We live in a world that subtly (and not so subtly) demands “perfection”. From the Photoshop’d bodies of celebrities to the fruit and vegetables on display in supermarkets, advertising tells us we can have rounder tomatoes, straighter carrots, glossier hair, slimmer thighs, whiter teeth — if only we’ll part with our money. It’s an insidious, dangerous, repugnant ideology that leads to mountains of wasted food and irrevocably damaged lives.
Not quick enough with the remote control last night I watched — in utter horror — the first couple of minutes of a television programme about people who willingly and repeatedly undergo expensive surgical procedures that modify their bodies to conform to some idea of beauty. Really, about two minutes was all I could take before I had to turn the set off. I looked at the Big T; he looked at me. We both wondered what sort of world we’ve found ourselves in.
What does this have to do with photos of decaying roses you ask?
These are the flowers given to me recently by a friend. They were a rare treat; beautiful to look at, and as a gesture of our friendship. I’ve been loathe to throw them out.
Since last night’s brief encounter with the TV, I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty. The flowers in my bouquet were exquisite; soft, plump roses and snowy chrysanthemums amidst purple kale and glossy greenery. With age, they’ve become limp, and are browning around the edges. But the thing is, I still find them beautiful. I still appreciate the folds and contours, and am fascinated with the appearance of new textures in the rose petals.
I’m not sure if notions and standards of beauty in nature are universal to all human societies, but beauty in people is definitely a variable, culturally determined construct. By the standards of the culture I live in, I have never been considered beautiful in the way a bouquet of roses is. I’m “too short”, “too fat”, have a “big nose”, “dumpy legs” and “thin hair” (all phrases I’ve heard about myself). And at times I’ve anguished over my “failings”, but mainly –like so many other people — I’ve reached for another chocolate biscuit and got on with the business of living. I’ve found friends and lovers who are either blind to my faults, or find other things to like about me. And despite a whole bunch of new, age-related flaws that make it even less likely I’ll make it to the cover of Vogue, I’m comfortable in my (ample) skin. Even in the worst depths of my recent depression, when I was beating myself up over all sorts of things, I still managed to feel ok about my appearance.
I wish I could think of a cheerful, upbeat way to finish this post, but in truth I don’t feel upbeat. I feel fortunate to have grown up at a time when body modification meant getting your ears pierced or having a new hair-do –“perfection” wasn’t attainable so it was easier to accept ourselves. Now I worry about my son’s generation; increasingly aware of friends’ children who struggle constantly with negative body image, and quietly terrified for my own child.
So instead I’m offering Nick Cave’s Into My Arms; not upbeat, but one of the most beautiful songs about love and loving that I know.