Beauty is Unfair

Margaret Gorman, Miss America 1921
Margaret Gorman, Miss America 1921

The young goatherd Paris had no idea he’d start a war. All he wanted was the most beautiful mortal of his day–Helen of Troy. Beauty and equality do not go hand in hand. It’s not enough to be one of the beauties or to admire one of the beauties. We must crown one as supreme.

Juno, Venus and Minerva quarreled amongst themselves over who was most lovely. They bribed a goatherd to settle things. But beauty is unsettling. It’s fleeting and it makes us wonder about fairness. Beauty captivates us even when we think we should know better. Shouldn’t we love even second-rate art? Beauty shows us the most pleasing sights, yet leaves us sometimes feeling resentful and inadequate.

Way back in the mists of time beautiful women came to symbolize the virtues of nations. P.T. Barnum in 1854 saw another way to capitalize on humanity’s beauty cravings. After successful dog, chicken and baby beauty contests he stepped it up with the first American beauty contest. People were outraged at the idea of virtuous young women being ogled and judged. Barnum scratched his head. Beauty should be celebrated as one of the finer things in life. We all secretly judge and make friends first on their attractiveness. We look at masterpieces in the high falutin’ museums because those nudes take our breath away. Who are we kidding?

She even had a beautiful dog!
She even had a beautiful dog!

Barnum never gave up. He changed the rules ever so slightly. Okay, no women standing there getting uncomfortable. Send me your daguerreotypes and a little bit about what you do as a beautiful person. If you win you get a fancy portrait done of yourself instead of the promised dowry for the old contest. Seems pretty girls like selfies. The contest was a grand success at combining low-brow and high-brow entertainment for the masses.

I know some of you will cry, “How snobby of you to delineate between high and low! Children’s drawings and Renoir are just the same!” “Beautiful women should not be objectified!” No one puts a gun to the beauty’s head (do they?).

I get it. Ugly people can lurk within their beautiful bodies, but let’s not pretend we aren’t mesmerized by symmetry and smooth skin. In the interest of being nice and democratic let’s not embrace mediocrity as a badge of honor. I’ve never entered a beauty contest and I’m well past my prime, but I don’t hate beautiful people. I don’t automatically love them either. I just like to look at them.

Margaret rocking the stockings.
Margaret rocking the stockings.

The first Bathing Beauty Pageant  took place at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware in 1880 as an advertizing gimmick.

“The modern beauty pageant’s origin is traceable to the “Atlantic City’s Inter-City Beauty Contest” in 1921, which was held to entice summer tourists to stay in town past Labor Day. Local newsman Herb Test created history by offering to title the girl who won “Miss America.” Out of the eight competitors for the title, Margaret Gorman, who represented the nation’s capital as Miss Washington D.C., was declared the beauty queen, winning the first-ever Miss America title.” theloc.gov

60 thoughts on “Beauty is Unfair

  1. I remember as I raised my toddler (they’re all darling and beautiful) wondering if she’d be beautiful with all those attendant worries? It’s a little like the statistics on lottery winners–so often, it ruins their lives.

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  2. Paris was no goatherd. He was prince of Troy, brother of Hector and son of Priam. Get your facts straight Jersey girl :). I’m sure even if you are “well past your prime” you could still win a beauty contest. How about Miss Upstate New York author and farmer? 🙂

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  3. Yes, it can be terribly unfair, burdensome, and embarrassing. I will admit to having been saddled with being way too handsome from the get go. Oh how many times have I wanted to scream “I am not just a pretty face, dammit!” And taking my lovely and adoring wife to a nice restaurant invariably results in the check including some over the top note, such as “I must have you….please call me at….”
    Good thing I am a good man, and have learned to live with my ridiculously good looks. On occasion I will go out in disguise only to have 3, or more, women recognize me and chase me through the neighborhood.
    So you are right on the mark here and your research may now include me.

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      • I’m not sure you can blame all of that on Puritans 🙂 Objectification is more of a modern feminist term for the normal human desire for beauty.There have always been men (and women) who use violence or manipulation to get what they want, but I think it’s dishonest to say we don’t have preferences.

        A lot of the outcry (ie Kim kardashian) is manufactured to keep our eyes on dumb (though beautiful) things. If anyone really was a ‘Puritan’ they’d turn off the tv and internet. The debate is between actors pretending to be well educated and moral people (news anchors and the like). It’s all a big game.

        We get what we deserve if we think the debates on TV really matter–my rant for the day. 🙂

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      • Actually, it was the outcry I was calling puritanical. I don’t really want to think about Kim Kardashian, but if other people want to look at her butt, why not? Same thing with John Hamm’s bulge.

        Paying attention to someone because they’re hot is not, to my mind, bad. It thus annoys me when folks heep scorn on the admirers of Ms. Kardashian’s posterior.

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      • I think the whole uproar was manufactured by the media–like most other uproars. There’s very little critical thinking going on here. Probably most of the complaining came from women–either because Kim was being objectified (as all women who’ve ever posed for nudes have readily agreed to be) or because somehow Kim is being a bad role model. Both ideas make me laugh. No one has to look at her. So I don’t know if it’s puritanical or just plain stupid.

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  4. I would be grateful to put a link to this article in a post scheduled for later this month (last one in La Pompadour series which has taken me over, and has gone off in all sorts of weird directions which no-one will want to follow! That talking to oneself feeling again…..)

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    • ” . . . no-one will want to follow.” You make me smile. I’m going through the same thing at the moment–in the final stages of publishing the first of 4 novels in a series (the others are in rough draft because I just couldn’t stop writing about Buck Crenshaw). After hours editing and designing multiple covers and worrying I almost let myself wonder if anyone would love Buck enough to follow him! In the end the last 5-7 years with Buck have been a joy no matter what happens (but I want people to like him.) 🙂

      I love your “weird” subjects and your fabulous writing style. I’d be honored to in any way be associated with your blog–link away!

      All the best~
      A

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      • ‘A heroine whom no-one but myself will much like’ – your feelings about Buck remind me of Jane Austen and Emma. I’m looking forward to getting acqauinted with Buck, and reading all your books.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. “beautiful women came to symbolize the virtues of nations.” Interesting. Elaborate?

    “Seems pretty girls like selfies.” LOL. Right. And we like to look at them, too.

    Hey, I didn’t realize Barnum was behind the pageants. Omg. They seem all the more sensational and cheap, but that was a stroke of genius. Of course beauty sells.

    As to the beautiful dog (LOL), apparently those who’re really beautiful have fine taste. And I really like Margaret’s outfit. Makes me wanna dress like that.

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    • I keep thinking about dressing more feminine. It comes up a lot. What holds me back is the “Hi, I’m a homeschooling mom” look. I was a homeschooling mother who wore jeans. I love home schoolers, but I’ve only seen a few women who can pull off the jean skirts–and I still have plenty of vanity.

      “beautiful women came to symbolize the virtues of nations.” If you look at the sculptures done at the turn of the 19th-20th century at world’s fairs and on public works the national attributes were always symbolized by beautiful women–beauty and virtue were linked.

      Now I think we as a culture embrace fallen beauty and even ugliness more. Maybe a sign of moral and cultural decline. ;(

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      • “Hi, I’m a homeschooling mom” look.” ROAR!! I know you didn’t think it was that funny. But it is to me. Ah – appreciate the rest of it. (And I’m going to wait for you to dress more femininely. We’re in this together.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • I was randomly reading about a woman who adopted 5 kids in one year. One of the girls started reading the Bible and said, “Mommy, I think God wants me to dress more like a girl so can I donate my jeans to Goodwill?”

        The mother liked her skinny jeans but after a few months of watching her daughters she switched to skirts. I say keep Bibles away from children—kidding.

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      • I was greatly taken with The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. A true work of art deserving of accolade, better than her bestseller, in my book. In The Signature, the main character is a brilliant unattractive vwoman who grows to be a ( (let’s go ahead w/ the word) spinster. Yes, she longs for love, struggles with lust. I couldn’t remember the last time an unattractive woman took the lead in a novel. Interestingly, the girl who was adopted to become her sister is drop-dead gorgeous. But she plays a fairly minor role in the bigger scheme. Why IS it that novels, esp romance, give the main role over to stunning, captivating women? At a surface level, obviously bc they will easily attract the gorgeous male counterpart women want to read about. But I think there are deeper answers I hadn’t thought about.

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      • Maybe it’s because for most of art history (maybe human history) we’ve wanted to discover the ideal in everything. Maybe it’s just the human longing for perfection that as Christians we believe comes only from God.

        Novels and art are about fantasy–at least for the artist who pretends for a short while to be able to control life, to nail it down. Artists say: Here, look! This is who we are or this is who we can be!

        It’s impossible for an artist to keep something in the middle, dull and average. We swing wildly because life is full of those wild swings–life and death, beauty and ugliness, love and hate.

        Some try to tell the story of the Ugly Duckling transformed–even there it’s a judgment call. I always thought the ugly duckling was cute. Even the actresses in ugly duckling movies are beauties behind the glasses 🙂

        Just rambling . . .

        Now off to buy food for Easter company. What a lovely time I’ve had this week thanks to you, Diana.

        A

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      • I appreciate these thoughts, A. Reflected some more after writing you, and am still wondering why the majority of leads in novels are attractive. It’s like we not only prefer not to look at unattractive people, we’d rather not even read about them – at least give them center stage. Amazing, human nature. (I got a kick seeing the rain of likes over there. Heh heh.) Have a great time.

        Luv,
        me

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      • In my writing I notice that even the characters who are supposed to be scarred or unattractive become attractive. My brain leans towards finding beauty in flawed people.

        Other artists and writers are fascinated by ugly things. Lena Dunham’s father paints grotesque women. I think Picasso’s cubist women are rather ugly too, but I’m not sure if these artists’ works are meant to take our breath away–I guess it’s subjective in the end.

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    • The main character of my upcoming series of novels suffers injuries that change his looks. He struggles with his feelings about it. I think it’s interesting that most people (even the ones we all think are beautiful) struggle with feeling less than beautiful.

      My mother had buck teeth and it bothered her so much that in her 60’s she got braces. I had always thought she looked adorable.

      I think we find it harder to love ourselves than others do. Often times for me if someone has kind eyes or laughs at my jokes I find them beautiful. 🙂

      How old were you when you got polio?

      Thanks for stopping by, Michael.

      A

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  6. I sometimes feel beauty is a gauntlet of sorts for the spiritually minded. If a person is externally unattractive from a cultural stand point, only those patient, interested and of a deeper nature may see the beauty in them, as they delve deeper into their nature. If someone is beautiful on the outside, the same ironically is true. You may initially be taken with the external beauty, but if the show doesn’t deliver something deeper, you are again left to ponder more deeply what you see. I recently quoted Sharon Tate who said all things on earth have moments of ugly. A flower is ugly when it wilts, and ocean when it is violent. Beauty winks in and out like the sun through trees. The richer a spiritual life you have the more, I think, you find yourself captivated and even enjoying the work needed to understand the beauty you see and appreciate it, in the moment, for being whatever it is.

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    • Very true. I think we all appreciate and long for beauty because it’s so fleeting. Even Margaret one day had wrinkles and eventually lay decomposing in her grave.

      Looking at something beautiful elevates the spirit–it takes no effort. It’s just a gift to the world. Understanding death, suffering and ugliness is the stuff of real work and we like to avoid it as much as possible.

      Thank you for your insightful comment.
      A

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What an interesting post. Didn’t know of the Barnum connection. Sometimes we see photos of what was considered beauty in past generations…and wonder. But Margaret…a beauty in any era. Wow.

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    • My husband and I went to a recent exhibit of 19th century photography and my husband asked why the men looked pretty normal but the women were so unattractive. 🙂

      I disagreed but couldn’t prove anything to him at the exhibit. I think as cameras improved so did women. We expect women to smile and look soft and natural. That doesn’t come across too much in 19th century photos. They come off better in paintings. Strong men are supposed to look tough and serious–that hasn’t changed much (until recently most men wouldn’t want to be posed with hot chocolate and pajamas).

      Thanks for reading, and yes Margaret was lovely!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, yes, but I like this one: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Good old Saint Paul. 🙂

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      • Thoroughly enjoying your reflections and observations, Adrienne. I think you’ve had more to say on beauty than I. 😉 Well, obviously, you’re the one writing the book.

        Xxxx
        D.

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      • It’s been a lot of fun having your friends stop by. Thank you again.

        I didn’t mean to focus on beauty in my novels. I wrote a character in (named after a distant relative) Thankful Crenshaw. I assumed she’d be thankful for being beautiful. I imagined there was some great meaning to her beauty–she was supposed to save another character. Instead she kept making bad decisions (and became a lot more interesting). 🙂

        Buck Crenshaw loses his looks and believes God is punishing him.

        We want to tell beauty what it means, but I think it’s meaning is only hinted at in this life, as others have said. And today is Good Friday when beauty and nobility were punished. Life is a crazy thing.

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      • “I assumed she’d be thankful for being beautiful. I imagined there was some great meaning to her beauty–she was supposed to save another character. Instead she kept making bad decisions (and became a lot more interesting)…We want to tell beauty what it means” Love it.

        How interesting, the expectations we put on beauty and on those who are beautiful. Even before the expectation comes the attention. So is expectation inevitable w/ attention? Rhetorical thought.

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  8. Having escaped the burden of great beauty and now watching any approximation disappear into the maws of entropy, I reflect on the belief that life has been made much simpler by merely having to observe, rather than participate in the maintenance of personal pulchritude.

    A reblog must.

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    • “Pulchritude” Now there’s a great word! Camille Paglia gave an interview recently and mentioned how much she loved the Real Housewives TV series. She wasn’t joking. My daughter made me watch the Beverly Hills one. While we look down on the craziness of the women a lot of us on the fringes of popularity in high school can relate to the cat fights and need to reign supreme through gossip and back-stabbing. The popular girls were ALREADY pretty but that didn’t stop them from being mean. Being popular was a real choice, too. I remember being told I had the right hair to be in the popular group. I sat with them at lunch for about a week and I just couldn’t stand it. Hair be damned, I was out of there! As you say, being beautiful requires so much maintenance.

      A study was done about boys and girls. Supposedly boys tended to ostracize bullies; girls tended to make them heads of their friends group. I wonder why.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and the re-blog!

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  9. I enjoyed both your wonderful post – and all the comments (and your replies) which followed. I feel as if I just attended a ‘salon’ and only the most interesting people were there!

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  10. Intersting. ” I’ve never entered a beauty contest and I’m well past my prime, but I don’t hate beautiful people. I don’t automatically love them either. I just like to look at them.” Yup. Same here although I wouldn’t say I was past my prime.
    Never knew PT Barnum was the early Donald Trump!

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    • LOL! Trump is quite the entertainer.

      I’d say looks-wise I’m okay for having just turned 50, but I’m definitely in my prime by all other standards (in my humble opinion). I just learned to roller skate backwards–a skill we need in these dark days.

      PS–sometimes I do hate super beautiful people–but it’s a fleeting thing. 🙂

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      • You should go! So much fun. I only almost fell when I got distracted by the video of Adele’s hello song. They were flashing back to a spaghetti making scene which seems to be the thing you do when you’re first in love.

        Don’t know what to make of Trump but love how he plays the “establishment.” Who decided we needed an establishment anyway?

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