Some thoughts on beauty

This morning I find I am still haunted by four of the images to which we did NOT give awards yesterday: two extraordinary portraits by the same artist, one of a beautiful face and one of a young girl with an amazing smile; a spectacular landscape, perfectly balanced in light and composition (when I remarked upon its perfection one of the other judges sneered, "Yes, if you're shooting for National Geographic"); and a very sweet sepia-tone photo printed on textured paper of a hand holding a baby's feet.

Yes, I suppose you could say they were trite.  But must we always award those things which push the boundaries of what is currently considered beautiful?  Is this part of our society's commitment to growth; to always be expanding our definition of what is considered to be appealing or attractive?

And what of the extraordinarily competent young photographers who shot these photos and received no recognition for their work?  Will they be encouraged to step beyond their current (and some might say trite) notions of beauty or will they just abandon this field in which they have clearly established expertise?

As my thinking moved along these lines, I found myself remembering a quote I read somewhere that said if you removed beauty, she would, in revenge, take her two sisters, truth and goodness, with her, and found myself traveling a way down that road -- an old folks path, to be sure -- mourning the loss of traditional values.  But it's only a step from here to "the world is going to hell in a handbasket" -- a favorite lament of a particularly crotchety 50-something I know -- so I looked at that quote more closely.

... And remembered that there's an exhibit opening this coming Sunday of photos taken of women over 50, wearing no makeup, necks and shoulders exposed, hair wetted down.  I am, I confess, dreading the opening of this exhibit: it's in a very public place, and one of the images in it is mine.  I don't mean I took the photo, I mean the photograph is of me.  And though I haven't seen it, and though the photographer's point in shooting this exhibit was that we older women are actually beautiful without the disguises of clothing, hair and makeup, I am quite certain that in my case that will not prove to be true.  So it's hard to think of that photo being out there, my non-beauty exposed for all to see.

But why is that?  Do I believe people will love me less when they see what I really look like behind my hair and turtlenecks?  Or is something in me convinced that beauty, truth and goodness are inseparable; that people will no longer see the truth or goodness that lies in me?

Or is it really true that beauty is quite simply in the eye of the beholder?  Certainly the young men my daughters find attractive, and the young men who seem to be getting the leads in today's movies, have very little claim to the sort of classic features my generation deemed appealing.  Some part of me finds that fabulous (and enormously reassuring), that people are now more intrigued by talent and character than by beauty.

But does that make beauty any less desirable?

Like Mary, I keep these things and ponder them in my heart.  And meanwhile, this little scene -- neither spectacularly beautiful or particularly original -- greeted me this morning.  And because it sang to me and settled my heart I share it here.  Those characteristics may not make it prize-worthy,  but I'm not sure winning has anything to do with creativity or the life of the spirit.  If, as I wrote in the Mothers' Day truths on Monday, happiness has little to do with success -- well then, I think I just chose happiness again.

I just opened an email from Marry Your Muse author Jan Phillips in which she included this quote from Hafiz, which seems the perfect conclusion for today's post:
Any thought that you are better or less
Than another
Breaks the wine


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