When I was a kid, I loved reading D&D so much (I hadn’t yet played it yet) that when I heard the phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” I thought the saying literally meant like, an actual D&D Beholder monster — you know, the big floating one-eyed volleyball with all the phallic eye-stalks? For some reason, I assumed the Beholder was the arbiter of beauty, which I found somewhat ironic given that the Beholder was one ugly motherfucker. But maybe that, I thought, was the point. Maybe that said something about the subjective nature of beauty: if such a grotesque monster was the keeper of the ideal, maybe beauty was a wildly moving target?
And now, with a little perspective, I have come to believe that someone out there thinks the Beholder is pretty. I mean, even in its ugliness the creature is a marvel of monstrousness — beautiful in its horror, elegant in the calculations of its nightmare fuel. One assumes that other Beholders think Beholders are fucking hot. Right? A Beholder sees another Beholder across the room and licks its razor-fang teeth while rancid-smelling saliva patters at the ground beneath it. Its eye-stalks bulge and stiffen. Its crevices weep with excitement.
This is a post more about our idea of beauty than it is about the D&D Monster Manual, by the way.
Anyway, that weird preamble leads me to this blog post — “Not Everyone Is Beautiful” — which is one of those posts I’ve seen ping-ponging around Facebook. Facebook seems to be where I get my rage from these days (seriously, it’s like a neverending well of fresh, clean scowl juice).
So, here I am.
The title of that post makes its point clear.
Not everyone is beautiful.
That idea, and the post that supports it, is at least half-bullshit.
I understand its point, somewhat, and at the core of its argument, I agree: beauty, physical beauty, is given way too much priority. In fact, let’s fast-forward to the end of the post:
I want to tell you something, whoever you are. I don’t know if you’re beautiful, funny, smart, friendly, musical, caring, diligent, athletic, or anything else about you. All I know is this:
You are valuable.
You are important.
You are interesting.
You are worth loving.
So forget about “beautiful”. It’s become an ugly word anyway.
That’s great! Well-done, sir! I agree.
That’s a killer end to that post, and is just, aww. It gives my tummy a tickle of warmth and possibility. Unfortunately, you have to slog through some less… erm, agreeable stuff to get there.
Everyone is not beautiful. Some people have tumors the size of a second head growing out of their ears. Some people have skin like the Michelin man. Some people lose fingers, legs, or eyes in horrific assembly-line machine accidents. People have warts and blemishes and hair loss and dead teeth and lazy eyes and cleft palates and third nipples and unibrows.
YES HA HA HA THE DEFORMED AND DISABLED CANNOT BE BEAUTIFUL
THEY ARE UGLY AND SHOULD JUST ACCEPT THAT
I MEAN JEEZ
whoa, wait, wut.
Holy crap, really?
A cleft palate takes you off the beauty list?
My father was missing a finger.
Hair loss? Hair loss? I’m going bald. Uh-oh.
(And a third nipple is just one more nipple to love, I’ll have you know.)
He goes onto say:
There are plenty of people that are not physically appealing to look at, the primary and most widely used meaning of the word “beautiful”. So why do we use the word as a catch-all for any sort of positive attribute?
Nobody says, “Everybody is a good listener.” Nobody says, “Everyone is athletic to somebody.” Nobody says, “You are an amazing writer, whether you know it or not.” I keep waiting, but they never say it.
But then later:
But the fact is, we don’t own the word. The world owns the word, and to the world, “beauty” is physical attractiveness and nothing more. To use “beautiful” in our wider, deeper, more important meaning only confuses the issue. It sends our young women horrible mixed messages, telling them that everyone is beautiful, and sending them into despair when the boys flock after someone with a thinner waistline and a wider bust.
Which is all a bit of a mixed message, innit?
“Why do we use ‘beautiful’ to mean more than it does, except also, we can’t, because the world thinks it means one thing and now we’re trying to shoehorn it to meaning another, so it’s the world’s fault, but it’s also our fault for trying to redefine it and, uhhnnngh –”
*skull fragments like grenade shrapnel*
Athleticism is measurable. So is one’s writing skill. Not perfectly so — these things always have a whole lotta wiggle room. Beauty, though? Beauty has no meaningful measure. Even if you were to believe that beauty is only a physical standard, it’s a target moving so erratically it might as well be taped to the back of a meth-addicted terrier chasing a coked-up squirrel. What I think is beautiful isn’t what you think is beautiful. That’s not scary; that’s amazing.
And the beauty of the word ‘beautiful’ (see what I did there) is that we are perfectly allowed to use that word to describe things that have nothing to do with corporeal attractiveness. We can use that word “beautiful” to refer to poems, songs, meals, bowel movements, sex toys, tweets, whatever the futzing fuck we want. It can describe experiences. Moments. Sounds. Ideas. Thus proving it is one of those wonderful Swiss Army words — it has variable utility.
I recognize that the point of the dude’s post is that, hey, beauty is an unreasonable standard. But it’s the solution — “stop saying everyone is beautiful” — with which I disagree.
Maybe not everyone is beautiful.
I’m not going to say that about Hitler, you know? And that has nothing to do with his physical aspects (though that little poop-smear of a mustache would disqualify him anyway, I think).
But most of us really are beautiful.
And someone will find us that way.
They’ll look at our love handles and weirdly-shaped toes and the constellation of funky moles across the expanse of our backs, and they’ll find us beautiful. Regardless of cleft palates or tumors or nipples-in-excess-of-expectation. And if they don’t find us beautiful for the things that we have — if they cannot look past blemishes and weird toes and the occasional disability — then hey, fuck ’em. (I mean in the condemn them to hell way, not in the have sex with them way.)
It’s not just that we’re all beautiful. We’re also all awkward, and uneven, and ill-shaped, and weird in some fashion. Yes, we all have zits, moles, lumps, bumps, cellulite, stretch marks, odd teeth, weird fingers, hangnails, ingrown hairs, ingrown toenails, and so on, and so forth. You can’t Photoshop reality (and those poor souls that try often end up mutating themselves with plastic surgery into something resembling cat people). And on the inside, we all have bad thoughts and self-doubt and things we’re not good at doing. If I try to put together IKEA furniture, I will end up either a) accidentally swallowing the allen wrench and having it perforate my bowels or b) going blind with rage and spree-killing half of my neighborhood. Every IKEA thing I build is like: “Why are the shelves upside down? Did you put a hole in the drywall? This is supposed to be a shelf and it looks like a sacrificial wicker man, instead.”
We’re all beautiful.
And we’re all not beautiful, too.
And that’s fucking beautiful, man.
I don’t want to see this sentiment lost. I don’t want us to turn away from the idea that we’re all beautiful, because the unfair standard that the post talks about? This is how we get shut of it. We escape it by recognizing the standard is bullshit but also by recognizing that we all meet the qualification in some way. We escape the standard set by the larger media through social media: it’s here we can introduce and champion the idea that, hey, fuck that shit, George. We really all do have something to write home about. We all get to be beautiful to someone.
You, dear reader –?
You’re beautiful. And you over there. And over there.
Even you, D&D Beholder. Even you.
I mean —