Beauty is a Double Edged Sword

This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Web Papers
On Serendip

Beauty is a Double Edged Sword

Liz Paterek

I hear a Mozart piece playing in the room as I stare up at the Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse. There are no ropes or alarms; I can almost feel the artist's energy emanate from the brush strokes. The room is a gilded cage, trapping me in all the decadence that beauty is to our society. The word baroque rings in my ears, as I stare at the fixtures, the walls and the moldings. A sweet gentle smell of roses is in the air. I see people from all walks of life milling around, each on his/her own. They discover for themselves the individuality of beauty. They smile, discuss their interpretations with one another, each statement is more unique than the next. The scene inspires me to create beauty. I want to stay here forever, as the scene consumes me.

Beauty is a beast. She is ever-changing, and overwhelming. She exists in everything and in everyone. She can entrance us, leading us to our doom, like the Odyssey's siren song. She is like a virus, using the human host to replicate without thought to the consequences. She always changes so we never know what she will be next. She can remain dormant in us for long periods of time, and surface in times of vulnerability. We cannot see her except in her creations; we cannot always find her when we look. She must find us. We need the benefits of joy and fulfillment that she can provide. However, she needs us just as much as we need her. Like the tree that falls in the woods, in order to exist, she needs people to admire her.

I watch as women waste away. Desperate to find beauty, they become more object than human. I watch those around me conform to ideals of feminine beauty. I feel the pressure to be the blonde Barbie ideal weighing me down. I watch as others forget who they once were because now their minds matter less than wearing a size 1. They are addicted to being small. I see images from the past that bind women. Corsets and foot binding alter the female form. Beauty has weakened them, made them small. They would die for beauty; they would feel pain for beauty and the happiness they think beauty can offer them.

Feminine beauty is a careful balance. I feel myself lose something when I am called beautiful. I become a doll; my mind, my heart, none of that matters but what is on the outside. The empty vessel becomes more important than its contents. Yet in a small part of me I feel fulfilled. I feel accepted, the beauty warms me inside. I feel it is the dilemma of being a woman; beauty is a double edged sword.

Beauty is like the lottery, once in a while a huge jackpot is struck, but mostly it is just small unexpected handouts. A large win can bring immense joy. It can also destroy us if we are not prepared. Those who find too much all at once can obsess over strikingly beautiful things rather than appreciate the small things. Eventually their own view of beauty fades, turning into a quest for what society holds up as beautiful. However, there are those who are content with the small things. I would count myself in this group. I appreciate the beauty of a simple flower or a child's crayon drawing. Instead of allowing it consuming life, beauty enhances it. However, I wonder if were I to find some startling beauty, if I too would change.

Beauty is a form of status. People use it to define who and what they are. These people find living in large mansions, having a beautiful car, a beautiful spouse, beautiful clothes, and beautiful children more important than being happy. It can happen to any one, sometimes I fear that it will happen to me. At first the things that started out making us happy, swell into a hopeless pursuit for more material possessions. I fear becoming a slave, only attaining what society deems beautiful rather than using introspection. I fear that I will forget that small beauty can sometimes be the best. I fear that I will forget that a truly passionate response to something can only come from within.

Beauty is fickle. What we find beautiful as a society and as individuals can be swayed. When we are taught something is beautiful, this will impact the way we view the object. I am more likely to find painting beautiful because I have been taught my whole life that it is. Stories change beauty. Even a sentence has the power to make a difference, adding some meaning to the piece, or making it dark and uninviting. When I heard the story behind the painting of Io, I could not help but find it more beautiful. It reminded me of the Grecian legends I love. However, if I did not like the story or it did not relate to positive images in my mind, I would find the object less attractive. If some one tells me the artist's motivation behind a piece, I sometimes worry that I will forget my initial thoughts.

Beauty is fleeting, both in us as individuals and in society as a whole. Sometimes understanding why we find things beautiful means that the beauty leaves the object. When trying to analyze it too much or to find out why it intrigues me, it the image loses some of its value because it has lost its individuality. It reminds me of the tearless response of art historians to art. Once they analyze it, they become incapable of having an emotional response to it. The author of the passage speaks of the painting he can no longer cry at. This reminds me of how I felt looking at the paintings or the photographs after I tried to find the reason behind the beauty. My pure passion for the piece had faded. I have also found myself becoming desensitized to the beauty of something I am too familiar with. I find it harder to see the beauty in a picture I have seen a thousand times or in a book I have read too often. Some beauty is lost and I question whether or not it will return. When society changes or cultures change, what is valued as beautiful also changes. Today there is a large emphasis on the past, however there have been times in the past where there used to be a larger appreciation of the present and the future. If I was born in the 1800's, would I appreciate the beauty of industrial progress over preserving the beauty of nature?

As objects change with time, beauty also changes. Individuals are powerless to fight against this. People who were beautiful in their youth can become haggard by the time they reach forty. The beauty of that individual has faded. Beautiful old buildings can be destroyed or fall into ruin. While they are most often seen as a new type of beautiful, the beauty is not the same as it once was. I wonder whether or not this is good. In some way the fear I have of aging is the result of the fact that in aging we lose youthful beauty. I find youth, the passion and vigor of it, much more beautiful than the wisdom of age.

Maybe I sound too cynical, that was not really my intent. We must take all of life with a grain of salt. Beauty is like lady luck, we can appreciate her but she can't be the only thing we rely on. Maybe I focused too much on superficial beauty. However, I feel that this is the way our society teaches us to be. While we talk about inner beauty, we are constantly bombarded by superficiality. Advertisements, commercialized music, television and culture teach us that it is more important to be superficial than to have substance. It teaches us that having whatever society deems beautiful is going to make us happy. I feel the weight of beauty not in the depth and individuality of the soul but in the immediate things that we see and hear. It is easier to look at the surface than to probe more deeply. American popular culture says that it is better to live an easy glamorously beautiful life than a fulfilling beautiful one.

Despite all its flaws, beauty is also the reason I wake up in morning. Beauty makes me happy to be alive. When I can see the beauty in something I feel happily overwhelmed. A world without beauty would be an emotionless one, the sterile civilized society out of Brave New World. When I think of beauty I think of pain but life is pain. If there was no pain how could we really appreciate joy or comfort? Even the bad side of beauty makes me more aware of the good beauty can do. Beauty inspires me to paint, to write, to read, to learn.

As I walk around the museum of beauty that exists in my mind, I think not on the pain that beauty can bring but merely allow it to overwhelm me for the time being. What should I do? I do not know. I don't think there is an answer to that question. The only thing I know is that I must find beauty for myself.

WWW Sources





| Course Home Page | Course Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:35 CDT