The Burden of Beauty

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I've spent my whole life wanting to be beautiful and not making it. In my mother's world, the one where I spent my formative years, being beautiful was all that really counted—followed closely by being rich, which being beautiful would inevitably achieve. In the world according to my mother, it was never too early to start planning for plastic surgery (she dragged me to have my nose fixed when I was 15), watching my figure like a hawk (which resulted in my developing a major eating disorder), and happily shelling out ridiculous sums of money for couture clothing while balking at buying me a computer for school. The bitch of it  (besides her) was that I never did live up to her standards of beauty and I was therefore always a disappointment to her.  So imagine my surprise as I'm reading the eighth installment of Darynda Jones' entertaining Charley Davidson series, Eighth Grave After Dark, when Ms. Jones introduces the idea that beauty can be a burden, something that is undesirable and even annoying (to be fair, this may not have been the first time she introduced the idea, but maybe the first time I was able to hear it). In the series, Charley, a supernatural being of great power, cleverly disguised as a rather flighty private investigator, falls in love with the ultimate bad boy (about whom I've written here), the son of Satan, a man of impossible beauty named Reyes Farrow. Reyes is smoking hot. As in literally—he burns with the fires of Hell. But he's also figuratively sizzling, with temperatures approaching asphalt in Death Valley in July. Men want to be him. Women want to be with him.

The way Darynda Jones describes him, Reyes can't go to the restroom without throngs of women throwing their thongs at him. Ladies lose IQ points as well as their ability to speak coherently when Reyes walks into the room. And he can cook!  Not to mention his sexual prowess. Sounds like a fairy story, right? Right. But the interesting part of this cautionary tale involves the fact that for Reyes, his beauty is definitely a liability rather than an advantage. He has no interest in the female interest he generates, because he only has eyes for one woman—the one he came to earth to claim, Charley. He doesn't even glance at other women, not even in the "I may be happily married but I'm not dead" sense of the word. And when there is no possibility of these women's attentions being returned, it's like finding out your secret crush is gay. Huge bummer—for the women, that is.

As I have no real idea what it would be like to be so beautiful that men fall over themselves when they behold my visage, I'll have to use my imagination and consider what a day in the life of Angelina Jolie must be like. It seems like the problem with beauty is that it's hard to see beyond it. I mean, you've got to feel sorry for Brad Pitt—yes, he gets to have sex with Angelina Jolie, but no one really takes his acting as seriously as he'd like because he's just too pretty to be talented. I think folks assume that when God gives out the goodies, it would be too unfair to heap too much goodness in any one place. In fact, female actors who hope to garner Academy Awards have to go ugly—think Halle Berry in Monster's Ball or Charlize Theron in Monster—are we sensing a theme here?

Beauty can also be a crutch, a shortcut someone uses to avoid working too hard or expending too much effort beyond making sure hair and makeup are looking fresh and crisp. Humans are attracted to beauty, defined by our lizard brains as symmetry, because being balanced apparently signals strong genetic stock, suitable for breeding and passing along our DNA to the next generation. So beautiful people get stuff the rest of us don't.

I remember during my misspent youth that my friends and I would go to the New York clubs like Area and Studio 54 and try to get in.  And some guy would be standing above the multitudes, looking down and choosing who can come in and who would get kicked to the curb, stranded on the sidewalk because they weren't good looking enough to warrant entry. I had one friend (she's still my friend) who would come to visit from LA and inevitably, when she was with me, we'd get picked to go in. I was always grateful, but also wistful that I didn't have that kind of mojo. 

I have another friend who dislikes getting any sort of compliment or comment on her appearance because she feels that by focusing on her physicality, others are dissing her spirit. I'm not sure I agree with her, but it's an interesting point. I do agree that there is far too much focus on our physical appearance and not enough on our characters and our personalities. Not to mention my personal favorite, our intelligence in all its aspects—academic, emotional, cultural, street smarts, common sense, etc. How we look has no bearing on any of that, except that a good brain can sometimes provide work-arounds for less-than-beautiful areas of our physical selves (a good sense of style and knowledge of hair products are key here).

So, all in all, it's hard to say whether beauty is a gift or a curse or both. I think the most difficult aspect of beauty must be the prospect of losing it. Beauty fades. Character endures. Sometimes, as in my mother's case, the wilting of her rose over time meant her useful life was over (in her mind). It was very sad to watch her wither and withdraw into herself, as she perceived her looks to diminish and finally disappear altogether (in fact, she was more beautiful as a mature woman than she'd been as a young woman, but she never saw that, sadly).

So, I think my mother was dead wrong, and there is so much more to life than what we look like. I aspire to be beautiful to my husband, but behind that, I can't see that it makes much difference. I like to take care and pride in my appearance, but that reflects my sense of self respect and self worth more than a need or desire to be attractive to others. And, as I never achieved true beauty in this lifetime, I'll thank Ms. Jones for the object lesson on the pitfalls of being Brad Pitt. Or Reyes Farrow. And I'll be grateful for the perspective and truth I continue to find in my beloved fantasy books.