Monday, November 28, 2011

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

My sister Pat: a shyly beautiful woman
I've never been fond of the expression, "Beauty is only skin deep." It uses a definition of beauty - that it is superficial and physical only -- that I just don't buy. Also, the expression is too often used to mollify someone who feels less than beautiful herself.

I don't think anyone would really argue with me. I think we all agree that "inner beauty," characterized by generosity, acceptance, nobility, grace, humility, and kindness, far outweighs the value of external beauty of the sort that ends up on the cover of the Victoria's Secret catalogue.

Today I'm thinking about how that inner beauty can transform our perception of a loved one's physical attractiveness. Misaligned teeth or asymmetrical eyebrows take on a charm that cannot be captured in a photograph or even a painting.

By the same token, I have found myself noticing every tiny imperfection in someone whose face is demonstrably perfect according to some bland ideal of symmetry and proportion. Call it the Kim Kardashian syndrome. The woman is undeniably exquisite in form, but I have no desire to spend five minutes in her company, much less watch her show.

Yesterday evening, I dined with two beautiful women: my sister Pat and my Aunt Winkie. I have never thought of either of them as anything other than attractive. I am flattered when people say I look like one or the other. I was delighted when my cheeks began to hollow out just the way my aunt's (and my father's) had.

This time, I was determined to get a photo or two of the two of them. I know I've mentioned before that I have very few photos of Aunt Winkie. The whole family knows that she hates to have her picture taken. Indeed, I don't think we have any pictures of just her.

Well, yesterday I learned just how desperately she hates to be photographed. While Pat acquiesced to letting me photograph her in her un-maquillaged state, Winkie refused to comply. She held up a mug and a wine glass, turned her head to the side, closed her eyes (ostrich, anyone?), grimaced and said, "No, no, no!"

It didn't help that my DSLR camera is loud, that I have to move in close because I don't have a zoom lens and that I have my camera set to take several exposures in rapid succession (a cheat to compensate for my unsteady hands - one of the exposures is likely to be in better focus than the others).

I felt like a paparazzo, and I'm sure she felt like a beleaguered celebutant.

I finally gave up. The best picture I got of her shows her cheerful red sweater, and a small corner of her head showing her nose, her curling hair, her hands and her left eye squeezed shut. I wish she knew how much we would treasure a real, casual portrait of her.

Stephen convinced me of this a long time ago, so I periodically subject myself to the impersonal scrutiny of the lens. Occasionally, as a couple of weeks ago, I am surprised at what turns out.

I won't post the picture I took of Aunt Winkie. But I will share the picture I took of Penny.
Penny rarely grooms herself and resists all efforts to be groomed,
yet is nevertheless convinced of her own majesty.
I guess Penny owns all the vanity in that household.

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