I took a walk today and the trees and the sky and the geese and the translucent air were just spectacular. A glance in just about any direction would pile on heart-stopping reds and yellows and Christmas-tree green and summer-tree green all suspended on an arc of faultless blue. It was stunning. I like it best when the trees are just starting to turn, or, in the spring, when they’re just starting to bloom. At each season’s zenith, I find the magnitude of beauty overwhelming. I just can’t assimilate it all then. The season is late this year, so I got to look forward to it longer, for which I also feel somewhat guilty. I have to consider that global warming is the reason, and question whether I’m really doing my part. I can easily set forth with a vituperative discourse against the powers that be who would deny the desecration being done to this planet. But it also matters what car I drive, the products I buy, the organizations I support. Specifically, how can I say I love my children and not concern myself with leaving them a bankrupt global inheritance that would vitiate all other concerns?
I have children as beautiful as this day. “You’re my mother”, they all sneer, “You have to say that!” Of course I’m not objective – perish the thought that I would be. But everybody says it. Not that “everybody” is necessarily a dependable authority on anything. When we argue about “reality TV”, they tell me that everybody watches it. That takes care of everybody as a reliable source of anything. Inherent to all of human nature is a lowest common denominator.
Don’t you ever wonder why most media only appeals to the lowest common denominator in all of us? Because – if it were to appeal to our higher selves, when the commercials come on, our cognition and our conscience might be engaged enough to resist whatever’s being peddled. Beauty has traditionally been misused as a seduction. Today advertising has usurped beauty and repackaged it as a commodity.
I want my children to appreciate their beauty and to bask in it just as they would a beautiful day like today. This is not arrogance or conceit. It is considered insensitive, superficial, and even somewhat gauche to shrug off a Van Gogh or a tropical sunset. Why should it be any different when it comes to oneself? Beauty is meant to be enjoyed, but it makes no more sense to be prideful or supercilious about one’s looks than it does bragging that one was born with a pancreas.
I am not of course referring to some sort of commercial idea of beauty. We are so blasted with market-driven images of attractiveness that it is difficult to envision a human being or a depiction of a human being that is both pleasant-looking and asexual. Especially when it comes to little girls, not even children are G-rated anymore. Try to imagine beauty that is not in the service of sexuality, or sexuality that is not in the service of spending. Kind of hard, isn’t it? Even 2500-pound cars are billed as having “sexy lines”. What a trivialization of beauty that it has become synonymous with sex! And what a trivialization of sex that it has become synonymous with consumption!
And this confusion around beauty and sex really is more pronounced for women. And the age at which girls are objectified just gets pushed younger and younger. A few years back, little girls were allowed to dress as little girls through size 14. Now belly shirts and bikini-waist jeans and nonexistent shorts are marketed to toddlers. To get back to TV, take the usualholiday episodes. The men are dressed for December: sweaters, turtlenecks, cords to the ankles. The women look as if they just stepped off the beach.
It is worse for Black women, who are both commercialized and denigrated at the same time.
And then it all comes to a crashing halt in middle age, after which we have no standard of beauty for women at all. Is that because older women are no fun to have sex with? That’s ironic, because middle age is when so many women become a whole lot hornier. Older men can be “distinguished”, thereby still worth looking at, and, for better or worse, marketable. Try and find a gender-neutral word for “distinguished”!
If we are to step outside of market-driven standards for a moment, there really is an age at which beauty becomes a combination of physical characteristics and character. An amalgam of what you have on the outside and who you are on the inside. Some time between 40 and 50 the face starts to tell the tale, for good or for ill. When it is said that someone’s face “has character”, that is not generally meant as a compliment. How unfortunate, and how revealing of the speaker, who must be somehow unsettled by the notion of character.
And old age should be like this October day. Would that we all go out in a blaze of glory!