In trying to figure out exactly what beauty is, I found that first I needed to understand who it was for. All roads seemed to lead to an external confirmation of the outward expressions of oneself. Everything from beauty pageants to the show “Ugly Betty” alluded to the idea that our societal working definition of beauty, however vague, cannot be defined internally. You can’t be beautiful unless some else thinks you are. More than that, it’s not enough for it to just be known; beauty must be stated or reacted to in order to exist.
A. So say others think I’m beautiful but I myself don’t agree. People smile wider when they see me, people go out of their way to make me more comfortable, people take every opportunity they get to offer their confirmations of the success of my physicality. Does the beauty exist then? And now since I’ve experienced what it’s like to move through space with the social status classified as beauty, what then? Most likely I will enjoy how it feels to be treated with an elevated regard from others. I will probably enjoy the compliments and in turn make an effort to maintain those features that garner those compliments, I may even make efforts to “fix” everything else so that other features will also become compliment-worthy. Now I start to second-guess why I did not think I was beautiful in the first place – only sometimes. For the most part I still maintain that I am nothing more than a vessel for improvement and each improvement I make provokes more and more positive reactions. These positive reactions give me confidence to approach and be approached because I have repeatedly received confirmation of my social status from others. Now something happens. I get sick, I oversleep, I’m stressed to the point of visible deterioration – something happens that makes it so my outwardness is below the usual standard I hold myself to, it may even still be above the standard of my former unimproved self, but whatever the case may be, it is a deviation. Just as quickly the warmness fades, the smiles disintegrate, compliments are replaced by others scrambling to offer excuses for appearing as less than the usual beautiful person that they have come to expect, if not require. It’s almost as if I have offended people in some way. It is like having a warm blanket ripped of my arms on the coldest day of the year. I never want to commit this transgression ever again, I just want my blanket back. So I recover or reemploy whatever regimens it takes to return to my former version of a version of myself. Without this I do not feel whole and I do not feel safe; I’m either vulnerable to the crisp chill of the world or a slave to the word “beauty”.
B. Now, say I think I am ugly. Others do not react to me accordingly. I get an average amount of compliments and nothing said or done to the contrary. I still think I am ugly. I see no room for improvement and so I do not try to improve. No one is bothered because the little I do is acceptable to them. They may even envy the obvious effortlessness, I may even receive even more praise because of this. The fact that I do not agree with them is not out of the ordinary, I may even be praised more because of my modesty. All the while my view of myself remains unaffected, but I still move through space socially classified as beautiful and possibly proceed as in A.
C. Say I believe I am ugly and others believe so as well. There is no warmness, no smiles, no compliments and I am well aware of the reason why. Others write me off as inwardly unpleasant and unapproachable because that is how they’ve deemed my outward appearance. I’m greeted by unpleasant looks when approaching others. I see the familiar looks ranging from disgust to indifference whenever I walk into a room. Now when meeting new people, I anticipate them not wanting to be around me for very long. I do not look into mirrors for very long. I fear that when others are whispering around me that it is actually me they are whispering about. Even if someone does say something positive about my looks I do not believe them; I think they are lying to make me feel better, or worse, poking fun at my unsightliness at my expense. All social interactions begin to feel like this regarding other aspects as well. It’s possible that I choose a likable aspect of my personality to over-compensate for what I lack appearance-wise and play out that caricature of myself like a theater puppet in order to feel comfortable in social situations. It is possible that I have endured so much mistreatment because of undesirable appearance that I have become aggressive as a defense mechanism. I greet others with all the hostility I expect to receive so that instead of allowing others to find me unpleasant because of my appearance, they find me unpleasant because of my sourness. It is also possible that I detract myself from social situations altogether, wanting to be myself but not finding many who are interested in myself if my visible self is not appealing. And so I have two choices: strive to present a better physical self in order to gain enough approval to be my internal self and proceed as in A. or become a socially detached or overcompensating slave to the word “ugly”.
D. Now let’s say that I think I’m beautiful, and no one else thinks so. Then what? If no one ever calls me pretty, if no one ever compliments me in any way, if no one ever acknowledges my outward self as something even slightly pleasing to be in the presence of, does that self-proclaimed beauty exist? Am I allowed to claim that status in society if I am not reacted to as a holder of that status? Is it enough for me to award myself the title being beautiful but to not experience the privileges that it would otherwise entail? In some ways it is because I am not deemed beautiful socially that allows me to be unconditionally beautiful in my own opinion; my beauty is contingent on a knowing and a feeling that is internally self-actualized. Still, on some level I am forced to be aware that my status as I move through space is less than that of someone who is considered beautiful because others react to me that way, but still, I choose to interact as though I am unfazed by that fact. Is this because I want to challenge others to see me the way I see myself? If so, if their minds remain unchanged is it a waste? Or do I do this as a means to try and transcend the working definition of beauty altogether? Reclaim it as something other than the world’s reaction to someone’s physical elements but instead as an internal attitude and a way of moving through space, as a force swimming fiercely against the current, a slave to neither beauty, because I’ve never been granted this status in order to fear its revocation, nor ugliness because I’ve disallowed myself to interact with others according to how they react to me.
Ideally we all believe that we are beautiful and are all reacted to as such but we all know that that is not usually the case. Many of us probably experience a mixture of one or more or all four scenarios at once or experience one or more these scenarios at different points in our lives. Some people feel like A. with makeup on and like C. without it. Some people might feel like C. in middle school and become B. after high school and D. in senior adulthood. It all varies, I guess.
So why didn’t I write a scenario where someone feels beautiful and is reacted to as being as beautiful as they feel? Frankly, because I haven’t the vaguest sense of what that’s like.