What Is Beauty?

In case you’re wondering, this is not a review of the movie Collateral Beauty, starring Will Smith, nor a review of Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson. Neither was the catalyst for this post, though each has beauty in the title. I’ll tell you what was in a minute. (Oddly enough, I mused about this subject four years ago. You can find that post here.)

   

I sat down with Lippy Lulu, Beauty Guru, to ask her opinion on the question, “What is beauty?” Before you ask, I didn’t give her that name. You can thank Moose Toys for that. She came with tiny lipsticks, a makeup case with brushes, and an eyeshadow array.

    

“Are you asking for a makeover?” she asked, as she reached for her makeup kit.

“Um no. Just want to know what you thought of beauty. What is beauty?”

She didn’t have an answer. And I shouldn’t have expected one from someone who makes her home on my desk.

In a BBC.com article, “The Myth of Universal Beauty,” author David Robson posted the question, “Do standards of beauty change over time?”

At first, I thought about writing a post about his findings, which you can discover for yourself if you click here. But I soon discovered that I wasn’t so much interested in the prevailing standards of beauty as I was in wanting to feel secure within myself if I don’t fit those standards. So, only one statement in the article really resonated with me:

The deeper you look, the harder it is to define beauty.

Ain’t that the truth?

The catalyst for today’s post was my discovery that an acquaintance (let’s call her Sue; not her real name though) was soon to undergo a double mastectomy because of breast cancer. This happened in the same week that a friend (I’ll call her Amy; not her real name either) had a biopsy. I mentioned that in my last post.

Throughout our lives, starting in childhood (Lippy Lulu is a child’s toy after all), we see various images or hear opinions about beauty, particularly what’s beautiful about a woman. Makeup ads advise women to accent their best features through various products. But when you’re a woman faced with the loss of something that is a fundamental part of being a woman, you can’t help pondering the whole subjective notion of beauty and why a paradigm shift might be needed.

When faced with the prospect of having a mastectomy like Sue, Amy asked her husband how he would feel if she had to face that loss. He said, “I’ll take you as you are, no matter what.”

Now, that’s beauty.

Robson, David. “The Myth of Universal Beauty.” BBC Future/BBC News. BBC, 23 June 2015. Web. 07 May 2017.

Collateral Beauty poster from blackfilm.com. Beauty and the Beast poster from impawards.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Lippy Lulu Shopkins™ Shoppie doll by Moose Toys.

Thanks, Winter!

Here in the Midwest, you get used to the temperature changing in the blink of an eye. One day you might have 50-degree (10 Celsius) weather; the next, a steady snowfall with a temperature of 24 (-4 Celsius). I can thank my friend Winter for that.

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Thanks, Winter, though you’re not officially due till next month. But it’s nice that you made your presence felt over the weekend. There was nothing gradual about you, was there? No, you kept snow falling late Friday night and practically all day Saturday. And you’re still here, clinging to the grass, trees, sidewalks, and streets with your icy sheen. I slipped on some ice Sunday and narrowly avoided a face plant, thanks to the quick thinking of a friend who grabbed my arm.

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But, Winter, I can thank you for the way you lace the trees with snow. On my drive to church Sunday, the trees on both sides of the road were so beautifully dressed. I couldn’t get a photo of them because (a) I was driving at the time and (b) my phone had died. But the scene was like a postcard. Perhaps memories like that were simply meant to be savored in the moment and not shut away in a computer the way my other photos are.

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But Winter, with the dichotomy of your hard edges and soft surfaces you remind me to be thankful for the way life is sometimes. Especially this year. I’ve endured the hardness of failure and a parent’s serious illness as well as the softness of caring people. But winter has taught me to find beauty in barrenness. Branches shorn of leaves wear the close-fitting garment of snow much better (IMHO) than evergreen trees. Winter’s barrenness makes spring’s renewal all the more vivid and celebratory. This makes me think that the barrenness of dashed hopes may someday give way to the celebration of a victory wrought by persistence. One can only hope.

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So with Thanksgiving rolling around and you as an early guest, Winter, thanks for the reminder that seasons change. And in the changes, good and bad, I can still give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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Thanksgiving sign from imageslist.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Are You This Rose?

In the U.S., we celebrated Father’s Day the other day, so happy belated Father’s Day to those of you who are dads, even if you don’t live in the U.S. And speaking of dads, the winners of Stacy Nyikos’s picture book, Toby (illustrated by Shawn Sisneros; published by Stonehorse Publishing), are two dads. First, if you’re wondering who Stacy is, check out the interview here.

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Now, let’s get to those winners! Without further ado, they are

Are . . .

Are . . .

Are . . .

Phillip McCollum and Charles Yallowitz!

Congrats, winners! Please confirm below and I’ll snail mail the books to you. By the way, each copy was signed by Stacy and comes with a bookmark. Sweet!

Moving on, let me satisfy your curiosity (if any) about the post title. First, take a look at the photo below. That’s the rose to which I refer. I’ve written about roses before. Oddly enough, I keep learning lessons from them unexpectedly.

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A few days ago, my stress level had tripled thanks to some issues with a freelance project. Ever have one of those days when everything seems to go bad like food forgotten in a refrigerator? That was the kind of day I’d had. I felt like quitting before I could be booted off the project like someone I know had been. My soul felt rubbed raw thanks to some feedback I received.

