When you are born the doctors give you a spank of welcome, count your fingers and toes, and proclaim to your mother, “You have a beautiful baby boy/girl!” or so I’m told—I don’t remember too much about it. Or know, for that matter, what they say if your count comes up short. A decade or so later you want to kill yourself because your ears stick out. That I do remember! So what happened? Did I have bad work done?
No, socialization happened. The elite at my school were forming and I wasn’t yet a member; wasn’t invited to any of their exclusive get-togethers and would never be, I was certain, because of my curse: my big jug ears.
Appearance the First Criterion for Being Culled
People sometimes wistfully say, “Oh, to be young again.” Well they must have amnesia or at the very least, early dementia. For the world of youth, especially the preteen years, makes the Serengeti look civilized; and down at my own savanna in suburban Connecticut, the Central Grammar School, the taunting, branding, mental and even physical abuse, the fight to determine the alpha males and alpha females was full-on; and appearance, an obvious, perhaps the most obvious attribute, was the first criterion for being culled.
This is why the happiest day of my early life came about six months into my twelfth year—while riding bikes in the parking lot of the local shopping center and doing some harebrained things to impress the members of the A-team—when the leader of the pack decided that I was crazy enough to be invited to a party. Ears and all!
Boys are lucky. They can attain higher social status simply by acting insane. Girls are not so lucky. Beauty often outweighs all other methods whereby they are earmarked.
Face to Face with the One in a Million
I used to have an office in Manhattan one floor below the Click Modeling Agency, one of New York City’s most prestigious. So, very often, I would have to share an elevator with these creatures from another planet and if you had any illusions about how beautiful you were, you could throw them right down the shaft, for you were now face to face with the one in a million or even one in a hundred million that met all the world’s criteria for being beautiful. And it didn’t even seem to matter whether these Venuses paid any attention to what they wore or to their hair or makeup or whatever. In fact, an imperfection like Cindy Crawford’s mole or Lauren Hutton’s gap tooth or even Gia’s “heroin-chic/just woke up from a weeklong drug binge” appearance only seemed to help differentiate them from the few hundred or so others who inhabited their world.
On Thursday afternoons this same agency would hold an open house where any member of the public who felt they were an undiscovered supermodel could drop by for a free appraisal; get put up on the lift, so to speak. And the saddest thing on those days were the mothers with their darling daughters in tow who, believing that their little girl was the most beautiful on Earth, as by all rights they should, had gone to a lot of expense and trouble to make them up and dress them up to look like the queen of the prom. And while certainly attractive by most reckoning, with all their parts accounted for and affixed in all the proper places— good enough to play out of town, let us say—these girls were not six-plus feet tall, bone thin, with doe eyes, porcelain skin, and legs up to their chins.
Later, when you saw these supplicants on their way back down, silent and crestfallen, you could easily think—if you didn’t know where they had been—that they had just received news of a terminal illness. It’s so crazy! All right, they were never going to be statuesque enough to walk the catwalk for the House of Dior or marry Donald Trump. But this begs the question: Who in their right mind would want to? (Marry The Donald, anyway.)
Where We Fit In
I once saw a photo of the Hunt brothers, a family of Texan oilmen, with their wives. All the women looked like mannequins and the latest models, too. (I’m sure the old ones had been traded in or warehoused.) While the brothers, to the man, looked like the kind of trolls one would find locking up fair maidens in impregnable towers or lurking around under bridges in children’s stories.
Now if we were alone in the world, all this wouldn’t matter; we wouldn’t care how comparatively beautiful we were (whom would we compare ourselves to?). But as soon as we form any kind of group we seem to immediately need to establish hierarchies, and especially to try to ascertain where we might fit in.
I ride a lot of subways in New York City on an almost daily basis. As soon as the door closes I look around at the little collective now being formed and try to determine if I’m in any kind of danger; if I’m going to have to fight for my life (flight being now temporarily off the table, at least until the next stop). Once I feel that I’m relatively safe I begin to attempt to establish my place in this new, albeit very temporary world-order. Who’s older, younger (sadly, fewer of the former these days), shorter, taller, richer, poorer. Even who’s fatter, skinnier (also sadly fewer of the former these days). And after I have sorted these things out, the oddest part of my survey now begins: who is the most beautiful? Being male (though I recognize that this “opposites attract” paradigm is no longer the hard-and-fast rule) I concern myself mostly with the females.
The Oddest Part of My Survey
I say “oddest” because the motivation for this does not seem to be to establish an emergency plan; a who-gets-to-eat-first pecking order should we suddenly find ourselves in a struggle to survive. And I’m not even sure if it is entirely based upon our next level of instincts, our reproductive urges, either, although this certainly does seem to try and worm itself in there. Just yesterday, in fact, a fellow seated some distance away from me was staring at someone standing near me and making what he believed was a most compelling advertisement of himself. Yes, he was attempting to force a kind of electronic crawl to march across his forehead that read: “I have the capacity to make such beautiful love to you, my darling” (à la Pepé Le Pew, the cartoon character/rapist). I then traced his sight line back to a very attractive, even model-caliber young girl standing near me who, while keeping her eyes fixed squarely ahead and purposefully at no one, still seemed aware that she was being singled out in this manner and was exhibiting both a kind of pleasure that she might garner such attention and a certain trepidation, as she could not really be sure whether this fellow might follow her out as she exited; might try and bother, even molest her.
Both myself and this very attractive one (but not the libidinous Don Juan, thank God) got off at the same stop and went in the same direction (not by design, mind you! I’m not a perv!), so I was able to observe from a few paces behind the attention-getting nature of beauty as it went about its normal business. The men (or most of them, anyway) were systematically rendered helpless, stunned, while the women—intuitively sensing a disturbance in the force—quickly averted their gaze. Why remind yourself of your inadequacies?
I am a mystical man by trade (though admittedly a normal man by default), so I am able to dispassionately observe things as they ebb and flow within myself and to some extent even marshal some semblance of self-control over certain of my impulses, and when I do this in a case like this, and drill down to the level where I might objectively observe the thing called “beauty,” what I note is something miraculous: earthly beings who have evolved heavenly attributes.
There is a famous poem by William Blake, “The Tyger,” in which he writes: “What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?” If we edit out the word fearful (forgive me, Bill), I think we can begin our contemplation of beauty in earnest.
Something Beautiful Hidden Deep Within
For while the beautiful woman, or even man (although again, I’m not an expert in that field), did not create themselves, there is something beautiful hidden deep within the universe that is expressing more and more of its superlative qualities through its creations and especially its latest effort, the human being. Just consider hair. Why does it frame the human face so? (It certainly does not do this in any of our animal cohabitants, from whom we only recently parted ways.) In the Asian woman, for example, why is it often so extraordinarily silken, so amazingly black and flowing?
Yes, if we can manage to remove ourselves from our instinctual responses and especially our default mode of relentless competition, beauty then becomes a door to another world. But when we approach beauty in our everyday way, rather than simply accepting it or even marveling at it, we covet its ability to provide higher social status and/or pursue it as emblematic thereof, the way the wealthy man (okay, like “The Donald” or even the regular guy, I suppose), is convinced that to possess something that others want is proof of his superiority (think: trophy wife). This is why—given humanity’s current stage of development—beauty is on a strange and sometimes even precarious path, especially for its possessor.
As I read somewhere years ago but never forgot: “Only beautiful birds are imprisoned, crows are never caged.”
Look for the next topic, Consciousness, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs of Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.
Jeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).