Beauty and Vibrancy
It is important to take care of yourself and try to look your best. Letting your looks go or becoming unhealthy and sloppy is unappealing and disrespectful to yourself and those you love. On the other hand, when people focus exclusively on how they look in a vain effort to seek validation, they lose a certain vibrancy that comes from depth and self-confidence.
In today’s society of never-ending nips and tucks, we forget that the essence of beauty stems from a person’s inner vitality and depth. Vitality often results from leading a multi-dimensional life that involves pursuing one’s passions, being creative, having purpose, and carrying on meaningful relationships.
True beauty is reflected more by demeanor than by a person’s perfect features. In his autobiography, Alan Alda describes being backstage watching an actress play the part of a hideous woman. Alda thought the actress was perfect for the part—she was ugly, had thick fingers, no neck, and a pudgy nose. He was shocked when in the last act, she transformed into a beautiful woman–without any change in makeup. Her fingers and neck actually became slender and long, and her face suddenly looked regal. He realized that the most dramatic transformation comes from the way people hold themselves.
Attractiveness is also a reflection of how we view ourselves. I have a cousin who has a long scar down one side of his face from an accident. When he was a teenager, his father told him that he looked disfigured and pressured him to get plastic surgery.
Embarrassed by his scar, he decided to get the surgery. A few days beforehand, his sister in law—a British catwalk model whom he adored—caught sight of him looking in the mirror while covering the “damaged” side of his face with shaving cream to see how it would look if it were gone. When he told her about the impending surgery, she leaned toward him and whispered emphatically, “Don’t do it. It’s dreadfully sexy.” Her comment transformed the way he viewed his physical appearance, and needless to say, he kept the scar as an asset.
Why People Seek Beauty
Being admired for being attractive feels good. When something feels good, it’s easy to want more of it, whether it’s beauty, wealth, popularity, fame, food, or wine. A dentist once told me “You can never be too beautiful or too rich.” Yet, there is a point where too much focus on beauty (or anything else) tragically takes away from other important facets of your life.
Desperate efforts to look young or sexy sends the message that you have nothing to offer but your youth and beauty.
A person with perfect features and flawless skin who feels insecure and resentful radiates anxiety rather than beauty. When people start “running for their lives”—i.e., running to plastic surgeons biannually, the message they send is one of fear and insecurity. There will always be younger and more beautiful people, so why not appreciate and cultivate greater depth and breadth within ourselves?
How others view you does not lead to fulfillment.
Too much emphasis on our looks steals from us the enjoyment of many other pursuits—intellectual, athletic, and spiritual, for example. How we look has little to do with the fulfillment that comes from meaningful relationships, humor, and creativity, as well as from work, wisdom, solitude, and philanthropy.
Skin-deep beauty, particularly if manufactured, will only attract others who are not interested in much else. Lacking depth and substance, even the most gorgeous woman or handsome man will receive only superficial and short-term interest from others, usually from people looking for a hot evening, a trophy wife, or a cabana boy.
Imagine being extremely beautiful or handsome, and receiving endless adulation. Although the attention may feel good, it can also create increased dependency on other people’s opinion of how you appear.
This dependency develops into a tendency toward self-presentation, that is, presenting only the parts of yourself that will get a desired reaction. You become afraid of developing wrinkles—even smile wrinkles–or showing up without makeup. Your fear of losing admiration has the paradoxical impact of increasing fear of rejection about aspects of yourself that remain undisclosed—other interests and ideas.
Divorce: Why do some men leave their wives and often find someone younger?
Most men who leave their wives for a younger woman don’t do so because of the wife’s natural aging process. The real causes of divorce are more likely to be one of the following:
1. Couples become resentful from having repressed needs and desires for so long. Resentment erodes relationships.
2. Couples stop taking care of themselves, which shows a lack of self-respect and respect for the other. Taking care of oneself may include trying to look good and stay healthy, but is a far cry from obsessing over eliminating any signs of aging.
3. Lack of growth and change are also a quick road to dull relationships and looking elsewhere for fulfillment.
4. One partner becomes subservient, forfeiting his or her own interests and self-confidence. A woman, for example, may live in the shadow of her husband, becoming a housekeeper at the expense of her own interests. She becomes invisible and undesirable to her partner and unrecognizable to her friends. Sadly, she loses vitality and life force.
5. One partner has always been the unfaithful type or originally got married for superficial reasons.
If you do lose your mate to another person, it’s time to regain your identity by leading a fuller and more passionate life. By developing those aspects of your life that have been neglected, whether pursuing your interests, taking time for friends, philanthropy, or spirituality, developing financial skills, or taking care of your health, body, and yes, your looks, you will ultimately regain the life force and vitality we’re all born with.
The Artifices of Beauty
The interesting thing about beauty is that there isn’t one measure for it, even in one short lifetime. Styles of clothes change, as do the concepts of beauty. The emaciated look may be in now, but not historically so. In “Fiddler on the Roof,” one of the lines is “If I were a rich man, my wife would have a double chin.”
Historical excesses in forced or artificial beauty point to the transitory nature of our own current preferences: African or South American wooden plugs in ear lobes to stretch out the lobes; the old Chinese custom of binding little girls’ feet to keep them small; the Poof, made popular by Marie Antoinette, whose hairdresser piled pads and pomades to raise the hair three feet high—all come and gone.
Beauty care customs that are often viewed as “must-have” in their time can seem almost ludicrous by other cultures in a later era. But at the time, beauty products are endowed with the promise of helping us conform with current trends.
In reality, true beauty is without artifice. Your character eventually shines through any amount of make up or plastic surgery. The way you treat others is remembered always, no matter how flawless your complexion.
I’m all for continuing to do things that will preserve or enhance what nature has given us—that may include having work done for some. But the key lies in choosing a positive attitude about life rather than allowing desperation to take over. Knowing and accepting our aging process liberates us to pursue our life through our own lens, not someone else’s.
Acceptance and confidence in yourself can sustain passion in a relationship better than liposuction and restilin. With each year, the inner self expresses itself more strongly in each line and wrinkle. It becomes impossible to hide your true self. Each person has his or her own individual passions and life experiences that are often best reflected in those very wrinkles we abhor. If we choose to have the expression of our life erased, what does that say about ourselves? Modified or not, the face becomes the true mirror of the soul.
What do you want it to reflect?
by Alison Poulsen, PhD
Read “Aging Gracefully: ‘I can’t do what I used to do. I hate getting old.’”
Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, by Regena Thomashauer (2003).
Why Men Marry Bitches: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Her Man’s Heart, by Sherry Argov.
Beauty Junkies, by Alex Kuczynski, Doubleday, NY (2006).