I recently encountered a woman whose physical appearance momentarily shocked me. She had had so much plastic surgery that almost every feature of her face had been pumped up, tightened and stretched to the extreme that her appearance was disturbingly distorted. After my initial shock I then felt compassion for someone who seemed to hate herself so much that she would rather have almost any fake version of herself, no matter how extreme or unnatural, than reveal to the world her real self.
We seem to have universally accepted the bizarre notion that our worth as women is determined by the number of people, especially men, who find us attractive - what has been called our “Romantic Market Value.” So many of us have been seduced into thinking that not only is our worth not innate, it is a commodity whose value is arbitrated solely by others. We are not beautiful or worthy until someone else tells us we are.
Consequently millions (if not billions) of dollars, hours, and thoughts are devoted to making ourselves more appealing to more people. If nothing else, imagine what women could achieve if all that time, money and energy was directed into more lofty endeavors, such as the arts, sports, politics and leadership, and science and technology? Perhaps then we might have some chance at closing the gender chasm in the important arenas of wealth and power?
But even more importantly, what if personal attraction has a deeper purpose? What if our deep misunderstandings around this whole aspect of human experience, that prompts so much of our shame, guilt, humiliation, isolation and heartbreak, can be changed simply by adopting a different interpretation of beauty, one that could ameliorate, if not completely eradicate, this deep well of emotional pain of most women?
On one level it would seem that our accepted notions of feminine beauty have been corrupted by masculine lust to such an extent that they have been reduced to a demeaning process by which men determine who is worthy of sexual conquest. This is not the only process at play in our society’s attitudes to beauty, but it is the pervasive and powerful contributor to a shockingly widespread practice of appraising and rating women’s worth purely based on their superficial physicality. Although it is disturbing that whole websites are dedicated to calibrating women’s beauty, what is sadder is that women voluntarily participate in such dehumanizing and rituals.
When Jaques Lusseyrand was a boy he had an accident at school that left him completely and permanently blind. In his book “Against the Pollution of the I”, he says that because of his disability, he had very little to offer other people which, he realized, had the salutary effect of sifting out the people who just wanted to exploit and take advantage of others, those who were accustomed to using others for their own selfish purposes. This meant that the only people who were attracted to him were those who truly loved him and wanted to help him. This support from others allowed him to flourish and ultimately to find the strength to become a French resistance fighter in the Second World War.
What if our physical characteristics, like Lusseyrand’s blindness, are signals we send out to the world as stage one of a process that both brings to us the people who are meant to be in our lives, and blocks those who are not? What if our physical appearance is a non-verbal language that provides an initial statement of who we are, which is only receivable by those people who come ready to participate in a truly authentic relationship with us, ready to give as well as receive, to truly love and be loved in return?
An Australian social commentator, who had just turned 40, recently wrote about her realization that she was no longer looking for the cool people, she was now looking for “her” people. Maybe if we see our physical attributes as an integral part of the process of finding “our” people, we may see those attributes, and the blessings they bring, differently.