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life
I believe beauty is only cheap to someone who has found a greater truth than that which worships purely superficially titillating(creepy word, right?) things. Why not take it a step further? I think a subjective concept of beauty as a prerequisite for long term romantic relationships is totally normal, if not ideal. Beauty does begin to feel cheap, in dating, when a baseline of attractiveness in partners is established. It’s simply not enough to be pretty, in and of itself. Yet it remains a requirement to some; myself being one of the “some.” I paint portraits, and enjoy sex with the lights on, or in the morning sun. Go to Hell.
Have you ever seen a person on the street asking for spare change, or gas money, and that person happens to have a face which could have easily gotten them commercial modeling work? It’s covered in tattoos and tangled hair, from a life so plagued by suffering and misfortune you can’t even imagine it. You might think of that version of beauty as being cheap. That version of beauty is a penny on the sidewalk, with Abraham Lincoln’s face glaring back at you. You wouldn’t bend down to pick that beauty up and put it in your pocket; especially if someone were watching. You don’t even want to look at that penny. That’s a dark, and ever-depreciating currency. One day soon it won’t even exist.
What I’ve been getting at is the lesson I’ve learned about chasing beauty. Chasing beauty will lead you down some of the eeriest corridors of the mind. You’ll encounter unrequited love more than anything else. Beauty doesn’t know its own value. It doesn’t know that it’s not enough. Beauty doesn’t know it has feet, or arms, or hands. That sort of beauty only knows its own reflection. What beauty needs to learn is that it can exist in all things which require gratitude and effort. Neglect beauty and it leaves you. Obsess over beauty and it leaves you. Hate or defame beauty and it leaves you. True Beauty’s name may as well be Grace.