Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Illusion of Beauty

"It's amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness."
~Leo Tolstoy

It amazes me that even today, settled into the 21st Century, with all the knowledge of the preceding generations available to us, we still hold tight to the illusion of beauty.  It sometimes feels to me like the human race is devolving rather than advancing.  If you're of my generation, a child of a baby-boomer, witness to the opening of the collective mind during the later part of the 20th century, you'll be acutely aware, and probably profoundly affected, by the efforts of our parents, particularly our mothers, who fought for freedom and equality for all women.

So much of what I enjoy as an woman today is thanks to the wisdom and determination of other women, courageous enough to stand at the helm of controversy and unpopularity in order to open the doors of opportunity for the rest of us.  I never forget this. But sadly I see it is often women themselves who undermine these hard-fought freedoms.  Who prefer instead to hold to the false perception that beauty=good.  What is worse is our insane perceptions of what is actually beautiful.

In my opinion, one of the greatest illusions we have yet to overcome is the illusion of beauty.  A physically beautiful person consciously, or sub-consciously being perceived as the epitome of good.  It's wrong...simply wrong.  Physical beauty DOES NOT equal good!  On both sides of that coin there are beautiful people who are both beautiful inside and out, but then there are lots who are not.  

It saddens me most of all to see young girls today and their unguided attempts at dressing themselves.  Call me conservative, call me modest, but I'm just not one for seeing an 11 year old (even younger) dressed up like an 18 year old.  What age is too young for heavy make-up, heels, super-mini skirts, and push up bras (even without boobs)?? Now, sure, there is a time and place for young women to experiment with fashion, image, and style, but I don't think that school is the place for it. 

We are a generation of working mothers, but does that give us an excuse to disconnect from the fashion trends of tweens and teenagers?  Are we guiding our daughters properly in their fashion choices?  Are we teaching them about the realities of perception, male desire, and exploitation? Or, are we just too busy preening our own feathers, and forgetting that young girls are not yet women and these things are not always instinctual? 

Growing up, my sister and I had an amazing great aunt called Alice. Alice was old fashioned, she was big into self-respect, lady-like behavior, afternoon-tea, and always carrying a lace handkerchief.  Many of her ideas were to me, novel, the ideas of an innocent age.  But so much of what she taught us has proved invaluable to me as an adult. 

Alice told us to always dress neatly because other people will judge us only by what they see, until they know us well; and their judgements will affect our progress and our happiness.  I realize that so much of this is true, but I didn't think much of it at the time.  Alice, took this one step further.  She told me what modern perceptions of neatness were, what having a skirt too short meant, heals to high, necklines too low.  She told us that by all means, choose these clothes, but be prepared to have your intellect undermined and your credibility damaged...these things were important to her, and to my own mother.

It is up to each of us to make choices about how we present ourselves to the world. I believe it is also a critical reality that we understand how our choices are perceived by others...whether these perceptions are right or wrong. After all, perception is reality, and it is perceptions that will determine the course of so many of our connections. 

I have all this in front of me as my own daughter heads into second grade, already influenced by a classroom of kids who, although only a year older in age, are leagues ahead of her in self-perception and maturity.  My daughter is only now beginning to lift her head from a book and noticing what the stylish kids are wearing. What worries me the most is what these kids are actually wearing...or almost wearing.

My advice to her is simple! In the words of Scott Westerfeld:

"What you do, the way you think, makes you beautiful."

Your thoughts??