Love built on beauty, soon as beauty, dies ~ John Donne
John Donne’s four-hundred-year-old quote is as true today as it was in the 1600s. This theme is on my mind because the heroine of my current work-in-progress is an aging model who is struggling with her waning beauty while looking for love. But this isn’t just some silly theme for genre fiction. When I look around, it seems our culture is overly fixated on beauty and sex appeal as the way to win love and affection. As a mother of two tweens, I worry about how that message may impact their ability to decipher the real keys to valuing and building a lasting, loving relationship in the future.
Physical attraction is undoubtedly an important element of romantic love, especially for men (who are proven to be more visually driven). But, contrary to what Vogue and Hollywood would have us believe, it is also highly subjective.
My college freshman roommate once accused me of crushing on the “ugliest” boys on campus. My response? Laughter. Looking back, I suppose none of those boys were ever going to be on the cover of GQ. But although their physical characteristics varied wildly (height, weight, hair color, and so on), they shared key non-physical traits: high energy, big smiles and easy laughter, compatible intelligence, and a friendly spirit. In short, I liked them so much they became irresistibly cute to me! Of course, I really lucked out with my husband, who is both objectively attractive and has that big smile and easy laughter I always find endearing. But I digress…
Not only is beauty subjective, but it fades, too. I was never a beauty, but as a young teen I’d thought of myself as reasonably cute. Yet, throughout adulthood, I began to feel inadequate with my not-so-tight abs and butt, smaller breasts, thin hair, aging skin, and lack of sexy shoes and clothing. It has affected my self-confidence and, at times, my sex drive. I’ve flirted with plastic surgery, dyed my hair and tried hair extensions, dieted and exercised, and even worn an inappropriate outfit or two for my age. The fact I’m now married and mature doesn’t matter…the self-doubt can still creep up to make me feel unattractive and, thus, unlovable. The worst part is always the inevitable self-disgust I feel when I must acknowledge my own vanity and insecurities!
I hope my children can ignore society’s pressure to conform to one standard of beauty, and understand much earlier and more completely than I that no “perfect” physical trait will make a person more interesting and lovable, nor will it make him or her more loving (well, maybe more self-loving). Beauty is certainly a gift, but it will never, on its own, capture and keep a loving partner. Love is an active state of being that requires devotion, sacrifice, commitment, and courage, no matter what size, shape, color, or age one may be. Now, will someone remind me of this the next time I fret about cellulite?
Okay, time to get back to riddling my heroine with all of these insecurities so her hero can come along to prove the error of her thinking.