When a day goes sour, I do what I usually do (besides grab the nearest pint of ice cream)—I headed out for a drive. As I headed outside, I spotted the rose and took a photo. I’m glad I did, because a day later, the branch was barren. Perhaps someone plucked it, since I didn’t see any petals on the ground. But when I saw that rose, instantly my blood pressure decreased.

This lone rose—the product of a prickle-lined cane—reminds me of the struggle to persist despite daunting circumstances. That’s about as far as I can go with the fancy talk. I wanted to come up with metaphors and other poetic language. I even had aspirations of writing a poem—an ode to a rose by a brick wall. But I’m feeling too raw and too lacking in creative juices these days. So I’m telling it straight—without a chaser. But even though I don’t have the right words, I’m still amazed that a thing of beauty like a rose springs from something that looks like the perfect symbol for pain.

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What kind of rose is your life blooming? Perhaps the painful prickles make you doubt you could ever produce anything beautiful. Maybe they make you forget that your life is beautiful. Sometimes I forget that, especially when I doubt my ability to do anything right. That’s why I needed to see that rose, to be reminded that beautiful things are often born out of pain.

Rose cane from mooseyscountrygarden.com. Rose photo taken by L. Marie.

Ain’t She/He a Beaut?

Some blog posts seem to write themselves, and this is no exception. It screamed to be born as I drove out of the parking lot of my local library, and fired my synapses to recall a certain grad lecture at VCFA and a subsequent discussion on beauty.

That’s what I want to talk about. Beauty.

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And what interesting timing. As I began this post, a news story flicked across my screen, declaring that People magazine named Gwyneth Paltrow as the World’s Most Beautiful Woman.

Perhaps when you think of beauty, the poem, “She Walks in Beauty,” by Lord Byron comes to mind. Here’s the first stanza:

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes

But I think about an incident during my undergraduate years at Northwestern. (Go Wildcats!) Senior year, my roommate situation was like a revolving door. One would leave and another would arrive. It was just one of those years.

One of those roommates—let’s call her Marcie—had the kind of Miss America looks that guaranteed her male attention. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say. But I don’t think many people would disagree that Marcie “was in high looks” as Jane Austen would say.

At first, I thought, Great. I’m doomed. Whose gonna notice me with her around? And then, Opportunistic Me thought, Maybe I can get her leftovers. So let’s just say I had a catty reaction to Maricie until I came to know her better. She told me her story: how women instantly hated her because of her looks (and I admit I looked shamefaced at that); how some men only wanted her because of her looks. In other words, how objectified she felt.

Long story short, that conversation made a deep impression on me—but not then. I was too busy crying my own river, and couldn’t really see beyond my own nose. Cut to now, with the writing of one of my novels and the point of this post. You see, my main character is physically beautiful. Because of that conversation with Marcie, I wanted to write about a heroine for whom beauty isn’t working—as in Marcie’s case. It slams shut some doors and causes her pain.

YET my character is beautiful. And I can’t think of a book besides Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, and Sarah, Plain and Tall that I’ve read where the heroine wasn’t described as “beautiful,” “pretty,” “in high looks.” (Note the words I’ve read. You might have read others, and I welcome any suggestions of titles.)

I don’t mean those books where the heroine says in that self-deprecating way, “Oh, I’m not beautiful,” but really is, since everyone reminds her that she is, and even animals follow her around. If there’s a love interest/hero, he’s smoking hot—unless he’s Mr. Rochester. But notice the actors cast in the most recent adaptations of Jane Eyre: Michael Fassbender and Toby Stephens.

Actor Michael Fassbender arrives for the BAFTA awards ceremony in London

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They’re not exactly how Charlotte Brontë described Rochester.

The love interest for my main character isn’t what you would call hot. But I fight against the temptation to make him handsome somehow. Kinda like in that stereotypical way when someone takes off a pair of glasses and somehow is an instant knockout. “Oh my goodness! I didn’t notice! You’re gorgeous!!!” I cringe at scenes like that. Just like I cringe at the fact that no one seems to recognize that Clark Kent is Superman, simply because he’s wearing glasses. But I digress. The temptation is there, because I wonder if readers will be turned off if he isn’t hot.

This comes from my often shallow outlook. As I mentioned before, I’m pretty middle grade in my thinking. I used to rate comic book or animation characters by their hotness. Zuko in Avatar? Hot. Tony Stark? Hottie. Thor? Hubba, hubba. (Okay, I shouldn’t lie and say used to. I still rate them that way.)

The issue for me about my main character’s love interest isn’t his looks but his character: how he treats my MC. He’s there for her when others reject her. He’s faithful and loving, but also stubborn and taciturn sometimes. In other words, he’s a real guy, instead of the fantasy I keep trying to inject in my fantasy story.

This is not to say that a hot guy or three aren’t lurking somewhere in my book. But I struggled with whether they really served a purpose, or if their inclusion was my way of worshiping at the altar of beauty. (The jury’s still out on that one.)

What’s your take on beauty? In your WIP, is your main character gorgeous? When you read a book, how important is it to you that a main character be extremely attractive? Please do not misunderstand me. I am NOT against characters who are physically beautiful. I’m just curious.

Photos from greenobles.com and filmofilia.com