I'm halfway through the new Alex Craft novel by Kalayna Price, Grave Visions, and I've been struck by the many questions her central premise raises. Magic abounds in these books filled with witches, faeries and the realm of the dead (sounds like a weird combination, but she's making it work). I read the earlier books in this series a number of years ago, and I didn't remember most of the details (which happens often and doesn't speak well of my memory), but Ms. Price does a good job of summarizing past action, which I appreciate. One of the more interesting aspects of her world-building involves the liberal use of glamour, which is the ability of the fae to change their appearance at will, about which I've written before. In this case, a putative suitor for Alex's hand in marriage morphs his shape to look like one of her old flames. Neat trick, I thought. Then I proceeded to pull that string until the whole structure collapsed. I'll explain. At first, I thought it would be über cool to be able to transform into my ideal of beauty. I could look like Natalie—Portman or Dormer, they will both do— and feel confident and secure in my physical charms. Or, I could have the ultimate makeover and look like my husband's dream girl—Meg Ryan before she was ruined by plastic surgery (let us note here that I look absolutely nothing like the young Meg Ryan, which begs the question of why my husband was attracted to me in the first place. On the other hand, he remains interested 23 years later, so I guess it's not worth thinking about. But I digress). Or, I could be the ultimate femme fatale and radically change my appearance as often as I change my hair color. Could be fun, no?
Maybe. But maybe not. If I spend some time wearing the face of one of the Natalies, how will I feel when I need to don my own visage again? Kind of like the morning after a big night out—eyes puffy, hair on end, with black eyeliner making me look beaten up. Not my best look. But not my real look either, more of a passing disaster. But if I was wont to wear another's face, would I begin to feel that mine was the passing disaster, and would I start to avoid wearing it in the same way that I avoid extra-late, wine-fueled nights more than a few times a year? That would be sad. Not to mention highly faux. And we all know how I feel about fake. Fake is not fabulous. If all of us could wear glamour, surely many of us would never wear our real selves on the outside. Which tends to lead to faking it on the inside as well. Kind of like how power corrupts, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. The mind follows where the body leads, etc. What would that mean for the pursuit of authenticity? I'm sure there would be some who would put a premium on being au naturel, but the pressure to be beautiful would likely be immense. And without the price – in terms of both financial and physical risk— of needing to undergo needles or surgery to look different than we are, wouldn't many of us be tempted to "improve" our appearances to some degree? I think so.
And what would that do to the health consequences of bad choices? Currently, if we do the crime, our faces and bodies tend to do the time. When we eat poorly or in excess, our weight shows our inability to eat wisely or well. If we smoke, not only do our lungs feel the pain, but the grey tinge to our skin gives us away every time. When we overindulge in alcohol, our eyes, noses and cheeks often sport the broken capillaries that are the hallmark of excess drink. It's hard to hide our bad choices without magic. And if such glamour were widely available, wouldn't someone, or more than one someone, quickly come up with a way to pierce the veil of illusion? Surely they would, because all of us would wish to "see" the wizard behind the curtain, so that we could make judgments based on truth, not fantasy. So in the end, what would be the point? Would it make the world any prettier, or would we simply grow to understand the truly superficial and ephemeral nature of beauty? Would we appreciate inner beauty more than outward appearances? Would we finally, finally stop putting a premium on physical perfection and begin emphasizing health, strength, flexibility and endurance? One can only hope.
If everyone were objectively beautiful, would beauty cease existing in the eye of the beholder and shift to the subject? And if that happened, would it change anything? Would it matter if we were beautiful to our mates, or to our children? Would beauty stop being used as the preferred currency? And wouldn't that be something?
I have no answers to these questions, and it probably doesn't matter, as we don't live in such a world. But I'm grateful to Ms. Price for sparking such interesting food for thought and proving to me once again that there is profundity in fantasy and truth to be found in digging into supposedly frivolous fiction.