March 14, 2010
I find the focus on one’s physical beauty and the inevitable vanity and egotism quite irrational. Outer beauty is impermanent; focusing one’s energy on impermanent traits at the expense of developing more lasting inner beauty and peace seems counter-intuitive to me. Since examples of socially accepted beauty abound in the media and in our everyday lives, there is the false sense of permanence or prevalence of this type of beauty. Yet when you look at physical beauty in a single case it almost always transient or at the least extremely difficult to maintain.
Things change – you grow older, wrinkles appear, your body changes, you get sick, your skin is pure one day and full of blemishes the next. People give you so much attention one day that it is overwhelming and then suddenly it stops and you crave it in desperation. This is the problem with our single-minded focus on the transient, on the outside, on the surface. It is especially revealing in relationships between people based solely on attraction – the connection does not last past a few months if even for a year. If physical beauty is impermanent or at least its effects are so short-lived, why do people continue to strive for it so desperately, rather than working on more permanent traits like a loving personality, kindness, joy or peace?
The best example of the impermanence of beauty comes from the illusionist community of Hollywood, where beauty is manipulated and youth is queen. People there – especially women – strive to maintain the appearance of youth and beauty – multiple hours of workouts every day, plastic surgery, boob jobs, beauty waxing (and waning), lip injections, Botox and several other unsavoury procedures. Yet when someone gets sick (or ages) they are discarded from the flock without much mention, and the focus moves to something young and beautiful. When the person dies, she may get a mention if she was important enough (read: if she has enough beautiful images available to fill the short obituary), but the story must move on and make way for fresher beauty. This is how the illusion of the permanence of beauty is achieved.
I am not saying that we should not enjoy physical beauty; I am saying that we should balance the transient and the permanent. I enjoy the beauty of a flower even though I know that it will wilt and decay. (In fact, I even admire the beauty of a wilted flower.) Enjoying your beauty (but not obsessing over it) does not contradict with the development of one’s inner beauty and personality. Physical beauty is greatly affected by one’s inner beauty and by accepting and loving one’s self – so it only makes sense to develop the permanent while enjoying the transient.