“Novelty was not Steve’s highest value. Beauty was.“
My opinions about what beauty is and how much it should matter change a lot. But here’s some stuff I’ve been reading/consuming lately, mostly thanks to Netflix instant, which has a lot of awful movies, but a consistently great documentary collection. Even my mom was impressed.
1) “To me, the key to beauty, is to constantly learn, and grow, and do things, have adventures. Maybe they just learned how to garden, and they’ve never done something like that before, or roller skate, or been to the arctic, or backpacked, or, you know, just did something, so that you see it in their eyes. That to me, absolutely, 100%, is beautiful.” — Cheryl Tiegs
2) “I love beauty, it’s not my fault…I know what women want. They want to be beautiful.” Valentino Garavani, Valentino: The Last Emperor
3) Anyone who hasn’t seen it should watch the BBC mini-series The Human Face with John Cleese and Elizabeth Hurley that came out in 2001. The section about Beauty (all on Youtube, with part 1 of it embedded below) is my favorite, but the other three episodes are great too.
More and more am I digging The Stone, NYT’s pop-philosophy section of its online blog, The Opinionator. Andy Martin’s piece, The Phenomenology of Ugly, may center around the trivial topic of a bad haircut, but more importantly, he expounds on what I have always said: It’s okay to care about being beautiful. Well, more eloquently:
“I always laugh when somebody says, “don’t be so judgmental.” Being judgmental is just what we do. Not being judgmental really would be like death. Normative behavior is normal. That original self-conscious, slightly despairing glance in the mirror (together with, “Is this it?” or “Is that all there is?”) is a great enabler because it compels us to seek improvement. The transcendent is right here right now. What we transcend is our selves. And we can (I am quoting Sartre here) transascend or transdescend. The inevitable dissatisfaction with one’s own appearance is the engine not only of philosophy but of civil society at large. Always providing you don’t end up pulling your hair out by the roots.”
The tension between our American impulse to “be the best that you can be,” but to “not judge a book by it’s cover,” while also remembering that “beauty is only skin deep,” has always fascinated me because it seems like it’s an impossible balance to achieve. The contradiction between these statements is probably remedied by something like “everything in moderation,” another truism that is mildly sickening.
I’m often criticized for having high standards, and for being judgmental. But I’ve always felt that if I’m going to be the best I can be, everyone else out there should be the same. Likewise, why only apply that to the kind of person you are inside? If this is our world, and it’s the only one we have (for right now), I want it to be the best it can be too. And that means I (and as many people around me as possible) should look the part. It’s not shallow — as Martin says, it’s just society. As much as I write, think about and comment on the appearance of people, it doesn’t come from a judgey place; I simply expect a lot from the images presented to me. And to me, that’s more noble than simply not caring.