“For hundreds, even thousands of years, beautiful women have been held to impossible standards. Average women have too. But alone in the dark, in the comfort of our beds…next to our beloved, or alone in the quiet – real beauty can not be seen. In the darkness we are all the same. Beauty emanates from within.”
I penned those words in May 2009. The sentiment stands today. Beauty of the human soul, particularly when it shines through someone’s features creating an aesthetic beauty, must sustain itself. The ‘beautiful’ must learn to self-comfort, be the wellspring of love and light for themselves and those they love, respect. Unfair perhaps, but true. To some degree this is true for all of us. Why?
Beauty does emanate from within. Unfortunately, so does cruelty. Jealousy. Hate. Ugliness. And extreme vanity. Human history is littered with the discarded carcasses of those who lived their lives through vice. Sloth, gluttony, greed, lust… the seven deadly sins have long accommodated mankind’s penchant for self-loathing. For some, the vice is wrath, envy and pride – expressed as hate or jealousy. They craft an entire personae or career based on vitriol and tearing others down – sometimes disingenuously saying they only want to ‘extract the truth’ from whatever entity they view as an oppressor. Men. A beautiful woman. Corporations. Pick a poison.
Much like my column Beautiful, Successful and Hated, this one comes with a warning right at the outset. The impolitic discussion of character and aesthetics will certainly draw ire. To the ladies and gentlemen who read further, if you reflexively defend the Left or Right, expect to be angry. This is about culture, more than politics. This is a love letter and a Dear John letter, take away what you will. Stand for what you believe.
The most beautiful soul is one steeped in truth, fairness, forgiveness and humility. We see it in the faces of a wanted child, of parents welcoming this new soul they created in love – together. In the faces of those same children as they grow towards adulthood unafraid because love has been their constant companion. We see it in elderly couples whose lined faces and enlaced fingers reveal a lifetime spent with love, in love. We see a glimpse of it when two people finally discover each other and set aside vanity or expectation to embrace love, and fashion a new life with and through each other. The kindness of a teacher, a firefighter. The placid face of an experienced Marine Sniper, encouraging a new enlistee – giving him strength even though Death is both their companion and enemy.
What is beautiful, while subjective, is also universal. I submit where you find kindness you also find unblemished beauty.
Feminism and feminists aren’t specifically in my crosshairs today. Women like them, and so many others that came before the Sexual Revolution, transformed the professional landscape. For the suffragettes, trailblazers and the men who made the impossible possible, a debt of gratitude will never be repaid. Inspirational figures like Cleopatra or Eleanor of Acquitane are often forgotten to modern feminists. As is Anne Boleyn’s devotion to both ambition and her husband, King Henry VIII, because the “witch” and “homewrecker” stigma fluffs the pillows of those who have an axe to grind. Feminists, like fiction writer Philippa Gregory, continue to excoriate her even though Boleyn’s tenacity brought about England’s break with the Vatican, the Reformation, and a feminine icon – Queen Elizabeth I – who ruled without a man at her side for decades. No serious person, who has read extensively from contemporaneous accounts of those years, honestly believes Martin Luther’s work inspired Henry VIII to spiritual conversion to the exclusion of Anne Boleyn as a factor in the decision.
Boleyn, Helen of Troy, Scheherazade, Nefertiti are but a few names from antiquity that are precursors to modern feminism. In patriarchal societies, they charted success and continue to inspire. The Borgias were famously depraved but some women still found a way to thrive. The Hellenic era is replete with stories of power plays, beautiful versus ugly, ethics, spiritual questions. Persephone and Demeter’s complicated relationship is a prism for every mother and daughter to gaze through, if they are smart.
Some feminists who rose to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as their younger devotees, effect a much less altruistic streak. Reproductive choice, female competition, deriding men, and anti-tradition histrionics dominate. While many claim to want equality with men, they don’t seem to value it among their feminine counterparts.
They also bred vanity to competition, and have spent the last 40 years raising vicious, vacuous and blatant hypocrisy as their children. They embrace hyper-sexualization as ‘liberation.’ They attempt to eviscerate women of real worth, real accomplishment – particularly if they embody more traditional female archetypes – “wife” or “mother” with success. If the target happens to be beautiful, the rhetoric becomes a conflagration of pettiness and envy. I don’t believe such women exist only on the political Left. There are certainly some Right-leaning females who use sexual availability, wrapped in a wink and nod, as a weapon to destroy any other females who challenge their intellect, preparedness or mothering capability. Embracing the Kardashian model as the Left has done, or vaguely more respectable reality-TV shows like Dancing with the Stars, is really demonstrative that there is an alliance among some “feminists” (Left or Right) to hurt other, more morally stable and yes, beautiful, women.
As a woman, a lover, a friend and especially as a mother…the inauthentic, superficial, agenda-driven and wholesale embrace of negative stereotypes disgusts me. There is no need to sacrifice one’s dignity to succeed. Or maybe, that depends on your definition of success.
If success means you have as much fame, money, or as much sex as the least of men – then ding, ding, ding women like Gloria Steinem are a success. If the Hillary, “I paid my dues and now I’ve got The Honorable before my name” model makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, then goodie for you. My take: you’re damn right she paid her dues. But she didn’t have to stay with, or even be with Bill Clinton in the first place to achieve success. Hillary is brilliant and could be Secretary of State, or President, without selling her soul to Bill all those years. I am certain their affection and respect for one another is genuine but, she’s the one who chose to mock women for “standing by their man.” She did just that, and built a career on being the victim of his libido – but not the sexually satisfied wife who was there because she chose to be for the RIGHT reasons.
