On Beauty in the Age of Gloss

Call me over-imaginative, but I fear that our fixation on external beauty is now as useless and as cumbersome to our survival as if we had reptilian tails.
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Tell me the truth, Sister, on a scale of one to ten, how do you rate your beauty? Hmmm. I perceive your disdain, even through the nebulous reaches of the Internet.

That's a guy thing, you say. Women don't do that.

Really? Perhaps, when you look in the mirror, you don't slap across your chest an invisible beauty pageant banner that rates your visible assets. But I bet you rate, not only yourself, but every woman that comes onto your radar, and all the time, too.

You have your own system, or particular symbology for rating beauty, I imagine. Like my Italian mother who passes judgment on films with a number of meatballs, the higher the better, your cultural identity probably informs your ratings.

In fact, we all do it, my dear. Honestly, how can we avoid it when a constant barrage of images conspires to create insecurity about our looks? Have you noticed how quickly your self-imposed rating plummets after flipping through a fashion magazine? I'd like to see what would happen to their sales if those same high glossies advertised average-looking people.

Perhaps, the magazine editors know how much we despise ourselves and therefore, figure we would never buy their products unless we felt duly punished. Sadly, too many of us inwardly feel like Groucho Marx: "I would not join any club that would have someone like me for a member."

The day I caught myself comparing my grade-school daughter's looks to the other girls in her class, I thought, this must stop! I understood that, on a subtle level, I would pass on to her the same limiting behavior with which I had been conditioned. In my heart, I only wanted to send a message that each girl was beautiful in her own way.

No doubt, beauty is power, often as formidable as a genius IQ. In the evolution of humanity, it has served a purpose with the selection of genes, just as in all species. I strongly suspect, however, that our obsession with beauty has deprived us of something of equal value, if not greater.

When I set out to write my new fantasy romance novel, Revealing Eden (Save The Pearls Part One), I found myself facing twin fears that, at the time, seemed thematically unrelated, but ultimately, came together in a perfect way.

Eden Newman lives in a post-apocalyptic world where the ability to withstand extreme solar radiation defines beauty and class. The more melanin in your skin, and therefore, the darker it is, the better your chance of survival, the higher your beauty rating. Eden's blond, blue-eyed looks brand her as an ugly, oppressed Pearl. She's desperate to find a mate, and doomed if she doesn't.

All she really wants is for some guy to see past her obvious defects and admire the Real Eden, the one on the inside. Honestly, isn't that what we all want? Then why are we so quick to judge each other based on appearance?

One day in grade school, as I stood at the front of the school waiting for my mother, a boy leaned out of the window of a departing bus and hurled a racial slur at me. It wasn't even about my race! But it stung all the same. With my wildly curly hair and prominent features, I didn't look like the other girls, and I guess that frightened him.

Perhaps because of that moment, I never felt beautiful. I focused on developing my mind and told myself I didn't care about looks. Years later, when I starred in several indie films, I was flabbergasted to read reviews that praised my beauty. To this day, I never have understood why appearance often matters more than character or intelligence.

Call me over-imaginative, but I fear that our fixation on external beauty is now as useless and as cumbersome to our survival as if we had reptilian tails.

We vote on leaders, not based on intelligence or soulful qualities, but by the style of their clothes or haircut.

We ignore the real reasons for deep problems like unemployment, economic disparity or the continuing destruction of our environment because solutions like better education or higher taxes or cap and trade require a deep change in how we look at the world, and at ourselves.

We want quick fixes. We're like the patient who only treats the symptoms, never approaching illness from a holistic point of view, body and soul. We'd rather take the next miracle cure that promises to fix all our ills. Or better, yet, get a facelift in the hope of erasing more than wrinkles.

As Audrey Hepburn famously and generously said, "For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry."

Can we learn to see who we are and where we are going before it's too late? I hope so.

Next time you look in the mirror, tell yourself you are uniquely beautiful, just as you are, and send that message to the next person you meet.

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