Monday, November 22, 2010


I know, I is somehow encoded in our DNA as an imperative. Survival of the fittest and all that. But our humanity should raise us above our genes, and it far too seldom does. I'm speaking specifically about physical attractiveness here.

One of the least followed of biblical teachings is "Judge not, lest you be judged." We are continually judging other people...and ourselves against arbitrary standards imposed upon us. By whom, exactly? No one seems to know. And, if we have an iota of concern for how we compare to other people, or of our relationships to the rest of humanity, we inevitably suffer from them.

Surely there are many people who are sufficiently self confident that the issues being discussed here are a non-issue. I truly envy them, but can't think offhand of anyone I know being included in that group.

Innumerable studies have shown that those who are considered physically attractive--and there are studies proving an almost mathematical equation for determining attractiveness--have an incalculable advantage on almost every level of human interaction. They tend to be the first hired, the first to be promoted. They tend to marry other pretty people. While this may have a certain general, utterly unemotional logic, the fact is that our preoccupation with beauty causes incalculable pain and suffering for millions and millions of people who are made aware that they are not pretty.

Attractiveness and appeal go hand in hand not only with humans but animals. Go to any animal shelter where pets are offered for adoption. Which ones get adopted first? The cute little puppies and kittens, the handsome older animals, of course. But what of that runt in the litter, or that sad-eyed, scraggly mutt with his tail between his legs? Are they any less deserving of love? Though I have no figures on which to base this statement, I will be willing to bet that far more "ugly" animals are killed by "humane societies" than are handsome ones.

Are ugly creatures, human and animal, less worthy of love? It breaks my heart to see the fuss made over the cute little darlings while the heavy-set kid with thick lips or a big nose or a receding chin is all but totally ignored.

And our society goes to great lengths to perpetrate this injustice. Turn on any commercially produced television program. Count the number of pretty people, then count the number of average-looking or less-than-average. Odds are the proportion of pretty people is many, many times larger than the ratio in society in general. And how many unattractive actors ever reach the status of stars?

We all can recall certain incidents, certain encounters, certain seemingly insignificant moments which become deeply absorbed into our souls and remain with us throughout our lives. On the subject of beauty--a very sensitive one for me, who has never possessed it--one such moment still fills me with wonder and heartbreaking joy. I've told the story many times and, in case you've not heard it, will tell again here. I was in a restaurant and, sitting at a table directly across from me were a man and a woman both of whom were, by any scientific measure of beauty or physical attractiveness, what most people would consider singularly ugly. The man was grossly overweight with a rough, pockmarked face, which was totally lacking in scientific "balance." The woman looked like a cruel caricature of the Wicked Witch of the West. (And even as I write this I am truly ashamed of myself for my own cruelty in describing them.)

But the thing that matters; the thing I have never forgotten after all these years, is that as they looked at each other and held hands across the table, they radiated such a powerful sense of love that it, for me, completely redefined the word "beauty." They had each other. They loved each other. The "rules of physical attractiveness" didn't matter. What I thought or you thought or the world thought didn't matter. What possibly could?

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