Consequences are a bitch.
Examples are legion. Lesser knowns are perhaps more indicative of the insidious, pervasive female competition that continues to plague our societal discourse. Someone recently forwarded an article in The Atlantic to me, Why Do Smart Men Date Less Intelligent Women? Predictably, a cursory look at the Twitter feed offered lots of opportunities to see what my fellow females were saying. Journalists were passing it along, dry and without comment. Some others were straight snark in a so what, who cares tone. But a few, none of which I will be linking to – because it’s not my style to offer traffic to someone who clearly hates other women – were spouting vituperations. It was funny, instead of attacking the intellect, most who were incensed by the article went straight for the beauty mark. Pretty women are stupid and therefore have all that extra time to primp and be hot for men. All those pretty girls are taking all the good men. With a healthy helping of “well, I’m thin and I can get all the hot guys too. But I want the smart ones.” That is an argument so insipid and nonsensical even Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter could not read the tea leaves.
Here’s a newsflash: if you’re that consumed with hate for other women and are angry at men for not choosing you over someone with better looks, or stronger morals, or just plain more self-confidence, then stupid women aren’t your problem. You are.
It isn’t your waist size, it is all about attitude. And discernment. There are a lot of aesthetically beautiful – and inwardly beautiful – people who find love, happiness and gratification.
Furthermore, being hateful to beautiful women you deem ‘less intelligent’ because they lack your pedigree or skill set is absurd. If a beautiful woman conducts her life in an equally vicious manner, it doesn’t matter how symmetrical her features are or how brilliant, she loses her beauty. The ugliness shines through, manifests itself just as surely as inner beauty does. Ugly is as ugly does.
There is little more beautiful than a woman, ripe with self-confidence. Perhaps only the most feminine, most sacred of tasks and roles makes us more beautiful: motherhood. The female form blooms when pregnant, particularly in a loving and committed relationship. I wrote earlier about the “wanted child.” A baby conceived in love is beautiful. To her mate, what honors him more? Nothing…between a man and woman, unconditional love comes after surviving conditional love and chemistry. It comes with time. With patience.
We cannot “have it all” at the same time. But to have it all is a worthy goal. It is a goal we can accomplish. There are many beautiful moments in our lives but alone in the dark, the most ancient and primal urges still ring in our souls. Trust me, I am not romanticizing the realities of relationships, marriage, pregnancy and child-rearing. Quite the contrary. Recognizing the magnitude of the choices and accepting the blessings is critical. Finding peace with our bodies, as perfect or imperfect, whether Titian or wraith-like, lies within the mirror we hold ourselves. Take the good when it comes, revel in it. Breathe in the warmth it provides and be not afraid. The harsh light and judgment of others awaits.
Nobody expects women to stop competing with each other, not professionally or personally. Certainly not for a mate. It is natural to pursue excellence, to preen, to want a worthy man to share a life with. To bear children by. To age with, gracefully and naturally. To laugh with. To touch and be touched by. To honor. Our wants and needs are universal. We all crave stability and acceptance. Safety.
Freedom from fear. I wonder if the competitiveness between Western women stems from boredom, in addition to a lack of self-esteem. The women of Congo look to us for help, as inspiring, free figures. They hail from a place that is arguably the most violent and dangerous place in the world. If you are a woman, rape will likely be your destiny. Obstetric fistula is something you pray to avoid. Auto-cannibalism is the norm. Grotesque wounds are a weapon. An effective weapon of psychological warfare and a tool of genocide. Atrocities are commonplace. As I read through research, I was reminded of The General’s Daughter, penned in the early 1990s by Nelson Demille. (The movie version starred Leslie Stafanson, Madeleine Stowe and John Travolta.)
An exquisitely beautiful young woman attends West Point, following in her father’s footsteps. She is brilliant, quick witted and outshines her classmates. During her sophomore year, there is a night exercise. She is separated from her squad and finds herself surrounded by a group of classmates who strip her, spread eagle her, tie her to the ground with tent pegs, put her panties around her neck, and brutally gang rape her all night long. Beaten, bruised and left to die. When dawn broke, she was discovered and transported to a hospital where she was treated for disease and pregnancy. Instead of supporting her, her father silenced her. She survived by pursuing a career in PsyOps. Psychological Operations. Before a tragic and untimely death, she tells a Warrant Officer what her profession is: “Mostly, we fuck with people’s minds.”
After her death, a rape investigator, notes the stains on the corpse’s cheeks are tears. This beautiful, promising woman was tormented by her demons. Demons that possessed her without consent. Demons that were content to stand idly by as she suffered. Yes, it’s fiction. But truth is reflected there. As women, we must be strong for ourselves and each other. For the men in our lives, for the sons and daughters – born and unborn. Strength means seeking justice, forgiveness and freedom for others and ourselves with equal fervor.
Beauty emanates from within. The beautiful within us should govern our choices, passions, our hunger for knowledge and our ambitions. The beauty of equality, of forgiveness is the honor is a second chance at life. One does not have to be young, or wealthy to find rebirth. It is a gift we give ourselves and share with those we love.
photo credits: Vanity Fair, imdb
painting: The Birth of Venus, Botticelli