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.

When the River Runs Dry

Ever have one of those weeks where you felt drained dry, as if you couldn’t put two words together to form a sentence? This week is like that for me. But suddenly I’m thinking of a few two-word sentences:

Help me.
I can’t.
Do it!

And if you put those together, that’s the message running through my head this week. Some of you can relate. I’ve read your blogs (Kate and Victoria). And I’m here, looking at rocks instead of water. Whenever I’m worried about deadlines or problems, I find myself here.

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So, instead of heeding the siren call of Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns, I decided to remind myself of the beauty in the world. I’m often inspired by images. Unfortunately, I don’t have a camera (at least not yet), so I’m grateful for the good ol’ Internet.

Here’s what I found (and why):

beautiful_male-cardinal

I chose this image, because the cardinal is my favorite bird. I’m sure I mentioned that before. (Andy of City Jackdaw likes jackdaws; I like cardinals.) A family of cardinals nests in a tree near my home. I often see the male flitting about, especially near my car. One day he hopped over to my window and serenaded me. The little flirt!

cumulus-clouds

Two nights ago, I had dinner with three old friends. Our continued camaraderie is a thing of beauty in itself. But when we left the restaurant, I was struck by the beauty of the sky—a bundle of clouds sprawled across the still blue sky. The sky looked so huge, and reminded me that the world is so much bigger than my problems.

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Kids are exasperating and demanding at times, but ultimately are endearing. If you want a laugh, have a conversation with a child (especially those in my family). They look at the world in such a fresh way. I’m grateful for the kids in my life. My nephew sometimes shoves one of his ear buds in my ear to listen to a song on his iPod. He also makes me laugh when he finds weird videos on YouTube.

A friend has a daughter who thinks all of the world’s ills can be solved if everyone sat in her playroom and drank cups of her imaginary tea. I love the fact that she tells me the tea isn’t real, in case I’m disappointed by the lack of moisture in my cup.

Kids remind me that the words I place on a page need to be whimsical and lively to reflect their view of the world. They also need to be real.

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If ever something exemplified joy, a gerbera daisy does. Look at that. You can almost imagine a smile on its face.

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If you’ve had this flavor, I don’t have to explain why I included it. You just know, right? I thought so.

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I didn’t say I wouldn’t include fictional characters. If you don’t know who this is, click here. As Austin Powers would say, “Yeah, baby, yeah!”

If you click on Victoria’s name above, you can read the awesome advice she provides for those who are going through a dry period. And I suggest you click on Kate’s name, because I love her profile picture. If any of you would like to share what inspires you, please comment below. And may the river of inspiration run for us all.

Images from en.wikipedia.org; wallpaperswala.com; bhg.com; mayorshealthline.wordpress.com; fanpop.com respectively.

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.

red_gerbera_daisy-HD

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