When we try to define beauty, we realise that there’s something wonky in the mix.
I mean sure, in a world where our standards of beauty are set by photo-shopped teenagers, I know I’m probably a long-shot for Australia’s Next Top model.
But that’s the thing about beauty. It’s not a form of perfection. It’s something wonkier than that.
It’s like, I was wondering the other day why do the glossy mags use real models at all? If you’re just going to process the crap out of it on the computer anyway, why not just start with a computer-generated image. Why bother with a photo-shoot at all?
I think the answer to that is that computers are too perfect. Computer-images would lack the nuance and irregularity that actually makes a face beautiful.
The poet Charles Baudelaire wrote about this:
“That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal, from which it follows that irregularity – that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment – is an essential part and characteristic of beauty.”
It is those delightful variations – an unusual nose, strange eyes, cute freckles, etc, that give someone character and make them attractive.
We like things to be within standards of beauty to a degree, but we never like them to be ‘perfect’.
I really like this insight.
Partly it gives me hope that if this whole property investing thing doesn’t pan out, I could still become Australia’s Next Top Model.
But I like it more for what it says about life more broadly.
We want our life to go well. We want it to track along with our goals and 5-year plans.
And sometimes we want that a lot. We get frustrated or disappointed when things don’t flow completely to design.
But the truth is that if life just flowed along perfectly according to plan, flawlessly following the schedule, we’d probably be a bit dissatisfied.
It would lack nuance. It would lack the surprises and the flaws and the irregularities that are “an essential part and characteristic of beauty.”
It would just be a bit boring.
So I wonder if this gives us a new way of looking at our challenges and setbacks.
Rather than seeing them as a source of frustration and stress, or rather than seeing them as dreadful first step towards misery and failure, maybe we can welcome them.
Maybe we can welcome our challenges as an essential ingredient in a beautiful and satisfying life.
Maybe we can even see them as gifts, sent from some benevolent force that wants to see our life filled with beauty – not that plastic photo-shopped, schedule-perfect beauty, but real beauty. Real, freckles and all beauty.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t strive for perfection – that we shouldn’t set goals and write out 5-year plans.
Only that we shouldn’t let our challenges crush us. They are an essential part of the journey – a necessary side-effect of forward movement.
And in hindsight, they are the wonky details that make our life seem beautiful.