▼On Beauty Within & Without▼
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In the previous iteration, we illustrated the body image hurdle women (and in many cases, men also) face. All of them rooted in the core question: How unique, special, beautiful/handsome, as opposed to “average” do you feel? “Average” is the word most beautiful Chinese women disagreeing with an compliment often use in describing themselves.
Sadly, this genuine sensibility — erroneously borrowed from culture — is a dangerous conformist inclination regarding woman's worth and beauty. With lasting self-esteem implications.
So why do we say such views are borrowed? Consistently, I find — and TC Candler's annual 100 List is no exception — that every time well-resourced entities claim or compile a “Most Beautiful” list, without fail, those turn out to be celebrities. Which makes you wonder, why don't they just name it “The 100 Most Beautiful Famous [Mostly Caucasian or Light-Skinned] Women & Models”? Because that's where most of the indoctrination regarding who looks average or not, begins.
A woman's worth is not in how “hot” men think she looks for she neither is a dish nor ever was a temperature. Nor is it in how “fat” pretentious ignoramuses think she looks. But in the sheer dignity and universality of her rarely petite, perhaps statuesque, often voluptuous beauty; the universality of her vulnerability—and hence, rightful demand for security, respect and accountability—and the majesty and essence of the good she embodies and positive influence she commands. Intellectually, aesthetically, ethically. Yet, look what the Fashion Industry has done to the self-worth of the largest segment of women (i.e., natural woman), relegating them to something even it, can't get right: Plus-Size.
As with the beauty and worth of Brittany Gibbons' amazing feat, or the ridicule this supposedly 'heavyset' pole dancing hobbyist' self-confidence overcame on America's Got Talent, I see beauty in ALL women. Airbrushed or not. Ranked or not. That's just how I'm wired. I'd argue, in part because I apply critical reasoning to my observations of what constitutes a woman's worth. Which has more to do with her individuality and accountability than it does with borrowed opinions of how “fat” or not she is. That's why whoever coined the term “Plus-Size” — and I join Tyra Banks in her distaste — the standard of “beauty” most so-called “advanced” societies tolerate continue to tolerate, remains flawed. It does not reflect reality. And Ajay Rochester has agreed with me.
The word “imperfection” is hypocritically thrown in the mix (in the case of TC Candler's annual 100 List), with apparent self-congratulation. And yet, there's nothing close to a “Plus-Size” to add credence to the “artform” TC Candler and his so-called “independent critics” claim. Hence, a romanticized standard of beauty and perfection enamored by racially biased Hollywood, Western pop culture and Social Media worldviews so pervasive it is not only felt, but also promulgated in East Asia, where as I noted in one tweet recently: #ThingsYouDidntKnow: In 2002, Denzel Washington Movies Were in #Lithuanian Movie Theaters. NOT in #China. EVEN in late 2014. That tweet was based on first-hand (current) experience living in both countries. And I cited The Independent vis-à-vis revelations that came to light following the devastating Sony Hack.
Like beauty, there is plenty of (movie) talent and perfection to go around. Yet with the exception of the clued in such as Bill Gates' ilk, we live in a world where the rich and powerful live in perpetual denial of the, and their implicit and explicit bias problem. Much the same way Hollywood lives in denial of its cocaine and heroine problem. So on nights like the 87th Academy Awards, Hollywood converges to tell itself — like the video above — that its standard of beauty, talent and perfection fairly represent the vast artistic pool. Which isn't the case. And model Cameron Russell has already echoed that.
We continue to be addicted to the image. Pretty pictures, airbrushed images. 'Pretty' everything. Or as comedian Bill Maher likes to say, “living in a bubble of irreality”. Look carefully around — from Twitter to Instagram — and you see many lack the humility and courage to stop, and simply accept the world as it really is, looks, and therefrom, derive accurate self worth. A world where beauty and perceptions of innocence (until proven guilty) is “whitewashed” while movie makers and specifically, the Entertainment and Fashion industry and mainstream media, which could positively impact and correct misperceptions of beauty and social justice, literally silently smoke, then shrug it off in response, when confronted.Whether one is talking about unarmed Black folks constantly under siege and shot to death with impunity by Law Enforcement anywhere in the West, to diversity at the OSCARS or Faux News, the question is the same: How is it possible to accurately appreciate and portray beauty, talent and justice when even my Chinese friends are asking, “How come there're no people like me and you?”
This is why even Brené Brown at first got silence when during her TED Talk, she said: “You cannot talk about race without talking about privilege. And when people start talking about privilege, they get paralyzed by shame.” And similarly, Law Professor Lawrence Lessig was right that: “You don't wake up one day no longer a racist. It takes generations to tear that intuition, that DNA, out of the soul of a people.”
As the 87th Academy Awards approached and nominees were announced, NBC noted: “All of this year's Academy Award acting nominations went to white actors.” The Guardian called out the “Oscars whitewash” noting the 'Selma' movie snub. So have The Huffington Post, Daily Beast, and US Magazine, just to name a few. Click twice below to zoom.The more one is in touch with the world and its rich diversity, the easier it is to transcend all lipservice regarding equal opportunity and representation, and actually take concrete steps.
Take for instance Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc and her Atlas of Beauty Project. Hers is far from perfect. And skeptics may allude to reinforced stereotypes, judging by the 37 countries visited, facial features and familiar physiques captured/featured in this CNN sample.
