Reading: On Beauty’s Complications



This week’s links and quotes complicate the idealization and idolization of beauty. The writers below valorize not the power of beauty, but the power of putting it in its place. (Except for that last quote, which plays with beauty’s more dangerous powers.)

  • In an essay on Flavorwire, writer (and LABA alum) Sarah Marian Seltzer writes about Carrie Fisher’s recent comments on her appearance: “In fact, at this particular moment in time, dismissing beauty as unimportant and tedious, as Fisher has done, is positively radical. Today, selfies are celebrated, excellent lipstick is deemed feminist as hell, and putting in effort to look good is in no way seen as incompatible with empowerment. Nor should it be; feminism’s current relationship with beauty is focused on exposing the time and labor behind constructed appearances, and smashing the standards that reinforce white, thin female bodies (which Fisher was famous for having) by showing other bodies and faces as equally beautiful.”
  • You might think living in Los Angeles, land of the ridiculously gorgeous, might trigger body insecurity. Not so for comic and writer Julieanne Smolinski, who writes in New York Magazine‘s “The Cut” of her realization that looking beautiful is actually their job: “Being constantly surrounded by yacht-ad-gorgeous people has actually made me fetishize them less. They range freely among us, and they are often as screwy and regular as I am…My neighbors look traditionally hot because they moved here in the hopes that someday people would want to look at them, professionally. The idea of being assessed by my ability to be attractive — especially while trying to say words well — gives me hives, as it should.”
  • In an essay titled “On being ugly,” Fran Hoepfner investigates her relationship with her own body, and her evolving understanding of the importance (or not) of beauty: “It’s funny, mostly, that we’re in an Age of Everything Is Very Beautiful when I’m super ugly some days and that’s just how it is. Stuff doesn’t fit right, my hair looks weird, my face is bleeding. I’m fine. There are other days. There’s always like some kind of chorus of little no’s every time you say something bad about yourself — aloud, online, whatever. It’s okay! I would so much rather say something aloud about my chubby arms than internalize it until it becomes bottled up, until I’m pulling at the skin alone in my room at 2am trying to figure out what my body is.”
  • From Donna Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History:

“Death is the mother of beauty,” said Henry.
“And what is beauty?”
“Well said,” said Julian. “Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.”
I looked at Camilla, her face bright in the sun, and thought of that line from the Iliad I love so much, about Pallas Athene and the terrible eyes shining.”And if beauty is terror,” said Julian, “then what is desire? We think we have many desires, but we have only one. What is it?”
“To live,” said Camilla.
“To live forever,” said Bunny, chin cupped in palm.

See previous editions of beauty links here and here.

Image by Mark Chadwick