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.

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Now, That’s Classic

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve consumed quite a few costume dramas, some of which are lengthy BBC productions like

Little Dorrit (2008)
Bleak House (2005)
Emma (1996)
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Northanger Abbey (2007)

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Northanger

You don’t have to be an English major to know that all are adaptations of classic novels by Charles Dickens (the first two) and Jane Austen (the last three). (Though I confess to having read all of the above when I was an undergraduate English/writing major.) I have another waiting in the wings—North and South, an adaptation of a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, starring a pre-Thorin Oakenshield Richard Armitage. Whenever I’ve mentioned North and South to others, most of the people I talked to assumed I meant an adaptation of a book of the same title by an American author, John Jakes. No, I mean this:

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I see the gleam in your eyes, oh fans of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice—the six-hour A & E production featuring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. I have that as well.

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I experienced a bit of culture shock as I dragged myself out of nineteenth-century Britain back to the U.S. in 2014. Though I’ve seen all of these adaptations more than once, they still have the power to captivate. And my goodness, Andrew Davies has been quite the busy bee, having penned three of them, with the exception of Emma, the screenplay of which was written by Douglas McGrath, and Pride and Prejudice (2005), which was written by Deborah Moggach. However, he wrote the script for the six-hour version of Pride and Prejudice and tons of other productions.

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Andrew Davies

Every once in awhile, I get a hankering for ’em. Such works are pure escapist fiction for me, each with its share of joy and sorrow—some more heavily weighted on one side or the other, with a touch of romance in all. Even the tragic aspects are vastly entertaining, thanks to villains I love to despise and plucky heroes (male and female alike) who bear up mightily in pressure-cooker circumstances.

Some might view aspects of these stories as too black and white, particularly those of Dickens, who was fond of populating his novels with loathsome people like Mr. Tulkinghorn and Mr. Smallweed in Bleak House or Rigaud in Little Dorrit, characters without a single redeeming quality. And Jane’s books include their share of unpleasant people as well, like Caroline Bingley (and her sister Louisa) in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. and Mrs. Elton in Emma, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Pride and Prejudice). On the other side of the coin are Esther Summerson (Bleak House) and Jane Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)—characters who might be deemed too saintly or perfect. But with each side of the social divide so sharply delineated, black and white characters help emphasize the dichotomy.

While paragons like Esther Summerson and Jane Bennet don’t really draw me again and again to the books in which they reside, I can appreciate the parts they play and how different they are from other characters skillfully devised by Dickens and Austen, characters like the obsequious and ridiculous Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice or the equally ridiculous Mr. Guppy in Bleak House. (With a name like Guppy, a character can’t help being ridiculous.)

I wish my novel had a place for a character like Collins or Guppy. But both characters were painted with such broad comic brushstrokes that I fear neither would work with my other characters. Not that all lack a streak of ridiculousness. They come from me after all. 😀

Though some classic novels are avoided now because of the lack of diversity and outright racism in some (though not in the above novels), I still turn to the list above or their adaptations whenever I need a master class in character development and plotting. But mostly, I dive into them when I can’t afford to take a journey, but would like to get away from it all to a world where problems and plotlines are all neatly wrapped up in a reasonable amount of time.

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Gratuitous stuffed animal photo—my lion and his friend the dolphin

Pride and Prejudice movie poster from movieposter.com. Little Dorrit poster from cinemagia.ro. Northanger Abbey cover from movieberry.com. Emma from fanpop.com. Andrew Davies from BBC.com.