A Thing of Beauty

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Emma Plant redefines what’s “beautiful”, revealing its new depths in marriage.

Beauty captivates us. This means we are also captives to beauty. And Miss Molly you can bet your last cent “beauty” is a good slavedriver. She whispers in symmetry and harmony. She utters sweet musings about how to attain happiness. She invites us into a youthful, perpetual state of glowing. Yet, she sometimes shouts at us like an imperious teacher. One of the notions that our Western, “Disney-dizzied” world perpetuates is, “Beauty is the same as virtue.”

“She lay asleep with her cute button nose turned towards the heavens. Her glossy black lashes reach the stars and her voluminous blonde hair bounces like a fluffy cumulonimbus cloud. When she opens her big innocent eyes and speaks from her unassuming and naive rosebud mouth, only truthful and sweet things escape her lips.” She is a beautiful (Disney) Princess, and the more beautiful she seems, the kinder we know she is. Fairytales speak in polarised extremes; beauty is good, evil is ugly. A lot of us grow up on this stuff like cornflakes. Even Tolstoy said, “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” But is it a delusion? Or is there some truth to our notion of beauty found in the glittering fairytales of our youth.

Beauty is a hard word to define. Different cultures hold on to different ideas about it. I have to ask myself truthfully, “What do I say beauty is?” My curated answer sounds smug and nun-esque, “Beauty is on the inside.” This is my go-to answer for a few reasons: One: I don’t want to sound like a smug poetry buff rattling off an Emerson poem. Two: Beauty is a big word, much more so than prettiness or attractiveness. It has deep cutting connotations of deep, deep stuff (more on that later). Three: deep down or more recently shallow, wading depth down, I have discovered inner beauty to be the stuff not of dreams but of reality. I can attest to this truthful revelation, if I can call it that, because I was smacked with a big reality-slap in the face from a truthful guy called “Marriage”.

Before I was married, I dreamt of my soon-to-be husband rolling over in the sweet, crackling light of the morn and just looking at how beautiful I was. “Good God you are stunning! I am so lucky to be married to such a beautiful girl.” These are the kinds of things I was hoping would come out of his mouth. After a few moons of marriage, I gave up this Disney-born dream and just hoped I would get one of those “looks”. You know the ones. The look that encompasses a soul’s yearning and unbelievable satisfaction with knowing you’re their chosen partner. The look that can excite you and tell you without words that you are beautiful.

I know it sounds humorous as I’m writing this down. It almost sounds a little Derek Zoolander. I just have to say after much girl banter, this innate longing to feel beautiful and to express beauty is as important as having a job or being alive to most women. It seems to be built into us that “beauty” belongs primarily to women. In other words, we feel femininity and womanhood are measured by beauty.

In my first season of marriage I damaged my happiness. My self-talk, my specific expectations and my reliance on external cues from my husband, undermined my sense of femininity… of being wanted. I did not feel like I beheld the beauty in my marriage. In fact, I felt like a semi-failure as a woman. Because I didn’t feel like I was beautiful, a part of me felt like I was not meant to be married. Shouldn’t my husband just dote on my beauty? Isn’t that one of the big reasons I got married? It broke a piece of my heart when I felt like I couldn’t be someone’s “one true love”, which I translated to mean, “most beautiful girl he had ever seen and wanted to live happily ever after with”.

Ironically, my husband did think this in his quiet, sometimes daft (but well-meaning) way. He thought, and still thinks I am the most beautiful woman he has ever known. However, “beauty” to him was a package deal; looks, personality, heart, mind and soul—and not in that order. Time after time I have heard my male friends talk about a stunning woman who “once you got to know her… not so pretty anymore.” There is something quite self-exposing about an unpleasant personality or insecurity revealing itself in someone’s eyes, posture and general countenance.

Luckily “inner beauty” is just as revealing too. If you don’t believe it so, put on your choice kit and apply your most lovely makeup, then watch how your sense of beauty changes. You will start to admire the vision you see. See, it works in reverse too. A sense of outer beauty can change our sense of inner beauty. Inner, outer… they chat to each other. They are mates not enemies. Tolstoy was wrong. Beauty does equate to goodness because they are the same thing. I have come to believe that it’s categorically difficult to separate the notion of beauty from its inner parts. After all, how do we define a word without understanding where it came from? Perhaps Walt had it right all along.

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