Saturday, 2 November 2013

Thoughts On Beauty


As a transgendered woman, I have encountered some new problems and dilemmas that, as a man I simply had less occasion to deal with. One such is the question of beauty, as all woman must consider some point in their lives - some on a daily basis. Now, the first thing that comes to mind is that we should not be judged this way, but that is a question of values and not the topic I wish to speak to, which is beauty itself.

Before I begin, I wanted to clarify something. I don't consider myself some sort of expert on the subject of beauty, I am simply sharing my discovery as I go on this transition.
With that out of the way, let me dig right into it.

As I researched this topic, I found that the conventional wisdom generally split into two major camps when talking about beauty. The first one is the fashion approach, what's "in" this season, what's so "last year" you wouldn't be caught dead wearing it, you know what I am talking about, it's everywhere you look. This, while it exploits and trivializes beauty, is mostly harmless in my opinion.

The second way, which is far more insidious and dangerous, is the denial and assault on beauty. It cloaks itself in what sounds like spiritual and meaningful words. By playing off the straw-man of the first kind of false beauty, it talks about "inner beauty" as if it is somehow separate and indeed incompatible with "outer" beauty. It is a common debate trick of inventing an artificial division and then subverting the whole with it. In this case, the unspoken assumption is that you can divide beauty into an inner and outer type and that the two are disjointed.
So, being the good little scientist that I am, I conducted a thought experiment to explore this line of thought further.

Imagine a world, in the not too distant future, when we finally possess the technology to free ourselves from our flesh and blood bodies and become pure beings of mind via some sort of Matrix-esq downloading process.
In that world, not only are we immortal and disease free, we will also be completely free to redefine our appearance. In other words, picture perfect bodies are yours at the merest thought of it. You will never be judged by your appearance ever again, for it is perfect.
Wouldn't that be wonderful?

But consider this, in a world where there is no such thing as ugly, where beautiful appearance is essentially "free". What value would we place on beauty? When something is so attainable as to be completely free (money or effort-wise), it becomes essentially worthless. No longer will you ever look at a face and marvel at its beauty, in fact, it's hard to imagine why you'd even look at someone - it is simply irrelevant.

At first, I image we would quickly abandon the conventional sense of beauty and come up with all sorts of bizarre and "original" interpretations of beauty.
But eventually, when we get bored or we run to the limit of our imagination, we'd realize that none of it works. We had pretty much destroyed our sense of beauty at this point. We will probably all end up walking around with a (literally) blank face, if we still "walk around " at all. In fact, we would probably simply retire all our senses since they are completely irrelevant also. Our existence will become basically a giant internet chat room, disembodied words floating back and forth in the dark void...
Wouldn't that be wonderful?
After all, it would be a fair and just world, because no longer can anyone feel inferior or superior based on their appearance - surely losing all our physical senses is a small price to pay for such a perfect world?
No, I didn't think so either. I think it's pretty clear that senses are an integral part of the human experience, if we lose that, we will no longer be human.

Now, thankfully we are still (mostly) bound by evolution when it comes to standards of beauty of our own bodies. Hopefully you aren't one of those who are "bored" by a fit, athletic body and thinks that a 300lb mound of jiggling flesh is beautiful. But once you step beyond that, it seems that the sky is the limit in terms of what people will call "beautiful" these days.

The question is, are such things intrinsically beautiful or have we all gone a bit crazy in our boredom? Personally I find very little beauty in today's commercially promoted popular music or visual arts. Maybe I am hopelessly outdated, but I feel that we as a society have lost touch with our intrinsic sense of beauty. Instead, it is as if beauty is some sort of arbitrary competition on how clever or original one can be. What's more, in our mediated society, It seems to me a lot of us are looking to others to tell us what beauty is.
I for one refuse to have someone else dictate to me what beauty is, be they edgy art critic or mega corporation selling manufactured beauty.


But even more than not being appreciated or misinterpreted, it seems that the very concept of beauty is considered dangerous and somehow threatening. When was the last time you hear people discuss beauty in a sincere and positive way?

I feel a deep sense of sadness when it seems to me that beauty is so despised and feared in our culture. Beauty is such a native and integral part of human experience, I would say it is the most fundamental experience that separates us from the animals. Yet, in the twisted puritanical mindset, it is actively hated and attacked at every opportunity, alone with pleasure and happiness. Beauty is either cheapened and commercially exploited, or it is dismissed as trivial and "skin deep", or it is mocked and ridiculed by these "postmodern relativists" who'd push something ugly and call it beautiful.

But why? Why are there so many forces in our society attacking beauty?
Perhaps it is because beauty is threatening to the way our consumer society operates. For true beauty cannot be owned, sold or controlled. Further more, beauty inspires people to live life fearlessly, and that is not so good if you want them to be good little worker bees and consumers. I believe true beauty is such that once you've experience it at a deep and spiritual level, you can never be fooled again. It is very difficult to manipulate someone through materialistic means once they have seen true beauty.

Just to be clear, I think that beauty is different for everyone, it is as much in the object as it is in the observer. That's what I was trying to say when I said that our society has lost touch with beauty. We seem to be looking for it externally, based on the incorrect assumption that there is such thing as objective beauty that is independent of the observer. But, to put in plainly, there cannot be beauty in a universe devoid of human observers. Beauty permeates the universe and we are the ones to appreciate it. Or put it another way, we are the eyes of the universe which looks back upon itself and finds beauty. This is why I believe true beauty transcends any specific physical trait or characteristic. Further more, it will reveal itself once we have our heart and mind open to it.

Beauty is neither mysterious nor sophisticated, it is primal and straightforward. We don't need experts to tell us what it is, each one of us knows deep down, if only we would trust ourselves.

To me, beauty is simple - does something move me without my having to "appreciate" it? Does it stir something within me that's beyond mere words and descriptions, grabs hold of me and fill me with a sense of wonder, leaving me grateful and happy to be alive? That is the only way to find true beauty, everything else is just fashion and the babbling of lost souls.

Beauty is my religion, for when I experience beauty I feel the presence of the divine.


Author: Asuka Ma

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