i’ve spent some time, recently, with a few people who would fit into the category that our world calls “beautiful.” while i am personally connected to these particular individuals by blood, love, and history, it is shocking to me to witness how often it is their physical appearance that gains them recognition in the eyes of others. “you’re so beautiful,” literally spills from peoples’ mouths upon introduction. wide eyed stares mark awkward pauses. a few times people have actually commented to me about the gorgeousness of my companions as though: a) the “object of beauty” weren’t present and hearing the conversation or b) i somehow deserved credit for being associated with such stunning attractiveness. if it weren’t so surprising to me, i would have a comeback and if i did, it would sound something like this:
“i know! (insert name) is really beautiful. it’s shocking to me, however, that you saw it so quickly. typically graciousness and determination take time to uncover. honesty reveals itself in similarly slow and methodical ways. intelligence and character can’t be detected by the human eye and humility is rarely revealed upon simply learning ones’ name. to be honest, so little about beauty can be seen. at least beauty that is solid. and grounded. and deep. you are brilliant to be so perceptive! i’m amazed!”
beauty that resides in the external only is just a part of a persons’ story. i feel sad both for those who are seen as having this gift and for those who are seen as lacking it. the former leave encounters with the world feeling as though their externals are what matter most, fearing a loss of their most-important-to-the-world gift with each inevitable imperfection that comes with being human. the latter, however, feel marginalized, are often over (or at least under) “looked,” and feel compelled to find compensatory methods of making a positive first (that leads to lasting) impression.
in this system, everyone loses.
social psychology tells us that people tend to settle in friend groups and partnerships with individuals who they find similar in physical attractiveness to themselves. for example, individuals who perceive themselves a “7,” so to speak, on the american “1-10” scale of attractiveness, tend to associate with individuals they see as falling in the “5-8” range. they wouldn’t want to risk dipping too far down into the scale and losing some of their own attractiveness by being closely associated with someone too far “below” them and they don’t want any 10s around to reveal their lack.
does this bother anyone else?
while i’m sure that my blind spots are as big as anyone else’s, i see physical appearance as being only one small part of what makes a person beautiful and compelling to associate ones’ self with. scales that refer to externals only can do no justice to the intentions of the heart, the brilliance of the mind, the creativity of an individual, or the complexity that drives them.
i wish we all had x ray vision. not the kind that every teen age boy seeks with dime store glasses that promise to “see” through clothing. the kind, instead, that sees past the externals and into the being of those with whom we share space. the kind that waits to make judgements about beauty until there are substantive reasons to do so that don’t leave the externally beautiful feeling objectified and the externally less-than-beautiful feeling left out. vision that sees flaws (in ones’ self and others) as part of what makes a person unique and interesting. vision that tends toward noticing what makes a person “fun,” “loyal,” “brilliant,” “special,” “relational,” “generous,” and any other number of other traits in equal proportion (at least) to the ratings it makes about physical appearance.
and if we can’t have x ray vision i wish we could have x ray perception that would allow us a reality check about how the words we use about ourselves and others label, qualify (or disqualify), and shape the way we encounter. for, regardless of our physical appearance, our words, and even our thoughts/intentions, can contribute to a world wherein beauty is skin deep or further in...where only x ray vision can see.