Beauty in the eye of the beholder? Or not?

Some years ago, I found myself at a party, sitting with one of the guests and his brothers, listening to them talk. I found it decidedly comical because although none of them were even remotely what you could called handsome, they were all complimenting one another on how good looking they were. ‘Well’, one of them said eventually. ‘Is it any wonder? I mean, think how good looking Dad was.’ At which I had to get up and pretend I was off to the loo because that was too funny and too incredible. I’d always thought that their father looked like Bela Lugosi. But it made me think of our criteria for beauty.

To my eyes, the gorgeous Monroe had a face that told a story, quite exceptionally beautiful but with a touch of vulnerability that made me want to rush across the Atlantic, put my arms round her and comfort her. How silly we are in our adolescence! Yet when I came to read about her early life and all the things she’d had to endure as a child, that vulnerability made sense. It didn’t dent my own, rather conceited belief that I could read faces and recognise beauty rather well. Yeah. Yeah.

 

Of course, my own children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren were all quite touchingly beautiful.

To be gazed at in the open, rapturous way of the very young or to watch a toddler absorbed in

something new, is simple delight. Perhaps simple delight feels like beauty. Or is it because our love for them clouds our ability to see whether they are beautiful or not? They are ours and we love them and they love us. What more could any of us want?

But.

In Macbeth, Shakespeare gives King Duncan a speech which begins ‘There’s no art to find the minds construction in the face’  and although I’m a great admirer of our greatest poet, I have often wondered if he really was right about this. Can we tell what a person is like merely by looking at their face?
When I was a child the very best adult in my life was a remote relation who lived in the same house and loved me dearly. I always thought of her as lovely, loving woman. She was caring, gentle, a source of wicked mischief and very, very beautiful. It came as quite a shock when somebody discovered this picture of her, years after her death. It had been taken at a family wedding and was, as you see, grainy. And I had to admit then and with some sadness that she wasn’t beautiful at all, but really quite ordinary. It didn’t alter the way I had always felt about her but it brought me up short. Her beauty, really was, in my beholders eye.

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