So I thought about this for a while, as someone who feels strongly that the emphasis on beauty (especially upon women) is damaging to women personally, and to the culture as a whole... And I thought about the breathtakingly beautiful actors I love to watch. And I thought about the actors who are physically beautiful, and yet whom I find unwatchable because their acting is thin and self-serving.
So I responded with this (slightly modified) comment to Don's entry:
The problem isn't so much not wanting beauty in media, but rather that the definition of "beauty" (certainly where women are concerned) isn't really beauty at all, but conformity to a very narrow set of Barbie-esque physical characteristics that are in fact unhealthy to the point of being grotesque.
But women are told that if we don't conform to this standard, we won't be valued -- as women or people!
And men are so conditioned to value this standard, that they will override their own natural impulse to see beauty in women who don't fit this standard, in order to maintain status with their male friends.
I have known quite a few men who have rejected women they admitted to being attracted to -- physically and intellectually -- in favor of a Barbie-esque "beautiful" woman to whom they didn't feel much innate attraction, but whom they believed their friends and family would value more and thereby grant them higher status.
In terms of media, the double-standard is evident.
You say, "Don't take away the beautiful women." But look at the men. They are all different shapes and sizes, and they all get the girl... who always looks the same: slim, young, even-featured, and usually large-breasted.
It is said that Cleopatra was the most beautiful woman in the world, but that was not because her physiognomy was so special, but rather her charisma and intelligence were irresistible.
In a recent meme, Emma Thompson is quoted as advising actresses, in response to demands that they "lose weight", to ask, "Is this important for the character?" And if it isn't then they should ask the casting director to tell them that what they want is a model, not an actress.
In the early '90s, balding, aging actors like Patrick Stewart and Anthony Hopkins became sex symbols -- based on their power as performers and men. Women found them very beautiful indeed. It's said that Patrick Stewart telephoned a woman suffering from ovarian cancer, and the disease went into remission almost immediately.
So it's not that anyone wants less beauty in the media; in fact, we want more of it, in all of its stunning, fascinating, riveting, and transformative variety.Needless to say, this is a topic I have given a great deal of thought to -- especially in my ten years in bellydance -- often regarded as a quintessentially sexy-beautiful dance form. And it is something I address strongly in Blood on the Veil -- that beauty comes from feeling and expression, from vitality and confidence, far more than from physiognomy.
As I mentioned in a recent ReviewFix interview: What we want is an experience of beauty, where a thing is beautiful to us because it resonates deeply. This kind of beauty is arresting and powerful, sometimes even disturbing, because it tells us something about ourselves -- and we don't always want to know about ourselves.
The beauty of physiognomy may be pleasing and comforting, and to be sure it has its place in the culture. But it doesn't give us anything new or nourishing or unique, it simply recycles the current images that we are told to value -- and if we do as we are told, then we will be valued too ... or so we are led to believe.
But if we let ourselves respond naturally to the world around us -- regardless of what we are told to believe -- to find what is beautiful to us, uniquely, and enjoy that beauty for its own sake rather than as a way to seek acceptance and approval from others ... how vast and beautiful and joyful might our lives become?
And how might our appreciative gaze nourish the world itself, in its magnificent variety, into greater and greater beauty?