The Wave in the Mind

The greater truth about beauty is that it is “Life- Deep”. Not “Skin-Deep”

The Wave in the Mind

From time immemorial, we have been besotted by the concept of beauty. A topic deeply personal to all of us.

The questions rages on — Is beauty truly skin deep?

In her book “The Wave in the Mind” — noted philosopher Ursula K Le Guin captures her own travails with beauty in a beautiful passage worth reading. She opines that our cultures often having punishing ideals, around the concept of feminine beauty.

“There are a whole lot of ways to be perfect, and not one of them is attained through punishment.

I think of when I was in high school in the 1940s: the white girls got their hair crinkled up by chemicals and heat so it would curl, and the black girls got their hair mashed flat by chemicals and heat so it wouldn’t curl. Home perms hadn’t been invented yet, and a lot of kids couldn’t afford these expensive treatments, so they were wretched because they couldn’t follow the rules, the rules of beauty.

Beauty always has rules. It’s a game. I resent the beauty game when I see it controlled by people who grab fortunes from it and don’t care who they hurt. I hate it when I see it making people so self-dissatisfied that they starve and deform and poison themselves. Most of the time I just play the game myself in a very small way, buying a new lipstick, feeling happy about a pretty new silk shirt.

There’s the ideal beauty of youth and health, which never really changes, and is always true. There’s the ideal beauty of movie stars and advertising models, the beauty-game ideal, which changes its rules all the time and from place to place, and is never entirely true. And there’s an ideal beauty that is harder to define or understand, because it occurs not just in the body but where the body and the spirit meet and define each other”

#1: Beauty is a highly personal topic, made complex through deeply entrenched social norms and rapidly unfolding societal trends. In today’s world we just have to log on social media to see picture perfect newsfeeds reminding us how imperfect our lives are. It’s like everyone is spending 18 hours a day at the gym.

#2 : When beauty starts getting associated with success, it can set wrong precedents. Create long lasting effects, fostering low self confidence among people, that can last for years. Craft imaginary barriers of entry for those who give up, even before starting, because insecurity creeps in.

#3: And while magazine covers remind us what beauty is in today’s world, there is more awareness around this topic. Yet, most of us cannot fully escape the insecurities that are intrinsically connected to the concept of beauty. I love how Le Guin, touches on her habit of buying lipstick and new shirts to feel more feminine. Captures her remarkable self awareness.

#4: Many of us know that beauty is a game, but this game is not going to end tomorrow. Businesses will continue to objectify beauty and some individuals will benefit from it, while others won’t. We will all secretly want to be a little more beautiful, but as long as we don’t let it define our identity entirely, this insecurity can be kept to a level which is “skin-deep”

Le Guin expounds further into this with another beautiful passage to showcase how aligning love with beauty can change our perceptions to a large extent. She talks about how death illuminates the paradox of beauty. On one hand beauty fades over time, and yet, it is death (which comes at the end of time) that captures a concept of beauty which is truly timeless.

“My mother died at eighty-three, of cancer, in pain, her spleen enlarged so that her body was misshapen. Is that the person I see when I think of her? Sometimes. I wish it were not. It is a true image, yet it blurs, it clouds, a truer image. It is one memory among fifty years of memories of my mother. It is the last in time. Beneath it, behind it is a deeper, complex, ever-changing image, made from imagination, hearsay, photographs, memories. I see a little red-haired child in the mountains of Colorado, a sad-faced, delicate college girl, a kind, smiling young mother, a brilliantly intellectual woman, a peerless flirt, a serious artist, a splendid cook — I see her rocking, weeding, writing, laughing — I see the turquoise bracelets on her delicate, freckled arm — I see, for a moment, all that at once, I glimpse what no mirror can reflect, the spirit flashing out across the years, beautiful.

That must be what the great artists see and paint. That must be why the tired, aged faces in Rembrandt’s portraits give us such delight: they show us beauty not skin-deep but life-deep”

#1- Truth is, we all somewhere want to be beautiful. But beauty alone cannot give us fulfilling relationships that last the test of time or create everlasting happiness

#2- Beauty (like most other things) gets taken for granted over time and stops being the sole differentiator. In all our relationships the people we remember are based to two parameters

  • How they make us feel
  • Morals, characteristics and actions that define their relationship with us over time

It is those memories and characteristics that come to define the ultimate image of their beauty in our eyes.In short, if we live the healthiest, kindest and most proactive life we can, based on our circumstances, we will always be beautiful to those who touch our lives.

Do the rest really matter that much?

Maybe the greater truth about beauty is that it is “Life- Deep”. Not “Skin-Deep”