Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Beauty And The Eye of the Beholder

That's where beauty is supposed to be: in the eye of its beholder. On the whole women don't see themselves as beautiful, even when the outside society might deem them so. Is that true about men, too? Do men dislike their bodies as intensely as many women seem to dislike theirs? That would be a good research project to do, to find out what men of all ages and races and physical conditions think about the physical attractiveness of their bodies. Or do they think about it much at all?

And if they don't, how much time and energy and bad emotion do women spend on musing over what is wrong with their bodies? What could be done with all that released energy if we could all make peace with our hard-working bodies?

A new book on how women feel about their bodies (not good) has just come out. But the book negates those feelings by showing photographs of bodies which truly are beautiful, in different ways and in different idioms of beauty. A quote from the review:

The self-criticisms by the women photographed in the nude have a universal quality in these days of constant media assault by perfect female bodies (often digitally enhanced). But the surprise of a powerful first book by Seattle photographer Rosanne Olson is: Many of the harsh self-criticisms come from women who might seem to have little reason to complain.

Consider Jessica, 23, with long blond hair and a lithe young body, attributes that many other women could surely covet. Jessica wishes she could change her smallish breasts and her imperfect stomach, but concedes, "We women think we're either too fat or too skinny -- that we aren't what we wish we were."

Olson's "This Is Who I Am: Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes" (Artisan, 116 pages, $25.95) is a slim little volume with the lofty goal of helping to change that, one mind at a time.

Its revealing photographs and startling interviews provide a devastating look at women's dissatisfaction with their own bodies, often born during young womanhood and lasting decades afterward. But this remarkable book also offers a persuasive argument for greater acceptance and compassion for one's own body, as well as those of other women with other shapes.

Mmm. Where does all this dissatisfaction come from? I'm not sure, but the popular culture surely has its role to play by showing so many apparently perfect (though often photographically enhanced) women and by using a particular relatively rare body type (tall, slim but with large breasts) as the only beautiful one.

The body fixing game is one that nobody will ever win. By the game I mean the belief that if only something had been fixed life would then be perfect. If I got smaller/bigger/perkier breasts or a tinier nose or whiter teeth or if I lost ten pounds or managed to grow my legs five inches, then, but only then, life would be wonderful! It won't be. For one thing, something else would immediately look like it needs fixing next. For another thing, we age and then the battle against wrinkles and gravity would start. It's a rigged game, a hopeless game, a game which only benefits the sellers of all those fixing materials.

This is not to say that it would be easy to step out of the game and to refuse to play it. Books showing different ways to see beauty are useful in that, and so is just trying to refuse to play the game. Sure, take care of your body, exercise it and decorate it and honor the fact that it has taken you to this point in time at least. But it will not take you to paradise through the fixing game.