Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Pretty"

I know, I know…our attraction to physically pretty people is somehow encoded in our DNA as an imperative. Survival of the fittest and all that. But our humanity should raise us above our genes, and it far too seldom does.

One of the least followed of biblical teachings is "Judge not, lest you be judged." We are continually judging other people...and ourselves…using arbitrary standards imposed upon us. By whom, exactly? No one seems to know. And, if we have an iota of concern for how we compare to other people, or of our relationships to the rest of humanity, we inevitably suffer from them.

Surely there are people who are sufficiently self confident that how they see themselves when compared to others is a non-issue. I truly envy them, but unfortunately have never been one of them…and I fear they are a tiny minority. 

There are scientific studies proving an almost mathematical equation for determining attractiveness—the more “balanced” one’s facial features, the more closely a mirror image of one side of the face matches the other, the more attractive the person is judged to be. And being “pretty” is an incalculable advantage on almost every level of human interaction. “Pretty” people tend to be the first hired, the first to be promoted. They tend to marry other pretty people. While this may have a certain general, utterly unemotional logic rooted in genetic imperatives, the fact is that our preoccupation with beauty causes incalculable pain and suffering for millions and millions of people who are made aware that they are not pretty.

The prejudice toward attractiveness and appeal is perhaps even more blatantly obvious when it comes to our pets. Go to any animal shelter where pets are offered for adoption. Which ones get adopted first? The cute little puppies and kittens, the handsome older animals, of course. But what of that runt in the litter, or that sad-eyed, scraggly mutt with his tail between his legs? Are they any less deserving of a good home? Though I have no figures on which to base this statement, I will be willing to bet that far more "ugly" animals are killed by "humane societies" than are handsome ones.

Are ugly creatures, human and animal, less worthy of love? It breaks my heart to see the fuss made over the cute little human darlings while the heavy-set kid with thick lips or a big nose or a receding chin is all but totally ignored.

And our society goes to great lengths to perpetrate this injustice. Turn on any commercially produced television program. Count the number of pretty people, then count the number of average-looking or less-than-average. Odds are the proportion of pretty people is many, many times larger than the ratio of attractive to not-so-attractive in society in general. And how many unattractive actors, proportionately, ever reach the status of stars? It is the beautiful people, in movies and in life, who are the “stars.” The rest are “character actors.”

Fortunately, there is hope for everyone. We all can recall certain incidents, certain encounters, certain seemingly insignificant moments which somehow permeate deeply into our souls and remain with us throughout our lives. On the subject of being “pretty”—a very sensitive one for me, who has never been pretty—one such moment still fills me with wonder and heartbreaking joy. Many years ago, I was in a restaurant seated directly across a table with a man and a woman both of whom were, by any scientific or general measure of beauty or physical attractiveness, singularly unattractive; by most people’s standards they would be thought of as ugly. The man was grossly overweight with a rough, pockmarked face, which was totally lacking in scientific "balance." The woman looked like a cruel caricature of the Wicked Witch of the West. (And even as I write this I am truly ashamed of myself for perpetrating the cruelty by describing them in this way.) 

But the thing that matters, the thing has stayed with me all these years, is that as they looked at each other and held hands across the table, they radiated such a powerful sense of love that it, for me, completely redefined the word "beauty." They had each other. They loved each other. The "rules of physical attractiveness" didn't matter. What I thought or you thought or the world thought didn't matter. What possibly could?

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).


1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

One of the things I've had to contend with over the years is the number of my friends who look at my husband and tell me "He's gorgeous!" Then his friends look at me, turn and ask him "Why?" They don't even try to lower their voice.

It used to bother me, but over the last twenty years, I stopped giving a you-know-what. It doesn't matter. What they think doesn't impact us.

But it really sucks being on the receiving end of those comments for a while.