When Is a Woman Beautiful?

By Mercurio, Malana | The World and I, October 2006 | Go to article overview

When Is a Woman Beautiful?


Mercurio, Malana, The World and I


When a little girl, age ten, feeling alienated from the tempestuous world spinning around me, I spent very much time alone. Occasionally I occupied myself with cutting out magazine pictures, photographs of people I found interesting. Some of these faces were carefully assembled, then pasted attentively into a little blue notebook. A few of the chosen faces seemed inviting and mysterious, or strange and poignant, others gentle and kind, but most looked beautiful.

With ensuing years--and a number of decades lived--indeed, I have had time to mold and remold that fragile childhood dream. Certainly I could not eradicate that initial proliferating root. For the pursuit of dreams one should begin early if one is to arrive later at a consequential somewhere.

With my childhood desire to fetter out the "secrets" of the successful arose a challenge to overcome debilitating darkness obscuring a pathway to light. For "the moment we indulge our affections," wrote philosopher Emerson, "the earth is metamorphosed," pain and suffering lessened, courage heightened, and hope renewed.

Assuredly, we cannot all be beautiful in the picture book, oil painting sense. A wise woman would not want to be. She knows that charm and personality will register where mere good looks will often fail. But that attainment is elusive and unfulfilled when self-discipline is weak or absent. If you can discipline yourself, you have learned a hard lesson, one that will reap myriad rewards. Over a span of many years, the great Polish musician Ignaz Paderewski forced himself to practice not less than six hours a day. In his revelatory autobiography he wrote: "Before I was a genius, I was a drudge."

It follows, too, that a feeling of self-importance is helpful to a well-developed personality. To feel that you have potential value in the world is significant when molding the ideal character. A proper appreciation of one's merits is not a form of conceit. When you know your limitations, you are also aware of your possibilities and by working to overcome handicaps, you open the door to the development of true power. The Roman poet Ovid observed, "He who is not prepared today will be less so tomorrow."

Do not hang pejorative labels on yourself. What others have accomplished for themselves, you, too, may achieve. But you must aim high. The English statesman Lord Chesterfield in his famous Letters to His Son wrote, "Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable; however, they who aim at it, and persevere, will come much nearer than those whose laziness and despondency make them give it up as unattainable."

When pondering the question "When is a woman beautiful?" we should see that it is essential to establish some basic understanding of what the term "beauty" embraces. Many are the writers who have probed its constituents. For its definitions are as numerous as its content various.

A beautiful person, the dictionary tells us, is one who is delightful to the senses. But whose senses? Here is one reason why feminine beauty is not easily defined. Though beauty rests in the eyes of the beholder, we, nonetheless, give deference to criteria engendering a universal appeal.

Socrates called beauty a short-lived tyranny; Plato, a privilege of nature; Theophrastus, a silent cheat; Theocritus, a delightful prejudice; Cameades, a solitary kingdom; Aristotle affirmed that beauty was better than all the letters of recommendation in the world; Homer, that it was a glorious gift of nature; and Ovid calls it a favor bestowed by the gods.

Emerson had a practical view of the comely: "Beauty," he asserted, "rests on necessities. The line of beauty is the line of perfect economy." And Michelangelo, three centuries before, epitomized a similar view: "Beauty is the purgation of superfluities." Benedetto Croce, the Italian philosopher, analyzed beauty as "the mental formation of an image that catches the essence of the thing perceived. …

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