Expanding Beauty

When you hear or read or think of the word "beauty," what image springs to mind in that instance, that very first glimmer of a thought? For many people, beauty is attached to the human form, to a face or a body image. For me, beauty is perceived in terms of colors, and is typically attached to landscapes, whether mountains, lakes, fields, or flowers. Take this dandelion seed head for example. I find the flower and the image below to be beautiful. Others may not, but, instead, think of both the flower and the image to be of minimal beauty, neither of which stimulates the senses of such a one. This happens because beauty is inherently and inevitably relative and subjective to each person -- and that's okay.


The phrase "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is true, I think, and we demonstrate as much when we disagree over the object in question. One person views the daisy below as beautiful, and another person shrugs the shoulders, unaffected by its presence. What, I wonder, causes these differences?


I Google-imaged "beauty" and the first image that appeared was the image below. What does that say about our culture? I think that says that we base beauty on particular faces of certain women and their bodies. Odd, I think, that the female form in various faces appeared in frame after frame after frame but not male faces, not the male form, and not even the beauty of landscapes or flowers or waterfalls. While many heterosexual males, and not a few lesbians and bi-sexual females, are attracted to this image of "beauty" below, I maintain absolutely no affinity, not an ounce of attraction, for this offering of so-called beauty. What of male beauty?



Now, for me, Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the 182nd district Brian Sims (b. 1978) represents beauty of the male form (pictured below). Why Google did not offer images for "beauty" in the male form bespeaks of our cultural mindset of what constitutes beauty -- at least with respect to the human form. Who, exactly, determines what images appear when one is searching for "beauty"?



According to Moz.com, search engines are answering machines, and they "crawl" the world wide web for those answers: "When a person performs an online search, the search engine scours its corpus of billions of documents and does two things: first, it returns only those results that are relevant or useful to the searcher's query; second, it ranks those results according to the popularity of the websites serving the information." (link) (emphases added) Odd, though, that the "returns" I received for "beauty" were not at all "relevant or useful to the searcher's query." This is because how I perceive beauty and how a search engine is programmed to perceive beauty are completely at odds. So, according to the culture at large via search engine results, what constitutes beauty is the female form: not the male form, not sea creatures, not landscapes.



I appreciate the above image and find the setting beautiful. Others prefer a tropical setting (displayed below).



I am attracted to rich colors, from deep sunset oranges and purples, to vibrant shades of blue.



Yet, Fall is also my favorite time of the year, and the yellows, oranges, and reds catch my eye.



Some are are mystified and enraptured by scenes from space -- the colors, the expanse, the immensities.



Still others are arrested by waterfalls or the Northern Lights.



I find beauty in old castles like the image below of the Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland.



The melancholy nature within me also finds immense and profound beauty in dark and rainy days.



But there is beauty elsewhere, like under the sea . . .



. . . or in the snow . . .



. . . in the stillness of these wonderful creatures . . .



. . . in the emotional-psychological-spiritual intensity between two in love . . .



. . . or in the love of a mother and the innocence of her young one . . .



. . . or just in being alive with other human beings with which to share these beauties.



I want our perception of beauty to expand. I don't think we should limit beauty to image. There is beauty in the craft of theatre and movies, whether in playing a character, or in directing the work of art in motion.



There is beauty in the creation and execution of music.



There is beauty in literature, poetry, humanities and art.



Yet, beauty is also about one's character -- meaning, who one is as a unique human being. The inner person or character should assume priority over the flesh. You may be missing limbs, or you may feel unattractive, or you may have scars. But such realities do not make you, or anyone else in the world, unbeautiful. Why? Because beauty doesn't belong to the flesh. The human flesh is actually made of stardust. (link/link) What that dust looks like does not determine your worth, your usefulness to the human cause, or your state of being beautiful. Alessia Cara, in her song "Scars to Your Beautiful," sings about the beauty of being human:
She just wants to be beautiful.
She goes unnoticed; she knows no limits.
She craves attention; she praises an image.
She prays to be sculpted by the sculptor.

Oh, she don't see the light that's shining,
Deeper than the eyes can find it.
Maybe we have made her blind.
So she tries to cover up her pain and cut her woes away;
'Cause cover girls don't cry after their face is made.

But there's a hope that's waiting for you in the dark.
You should know you're beautiful just the way you are.
And you don't have to change a thing; the world could change its heart.
No scars to your beautiful; we're stars and we're beautiful.
I find a profound truth in this pop song. What makes us beautiful is not how we appear on the outside but who we are on the inside. Our culture tends to confuse the who for the how -- the same three letters comprise each word and, yet, the difference escapes us. So, when I say you are beautiful, what I mean is that, by your very nature, or by your very existence, you are already beautiful. Just by being you, and being true in yourself and to yourself, is telling of your tremendous beauty. Put gender aside; ignore cultural trends and fickle fads of what style is "in" that is hot; your beauty is already present wherever you go and wherever you are because beauty belongs to the person -- to the soul, the spirit, the essence -- to you as a unique creature. No one else on earth, whether in the past, the present, or the future, will ever be you. Be your beautiful self!

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.