The Ugliness of Beauty

Every day I seem to run across more and more stuff that exposes the ongoing oppression of women in our culture. This oppression often goes unrecognized, and even when it is recognized it is often ignored or justified or explained away.

The ongoing challenge presented by this blog is to treat all people at all times with love, dignity and respect. A huge part of this challenge is beginning to recognize all the ways that this has not been the case. This is true both personally and corporately.. we don't love well.

Along with issues of racism, homophobia, ageism and the many other names for fear and hate that spring up on this blog, sexism is still a pervasive, oppressive and nasty force in our culture. The fact that I daily seem to be running across more and more stuff exposing this reality is not because it is happening more lately. Usually when something seems to be everywhere it is my spirit drawing my attention towards these things as they appear daily. It gets into me and my heart and mind focus on those things. I often take it to mean that there are lessons for me to learn here.

I feel so much sadness, anger, confusion over the things that I have read and seen over the past while. I am not sure how to distill any of it down into any kind of blog that would be a statement on gender. So, I hope to regularly draw attention to a few things, link a few things and make this blog just part of the ongoing conversation about the violence (physical, psychological, emotional) that many people on this planet face just because of their gender.

Today I want to draw attention to a link that may seem lighthearted at first. Dustin Hoffman talks about his role, many decades ago, as a man who dresses up as a woman to find work in the classic film, Tootsie. (thanks to UpWorthy for pointing me to this link).

A great clip, particularly as Hoffman's emotions are still real and fresh about the lessons he learned regarding gender roles and beauty.

"There's too many interesting women that I have not have the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed..."

This is true for most of us men. I put out this challenge again recently at a youth retreat, "Men in our culture do not learn how to treat a woman with dignity and respect unless we want something from them." I believe this to be true. It also happens, an accompanies this statement that what many heterosexual males want is romantic in nature and so we reserve any good treatment of women for those who match our desired specifications for those romantic encounters. Sometimes we can't even do that and we 'tease' the girls we like to protect ourselves emotionally. And the irony is that often what we want from the woman has nothing to do with actually honouring or respecting her, just filling our selfish desire.

Some guys want to argue against this stark picture of how we treat women. They want to be the exception to the rule... and most of us can be. At one time or another, in one moment, we might rise above these tendencies. I believe though that it takes diligence, intentionality and conscious daily choice to make that 'rising above' part of our character. Unless we recognize our tendencies to be the 'scumbag' it will be hard to engage in the work of undoing the damage of the 'brainwashing' that we have experienced.

We have been taught cultural norms about 'beauty'. The one explicit here is the norm that says that beauty is external and it takes the form of a certain facial structure, a certain body type, a certain weight, wearing certain clothes etc.

Of course this does not just effect women, it is just more pervasive among females because of the heightened way in which our culture has taught them the lie that their physical, outward beauty and sexuality is the core of who they are.

I hate hearing the word "ugly"... it's one of my least favourite words. I have taken to saying, "There is no such thing as ugly, only beauty that you have been unable to recognize." Thinking someone is 'ugly' because of the way they look on the outside is part of the brainwashing Dustin is talking about... When we call someone ugly, the only ugly thing is whatever is inside of us that is bringing those words to the surface. The ugly something inside each one of us that blocks us from seeing the beauty in each person. Ultimately, it is the same thing that prevents us from seeing the beauty inside ourselves.

There is a true ugliness about the standards of external beauty in our culture. Amazing men. women, youth and children look in the mirror and hate what they see because of the ways that it doesn't meet some bullshit standard. It makes me emotional thinking of the people that I have known who have struggled to see their own beauty. People I love who could not be more beautiful to me if the best makeup, hair and fashion people got a hold of them (an entire industry that I just don't get) and yet paralyzed by the lie that they are not beautiful, and as a result, someone lower and less than those who meet this brainwashed cultural standard.

Hoffman recognized that he was in a type of prison. That this brainwashing had prevented him from a higher level of freedom, one in which we can love the people around us more fully. The beauty of Hoffman's words though is not only that he will change his actions so that more people can be loved by him and treated with the dignity and respect all humans are worthy of. It is much more than that. Hoffman says, "I have not have the experience to know." He recognizes that it is him, not them, that has been missing out. It is a gap in his life that he had such a minimalistic and tiny view of beauty. That's where the emotion is coming from with Hoffman even in this clip. As our capacity for true empathy expands (part of which is recognizing beauty in each person) our heart is transformed. We weep because of the pain in others, we weep because of the beauty in others and we weep because it is changing us from the inside... Tears can become the waters that begin to soak and weaken the walls around our hearts so that they can be stripped away.

When our concepts of beauty change, we change. When no one is ugly to our eye, the ugliness has been driven from our hearts.

For many of us that starts in front of the mirror; seeing the beauty in me.

 
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