I’m really having a hard time wrapping my mind around the relationship between beauty and culture.
To show what I mean, I think I’ll use a story…
Meet Penny (that’s not her actual picture).
Penny can time-travel but isn’t entirely in control of her abilities (yes, it’s exactly like Time Traveler’s Wife, but without all that mushy crap).
Penny was born in a small rural town in the year 1835. She had two sisters, four brothers, a mother, and a father. In her town there were about a dozen other girls her age, who she saw on a fairly regular basis.
Most people in her town considered her to be one of the prettier girls. Not the prettiest, of course (that title belonged to Sherill, for obvious reasons). But it’s fair to say that the boys paid her a decent amount of attention when she walked into town.
When Penny was fourteen, however, she had her first major time traveling episode.
It was so major, in fact, that she ended up in the year 2003. Fortunately for Penny, one of the first people she met upon arriving in the 21st century was a one-legged automobile mechanic named Ted Arnold, who, along with Mrs. Arnold, agreed to adopt Penny and not disclose her special talent.
The Arnolds lived in the same small town where Penny’s family had lived more than two centuries earlier. The town had grown, but was generally still considered both small and rural.
When the Arnolds enrolled Penny in the local high school, she discovered life in the 21st century to be remarkably different.
Despite there still being roughly the same number of girls her age, the way they talked about and treated Penny was quite unfamiliar. She was no longer considered to be one of the prettier girls, and no longer received much attention (or, at least, not much good attention) from the boys her age.
Soon, Penny realized that they were probably right.
Penny wasn’t nearly as skinny as the other girls. She didn’t wear any of the makeup they wore. She’d also been wearing long dresses to school, since she found the shorts and skirts that most people were buying in the mall to be uncomfortable.
After a few months, it wasn’t just the way other people thought about Penny that had altered. Penny was also thinking differently about herself.
The altering was not a good one.
The Permanence of Beauty?
So here’s the thing I’m struggling with:
Penny obviously didn’t. So let’s say it was society, or culture, or whatever you want to call it. That’s all well and good (and, of course, generally true).
But what about beauty? Did beauty itself actually change between 1835 and 2003?
You see, I totally agree that our opinions, beliefs, and even our desires can be influenced by the environment around us. But the environment can’t influence everything.
You couldn’t, for instance, convince me that avocados taste good- no matter what century I time-traveled to.
And that’s because avocados DON’T taste good! Period! (For those of you who disagree, I’m sorry that your taste buds are flawed, but it’s true.)
Similarly, you couldn’t convince me (or anyone else, I’d hope) that swimming in ice water is fun. That’s because swimming in ice water ISN’T fun!
How, then, can we be so easily swayed when it comes to that which we consider to be beautiful? How did nearly all of the ancient philosophers become convinced of the permanence of beauty if it can actually be destroyed by an 30-second Abercrombie commercial?
What is it that we’re missing?
*Photo Credit: Martinak15 (Creative Commons)
This week’s topic (also known as the Weekly Curiosity) is beauty. Check back each weekday at 12:34pm for a new post exploring this idea. In the meantime, here are three ways you can join the quest: