Last November I had the misfortune of contracting chicken pox.
It was a trying time - constantly feeling ill, weak, itchy, unable to go out or see anybody. I missed important birthdays, reunions, Christmas gatherings, and New Years celebrations. I felt incredibly down, despite numerous attempts to cheer myself up with a variety of activities and internal monologues of "it could be worse"s and "just be grateful"s.
Being honest with myself, I knew that there was one main contributing factor to this general negative disposition, and that was the acknowledgement that for the first time in a long time, I felt truly and really ugly.
On the regular, I know I am not an unattractive person. I have received my fair share of compliments. I am no Gal Gadot, but for the most part I was happy, and grateful to look the way I did.
I've always said I'm not afraid of death, I'm afraid of being permanently disfigured; this fear is founded upon the idea that I have been granted a lot of experiences, blessings, because of the way I look.
Here's a simple example.
This is a graphical representation of my Instagram and the percentages of likes I got from the last 10 images either containing me, or not containing me. Of course it can be argued that I have curated my instagram thus far so that the people following me are generally more interested in me than images of my bags, food, or dog, but taking the data at face value - I get it. As much as I'd like to think my successes (however minute) in social media and streaming were due to my stellar personality and intellectual capabilities (lol), the very sobering reality is that... That's not it.
When I was sick, and sickened by the prospect that my scars would never heal, I tried to comfort myself by reminding myself that kindness, intelligence, and love are constructs that I valued above all else, including physical aesthetics - but the sobering reality of it all is that... I care. Sure, I'd like to think I'm okay with going out in my PJs and that I can meet people with no makeup on - but the self-construal that I was someone who "rose above it all" and was unaffected by such trivial external concepts such as 'beauty' - was shattered.
Now I'm on a journey, a journey to accept that part of myself, to be okay with the fact that I'm vain, that I enjoy looking and feeling good, that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be seen as 'beautiful'.
At the same time, I know that our physical appearances are nothing but illusions, a trick played by luck and time, and at some point both of those will fade - and then what? How will I cope with losing something I've come to value so much, that my mood was shattered for a good two months simply because I thought I had lost it?
Reading up on an interview with Richard Plum, a Yale University ornithologist (aka., bird expert) he described the evolution of the club-winged manakin in an extremely interesting way:
"The club-winged manakin is evolving in a way that makes it worse at flying. The male does this intricate dance with its wings to attract females. But in order to do that dance, it’s evolved so that its wing bones aren’t as efficient as the hollow ones we see in other birds. The male with his weird wings at least gets the ability to sing interesting songs, but the female can never benefit from having these worse wing bones because she doesn’t do the dance. So how could this happen if all evolution was about making you better and better?
I argue that’s an indication that sexual selection can produce a kind of decadence, in which individuals become worse at their survival even as they’re more pleasing to each other. The cost of the female's mate choice are deferred to her sons and daughters. So by choosing the male that she likes that makes the cool wing-songs with his nifty wing-feathers, she gets sons that are going to be also attractive, but daughters with wing bones that are less equipped to fly. The trade-off is that her daughters may be worse at survival, but her sons will be better at sexual attraction. So that means that her decadent choices would evolve and continue, even though she’s making her offspring less capable."
Kind of makes me wonder whether as human beings, we're heading down the same path - of course our evolutionary history, and future, will not be as simple as birds as we have developed socially in ways that cannot be so easily predicted, but it is certainly something to think about, especially with all our growing emphasis on social media.
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this... What do you think? And where do you stand in the age-old dichotomy of beauty vs. brains?