Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Beauty of a Woman

This post is a commentary semi-inspired by a note a friend of mine posted on Facebook several months ago. In this note, my friend complained about the many recent posts and memes depicting girls and books and implying that the classiest girls are those who do a considerable amount of reading. She argued that just because a girl reads a lot does not automatically make her a smarter, or better person. Ever since I read her note, it has been on my mind. Then when I saw this picture while browsing through my tumblr feed, I remembered her post and decided I'd add my two cents worth to the conversation. 

It certainly seems true that being well-rounded and reading a great deal has become particularly attractive in recent decades. One of the best ways I think to sum this up is found in a scene from the first episode of the second season of the BBC series' Sherlock, where Irene Addler quips to Sherlock,  "Brainy is the new sexy." 

"Brainy is the new sexy."

But is one's attractiveness or beauty contingent upon knowledge, nerdiness, or intelligence any more than one's attractiveness or beauty contingent upon one's physical appearance?

Now, in case you were thinking this is a tirade against reading or being well-rounded, let me begin by saying that I am a self-proclaimed nerd and I have enjoyed reading ever since I was in grade school. Furthermore, I strongly advocate reading and educating one's mind whether one is eight, eighteen, or sixty-five. Reading, education has so many benefits: it helps a person to develop an appreciation for other cultures, ideas, history, science; it can feed inspiration, build confidence, and teach discipline. The more people are educated in the philosophies and the disciplines of the mind and the universe, the more possibilities there are for improving society.

Nevertheless, I wish to argue that being an avid reader, having a bachelor's degree or a doctorate, or being well-rounded (or all the above) does not necessarily make you more beautiful, smarter, or a better person. 

First of all, knowledge comes in many shapes and forms apart from books and the internet. Life experiences such has hard work and interactions with fellow human beings, both good and bad, have the ability to teach so many things that cannot be learned from books. 

Secondly, beauty and the betterment of the human person comes from virtue and strength of character, not knowledge. A great example of this can be found in the story of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The main character of the story is a young girl by the name of Sara Crewe, the beloved only daughter of a wealthy British army captain. The only daughter of a wealthy army captain, she is sent to a girls' boarding school, where she befriends the friendless Ermengarde and the lonely scullery maid Nellie. She loves to read and is treated like a princess in nearly every way until tragedy strikes, leaving her an orphan and a pauper. Her books, her frocks, and all of her belongings are sold and she is forced to earn her keep as a scullery maid alongside Nellie at the boarding school. She dresses in rags, sleeps in a freezing attic, and often goes hungry.
In spite of her misfortunes, Sara resolves to maintain her noble character. "Whatever comes," she says, "cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it." Later she confides to her friends, "Sometimes I do pretend I am a princess. I pretend I am a princess so that I can try and behave like one." 

A Little Princess, tv miniseries from 1986

Sara experiences her own moments of doubt and despair, but she is able to overcome them through her kindness and her vivid imagination. She does not become bitter or selfish because of her misfortunes. One day while running errands for the cook, she comes across a six-pence on the street outside a bakery. Instead of pocketing it, she takes it in to the baker and inquires if anyone has come looking for the money. The baker insists that she keep it as  no one has come inquiring after the lost coin. Sara uses the sixpence to buy a few rolls from the baker. However, having noticed a starving beggar girl sitting outside the door, Sara gives most of them to her. Sara's ability to look beyond her own sufferings to ease the pain of others shows that beauty does not originate in reading, knowledge, or wealth, but in simple acts of kindness and love. 

Now one might argue that one learns about living a life of virtue through reading. This is certainly true, but a person must critically evaluate and apply this way of thinking to their own life: in short, reading/educating one's self is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. One must also be able to discern the good from the bad -- not all one reads is worth emulating.
I conclude with a few words spoken by Audrey Hepburn. As it turns out, they are not her own words but the words of educator-humorist Sam Levinson. She read the following on Christmas Eve in 1992 and she adopted it for when she was asked for beauty tips.

"For attractive lips, speak word of kindness.

For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.

For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.

For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day.

For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.

People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone.

Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you'll find one at the end of each of your arms.

As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.

The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries or the way she combs her hair.

The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.
The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years." 

(From Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris, 1996, Putnam)

Photo of Audrey Hepburn from 1989

1 comment:

Hannah D. said...

I've always liked that quote :) Great post, Emily!