Sunday, October 07, 2007

On the Moment to Moment Instability of Beauty and Ugliness

Someone, I’m sure has written about this. I just haven’t come across it yet. It’s too obvious--and also too unsettling. This scandal: that the beautiful are not beautiful, and the ugly are not ugly, consistently.

That the beautiful are sometimes ugly is a disgrace. That the ugly are, without warning, beautiful is heartening.

Why struggle to befriend the beautiful people? By the time you catch up to them they could very well be hideous.

I am disconcerted. I’d prefer if people just stayed in one camp or another. Beautiful or Ugly. Permanently. The world would be easier to understand then, and easier to prepare for.

Some oscillation, some divergence, can be blamed on late nights, on whether one is beloved or forsaken, on the consumption of salmon, on happiness or unhappiness, and of course on beer—but the greater, more significant change remains a mystery. Does it change with the moon? Is it karmic or atmospheric? Should I not wait so long between haircuts?

Because nowhere is this more disruptive than in oneself. Other people can be forgiven. Here comes the day of the family portrait, it’s date night, and you think, I’m doing okay. Of course, I’m nothing special, but I do make it to the gym now and then. I moisturize.

But you look in the mirror that day and find a haggard aged goblin struggling to contain her eating disorder by means of IV drugs. Aghast at your reflection, you ask: where has this weight come from? Why is my skin this color? Have I managed to die without noticing? Yesterday I somehow imagined I was remotely okay. What happened?

That this happens is well-known. I don’t know why more people haven't written about it.

Conversely, a sudden shift from ugliness to beauty appears to be positive. However this shift is likewise calamitous and generally causes more trouble than sudden ugliness.

Imagine then, this situation. This situation which is very familiar to me. You are not attractive. Your features are unfortunate. Your body sags. Your genitals are unspectacular. You’re getting on in years. And you’ve accepted this.

You say to yourself: now it is time to focus on my spiritual life. Now I will learn to meditate and let go. Now I will study the Collected Essays of Michel de Montaigne. Now I will give back to the community.

Enough, you say. Enough nonsense. Enough vanity.

You no longer seek out mirrors but, then--one can’t really avoid them. You glance and there is a nanosecond of pure astonishment.

Hmmm. I’m not half-bad.

A nanosecond—and then you fall at once to plotting. Because if you look this good, then doubtless there are attractive people somewhere who would not object to sleeping with you. And hadn’t you better give them more opportunities to do so?

There is anxiety in this, heavy-duty anxiety, because you are well-aware that, not only will these good looks be gone in twenty years, they may very well have vamoosed by the next time you look in the mirror.

So you rush back to the mirror. Careful now not to turn on the overhead fluorescent. Still okay. Phew.

And the next moment you’re out in the street, flagging down a taxi on your way to (at best) that overpriced cruisy coffee shop or (more likely) that bar where no one wears anything but boots. Just boots. Nothing else.

Beauty and ugliness alternate back and forth. The Collected Essays of Montaigne remain unread.

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