When I was in high school, a friend gave me a book called, “Why Beauty Matters”. I read it, cover to cover, but didn’t feel like it ever answered the question it posed. In fact, I had even more questions about the concept of beauty.
Growing up in the church, I was always taught that inside beauty mattered more than outside beauty, so I just operated with the assumption that outside beauty didn’t matter at all. Even further down on the list would be material beauty, which I also had an unfortunate love affair with. I’ll skip the mascara, but give me a Louis XVI fauteuil covered in Scalamandre and I’m in heaven. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about there, just read: big words for a fancy chair.) If it was beautiful, it felt like an indulgence, no matter how much it cost. Things are supposed to be simple and humble — that is true “inside beauty.”
This brought on a huge amount of guilt. Who was I to want fancy chairs when there were people in need of water in this world? As a friend of mine once said to me, “What eternal purpose does it serve?” Perhaps I thought my love affair with beautiful material things could be justified by my lack of mascara and personal appearance. Now I see that I loved the things because I thought they gave me value; if I had stuff, people would pay attention.
I’m sure some people are motivated the same way by their physical appearance: if they were thin, people would love them.
I really, truly, didn’t care what others thought about when they looked at me, but I also didn’t care what I thought of me—and so I wasn’t very attentive to me, or my personal appearance. Every now and then I would do something to change my physical appearance: highlights or manicure or pedicure, but it didn’t matter if I maintained those things. They were temporary indulgences, not justifiable, and therefore, needed to be swept under the guilt rug with the fancy French chairs. For the past four years, you could ask any of my friends who saw me on a regular basis: I never wore makeup unless I had to be somewhere for work, at a speaking gig or trade show. I wouldn’t even wear makeup to go to local meetings, because those people would eventually see me as plain old Whitney soon enough—why put in the effort on the first day?
It didn’t matter how much science you used to try to convince me that there truly is never a second chance to make a first impression. The first impression didn’t matter; only the inside beauty mattered.
But a subtle shift started to happen a few years ago when I heard the headmaster at my children’s school mention a book called Beauty Will Save The World.
The title pulls its name from a line in a novel by the 19th-century Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, and it intrigued me. In the talk to a group of parents, the headmaster posed that we live in a culture of increasing relativism when it comes to both truth and goodness. The new definition of truth is whatever you make of it, and goodness is often justified as taking care of yourself above others. With so much heated debate, it’s hard to get people to agree. But if we can educate to beauty, if we can all agree on that, that maybe, we stand a chance.
I decided to dive more deeply into these concepts of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty and uncovered a world of ancient philosophy.
Down the rabbit hole, I went. Turns out that ancient philosophers [Read more…]