Sunday, November 2, 2014

physical beauty and character

 1967 and a mama with one baby

Here's the question: Is the possession of what is perceived as physical beauty an asset or a drawback? In short, does it impact character?

When I was growing up, my parents never told me I was beautiful. They felt that it would make a girl conceited to hear that. As to how I saw myself, well, I have a very French nose (didn't know that was what it was with all my female relatives having English noses) and don't know that I saw myself as pretty either. I did though know others saw me that way by the things they told me. Half the time did I believe them? Not necessarily, as people say nice things even when they don't mean them. Compliments are a meaningless way to determine if one has beauty. What is more accurate? Don't ask me. I have no idea. Each culture determines beauty based on criteria that can change. 

When I raised my children, I did tell them they were good looking but reminded them that beauty of the physical sort does not last but character does. So grow your intellect and strength of personality. That will stay with you longer. Beauty might open some doors. It closes others. I don't think it's bad to be aware of beauty but not good to depend on it. I also think it's better to look interesting than handsome or beautiful. Perfect features that look like everybody else are not necessarily even beautiful to me-- especially if the character doesn't follow through.

When I create my fictional characters, I have generally written about good looking men (with one decidedly ugly) but only a few who have exceptional looks, which some of my heroes considered to have been a drawback-- too handsome a man can be seen as shallow. Being hit on by men and women isn't a plus if someone doesn't want it. 

Most of my heroes are tall (a plus in our culture for a man) but happens in my books mostly because it's what I know. I live with a tall man, and all the men in my immediate family have been tall.  Tall is average for me. Most of the time living with a tall husband, I don't think about it until I stand next to him and have to look up (me also being a tall woman).

I emphasize to my grandsons though that tall isn't important, as who knows if they will be. What is important is confidence.  A short man with confidence in himself is more desirable to me than a tall man without it.

Physical characteristics in books are important in character driven stories-- less important when the plot drives the action and the protagonist is just a tool for it.

In my three Arizona historicals, I write about women whom others see as beautiful, but it's not how they see themselves. The first one, Arizona Sunset, has a heroine who regards herself as a homely spinster, but it's mainly because of her attitude that others also don't see her as so pretty. When she begins to love her life, her face reflects that glow. The second heroine, Tucson Moon, sees herself as overweight even though others see her as curvy. The third, in Arizona Dawn, is insecure about her looks as to even how the hero sees her until the epilogue. She was raised until the age of nine by strict grandparents who probably had an attitude a lot like my parents.

Where it comes to real life, one day I was in the dentist office as the young hygienist was telling the dentist that men don't ask her on dates, and it frustrated her. He said it was because she was too beautiful, that her beauty intimidated men. At that time, I entered into the conversation and said that I don't think beauty has to intimidate men-- but on the other hand, as I've thought more about it, I am not so sure.

My daughter was told by one of her older clients that he would not want a beautiful woman like she is. He wanted a wife, but he wanted her to be ugly because then he could treat her however he wanted, and she would not leave him. (He obviously didn't know women too well!)

Adding another angle to the question: Do women avoid friendships with beautiful women because they feel they will be overshadowed or that the woman might go after their partner? When a woman is much admired by others, it can be an issue-- even if the woman herself does nothing to encourage it. 

All these things factor into how beauty is used in a book. As to how it works out for real life, well that's another question altogether!

2 comments:

Tabor said...

I think everything you wrote here is true in partial ways. It can be intimidating being next to an exceptionally lovely woman...but if there is a long-standing relationship that developed when young...it probably makes little difference. I was pretty but neither sexy or beautiful and painfully self-conscious about my thinness which college roomies made fun of. Glad I am older now and realize it is what I saw and do that is more important.

Rain Trueax said...

I think it's interesting how people see themselves. I have met many women who I would call very attractive but who do not see themselves that way-- and some women who aren't particularly attractive but see themselves as being beautiful. When creating a fictional character, a person can use any of that. I do not think for someone to know they are attractive has to make them conceited-- that happens when they put too much value in being attractive, when they see it as the most important asset they have. Then it's a problem for healthy living.

The funny part about weight as part of the criteria is that it goes through cycles. Now being borderline anorexic looking is desirable in models. I have looked at the ads in some magazines like Vanity Fair or Vogue and the women are almost sick looking and the makeup enhances that look. And yet it's the ultimate beauty criteria that those designers want in their ads. If we judge ourselves by others, it definitely is going to make us unhappy probably.