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Seeing Beauty

Perhaps I'm just procrastinating, but I've had a lot I've wanted to write about today. In particular, Sheherazade's comments on these two posts started me thinking about beauty and perception.

Sometimes beautiful women forget how beautiful they are. I like both of these posts because of the doubt in them, and also the confidence. A woman who never forgets she's beautiful and fascinating, never falters or wonders, well, I can't really relate. And a woman who never gets to a place where she believes that she's beautiful and fascinating, no matter what the world tells her, that's too terribly sad. The play of life, as I see it, is in between, and the magical way the right person's response can change your sense of hope and possibility.

Both posts, and particularly the latter, deal with how being perceived as beautiful can change one's sense of self. The relationship cuts both ways, though: how you perceive someone can also change whether you feel they are beautiful.

The thing is, there's no one who isn't beautiful in some way. If one were to break the elements of beauty into semi-platonic fragments (e.g. a svelte build, wavy hair, striking eyes), there's no one so shortchanged in life's lottery not to have received some sort of payoff. Certainly some people won the jackpot while some were playing nickel slots, but everyone got something.

The question is how much an observer is willing to look for these elements, and look beyond those which are not beautiful. Perhaps a woman with a few too many pounds has nevertheless been kind and generous: it's easy to recognize that she has an infectious smile or perfect fingernails. An unprepossessing gentleman who proves himself to be a good cook can suddenly seem to have his nose transform from a beak to 'aquiline' or even 'noble.' The converse also holds true: when you notice that the real looker at the next table does nothing but run down her friends behind their back, her crow's feet, poor posture, or the vapid way she holds her head become ever more obvious.

So far, so cliche: beauty is in the eye of the beholder, etc. The one useful trick I've learned from all this, however, is that the feedback loop goes both ways.

There's a mental exercise that I use sometimes when I have to work with someone I don't like, or perhaps am tired of feeling upset with someone. I'll try to put a mental image of them in my head, and then think of three things that make them beautiful: maybe striking and unique eyes, an almost regal way of carrying themselves, or a voice smooth as glass. The next time I meet them, I'll focus on those aspects of their nature. Inevitably, it becomes much easier to think well of them in other ways, to concentrate on their good qualities and put aside their less laudable ones.

Hardly revolutionary, I know, but it's a useful trick when you work in a service industry and occasionally need to get along with people you otherwise wouldn't want as friends. And of course, what Sheherazade says holds true: when a person knows that someone else feels they're beautiful, it can change their whole view of the world. Often that's worthwhile in itself.

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