Still, what she is doing is laudable. And much more grounded in thought-provoking reality than TC Candler's follow-Hollywood-and-Fashion-world-bias model as her stated goal is to search for beauty in different countries and cultures without being obsessed with “fashion or skinny.” And it's that kind of artistic (internal) revolution that appreciates the beauty of this African stranger I came across thanks to someone's tweet having nothing to do with beauty, Hollywood or Fashion. The reality I live dictates and demands something all-encompassing, bleaker; and yet powerfully enchanting and truer. For example, the girl right above was fleeing Boko Haram when her image was captured: Conscientiousness in beauty and vice versa. That's why delineating beauty growing up by the ocean once upon a time, was, and remains a natural rather than glamorous affair.
It is why some, myself included, rarely watch the OSCARS, Emmys and the like. Apart from the fact that while we're happy for others successes, like Sisyphus, we already have our hands full dealing with the false promise of meritocracy problem, as it is.
Understanding true beauty came to me through the actions of good, positive people and inspiring natural landscapes that instilled curiosity, respect and awe despite the bleak state of affairs my own dire circumstances and human condition constantly reminded, and still remind me of.That's why I have said that beauty has no reason to call attention to itself; nothing to prove, nothing to compare. Neither does perfection in its relentless or subtle pursuit of beauty. It just simply is: in a constant, quiet, natural, positive, spiritual state of being, becoming, developing; drifting farther and farther away from all manifestations of cynicism, envy, jealousy and negativity.Or you may simply be concerned; maybe overbearing and overprotective of a friend, sister or loved one who is deemed precious, or beautiful. But one question you might consider: Are you robbing them of their right to live happily, build and nurture new relationships without feeling suffocated? I know, and have known in America, Asia and Europe, Mainland Chinese and (South) Koreans imprisoned — from the familial to the college dorm context — by roommates, close friends, and younger or older sisters or brothers alike. Beautiful adult human beings who can't go out although the same people imprisoning them venture out at will to grow their human relations or relationships. And yet, as if by levitation, to carry enough positive thought within so as to rise boundlessly and soar above all that is unlike the enduring, the positive, the authentic, the meek, the equitable, is to me, a beautiful thing. And that, I would say, is the beginning of COOL, of inner beauty and importantly: getting out of the way of others' beauty glow. Because ultimately, transcendent true beauty, I believe, is made complete in giving back, sharing and encouraging individual growth, happiness and progress. Not imprisoning. Not merely in narcissistic radiance, outward gloss or expectation of favors just because “I'm hot" and “pretty”.
Thankfully, both Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as intruigingly, a certain — some would say beautiful — fairy, appreciated that “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not”.
Discovering the natural beauty of Damaris Lewis (above) through both her penchant for the lighthearted and apparent confidence in herself for example, was refreshing. For one reason, we live in a world of endless layers of double standards regarding which appropriately, Sam veda said: “People of double standards never experience happiness" and Sri Sathya Sai Baba added: "Treat all as your own self. Do not have a double standard.”
So that the same ones for example, who rant, rail and throw hissy fits because lacking self-insight, their mindset tells them it's OK to either trivialize discrimination, injustice and/or racism. Or simply, to wish others 'shut up' about the misfortunes of others because they find the subject inconvenient to the self-indulgence at hand; ridicule reality as a "whine" while shamelessly presuming simultaneously that they're the only one who oppose rape, or see it fit to silence powerful, morally arresting observations and critique, for instance. Noam Chomsky's answer: “For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.” After all, once you otherize people, you can't understand them or get close to their core because you've dehumanized them, essentially robbing them of their true beauty and dignity, as well as *your* capacity for appreciating *your* own inner beauty. And that's how the cycle of mistrust perpetuates, until corrected. Bill Maher though incisively cuts through the post-racial fantasy (and nonsense) and nails it: “The new racism is the denial of racism”.
With the aggregate cost of inequality, pathology of joblessness and of privilege, and the kind of stress the absence of a level playing field leaves many trying but doomed to fail — stress bags under eyes and constantly sleep-deprived or not — on the backburner of your mind. Stop and attempt to empathize, if you will, with the plight of "others" trying to make headway in an industry whose reality of beauty is stuck in the 1950s or 20s. And the opportunity to "re-learn" (if your attitude and mindset is right) will enrich you. Because human beings possess a capacity for appreciating and perpetuating true beauty.
The true seeker of beauty within and without weighs, introspects, retrospects, and accordingly: corrects erroneous, hypocritical postulates in furtherance of a better human experience for so-called "others" in this selfame World. Anything less, in my view, is a misunderstanding of what beauty entails which is why Saint Augustine was right in reminding us: "The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page". Travel defined broadly, socially and encompassing all that wandering minds, hearts, eyes, ears, and souls learn and unlearn in opening themselves to a higher concept of beauty.
That precisely, is the reason I highlighted the equitable in a previous paragraph for beauty is not, or needn't be a local or ethnic construct. And I'm not even sure it is 'in the eye of the beholder' either, a point Steve Jobs alone offers ample proof of. As Beyoncé said, “It’s important to concentrate on other qualities besides outer beauty”.
So let's conclude this Safari with (excerpted) favorite insights by my great mentor John O'Donohue, who wonderfully and beautifully (I'm sure he'd agree), was blessed with the honor of dying peacefully in his sleep two days after his 52nd birthday. Click image to Listen/Download below, or follow Dove.