WHAT IS BEAUTY?
Physical beauty is a transient, subjective and fleeting concept. Historical renditions of beauty show a wide range of differing standards since the Stone Age Standards of physical beauty are forever evolving and have changed drastically over time. Recently I saw this exhibit of the Venus of Willendorf at the Vienna Natural History Museum. It is a tiny little statuette of a naked obese woman. The statue is from the Upper Paleolithic Period (20 00 to 30 000 BC). Interestingly the woman is faceless and her very robust feminine aspects are clearly sculpted; fleshy hips, protruding stomach, buttocks, and large breasts drooping halfway down her body. This is the earliest known depiction of women.
How things have changed since the Stone Age… According to Wikipedia, beauty; “…often involves the interpretation of some entity as being in balance and harmony with nature which may lead to feelings of attraction and emotional well-being.” Our concept of beauty is externally imposed on us by mass media. The evil Queen in Snow White had a talking mirror to tell her who was the fairest in the land. We don’t need any magic mirrors to figure that out any more – that information is at the palm of our hands, every day of our life. Editorial and advertising campaigns display images of models that after several hours of makeup and digital manipulations hardly resemble their original likeness not to mention televisions shows were teenagers have had so much plastic surgery they are unrecognizable. The impossible standard is set. Everywhere we look we hear messages that we would and could be more beautiful if ONLY…..
The toll that mass media has taken on women became very apparent to me once I started to photograph women. Time and time again I found myself photographing successful confident career women, and I would hear a litany of I am not enough-isms “my… is to big” “ my… is to small” “My … are not straight.” ……
To me as a photographer beauty was most evident in those who were comfortable in their own skin. Inner beauty is something intangible radiating from within. It is not a physically observable characteristic; rather it is manifested through positive qualities such as compassion, kindness, intelligence, grace, charm, integrity, empathy and elegance. In my experience inner beauty is evident when you are in harmony with your true nature; you understand who you really are. You don’t need a talking mirror to tell you if you are beautiful. It is obvious, when someone feels in harmony with his or her true nature – they shine. When someone has found their inner beauty, their harmony manifests itself physically in many ways and their light shines on everyone making them more beautiful.
Is inner beauty something to be judged by others? While writing this article I came across “inner beauty contests.” In Saudi Arabia contestants secure an inner beauty crown through their ability to demonstrate devotion to parents and Islamic values. In a nun beauty pageant Sister Italia 2008 inner beauty was judged based on spiritual attributes. I think they missed the point; inner beauty is not something to be judged by others. A big part of inner beauty is derived from not requiring external reassurances or comparisons. Inner beauty is not something that is judged, measured or compared. It is your own unique constitution. It is like the futility of comparing the beauty of a rose to that of a magnolia, they are both beautiful in their own ways. Inner beauty, once you are aligned with it is something that can never be taken away from you.
There are so many influences that can cause us to loose focus on the source of beauty . It is a life long challenge to turn off our need for external benchmarks or approval. Real beauty isn’t about your weight, skin or symmetrical facial features it is about seeing all the magnificence and beauty of the world reflected in your self, and uniquely projecting it outwards.
When you are preparing for the spotlight remember who you are, think about what sets you apart and makes you special, all you have accomplished, all that you do really well. Look in the mirror and see for yourself.