We often spout off lines about the unimportance of beauty, or at least its subservience to other, greater things. We say things like, “Beauty is only skin deep” or “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”
But I want to ask: Is this really true?
Certainly we would say that a person who cares only about physical beauty and disdains knowledge or understanding of the interior is a very shallow person indeed. We would probably go so far as to say that they are “not a very good person at all.” However, concern for physical beauty does not necessarily align with the all-or-nothing approach. A person might care about physical beauty (in themselves and in others), though this is not all they care about or the primary thing that they care about. My question is not only, should we care about physical beauty? but also, is it possible for us not to care about physical beauty?
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and so I thought I would write a post in preparation. I suppose I could have written a piece and released it on the actual day itself, but I want to look at this holiday from a slightly different angle and suggest an idea for something that each of us could do on February 14th.
When I was thinking about what to write that might suit this theme, the usual ideas came to mind: of love and relationships, of being alone and finding trust in a period of waiting, or of being with another while maintaining one’s own identity and self-respect. And yet I realized I was confining myself to topics revolving around romantic relationships, which we typically associate with Valentine’s Day. The origins of Valentine’s Day, however, do not suggest such a restriction. The holiday began in honour of St. Valentine, a Christian martyr in 5th century Rome, and associations with romantic love were not forged until the 14th century under the influence of Chaucer and his courtly circle.
In our contemporary society, Valentine’s Day seems to be defined by its connection to romantic love, or conversely, to the opposite of romantic love: that is, singlehood. We are burdened with images of romantic love, but also with catchy slogans about how it is okay to be single and how a person does not need another person to complete their life. It is probably not possible to dissipate these now tightly held associations, and I am not trying to suggest that the erasure of such links would be a good thing. But, what if Valentine’s Day did not have to be just about one or the other?
What gives a person value? Although if faced with the question, most of us are unlikely to deny a person at least some measure of innate value, we often deny them this value by our actions, words and thoughts. We make determinations about whether a person is deserving of “respect.” We constantly form internal (or external) judgements, labelling the people we know or even (more frequently) the people we do not, as “bad,” “pathetic,” in some way “less.”
Where do these judgements come from, these evaluations of human worth? Because that is indeed what we are doing: evaluating someone or something. Yet there is an essential distinction to be made here. Evaluating an act, a choice or a set of values is different from evaluating a person. Of course if we neglect or refuse to make this distinction between “right” and “wrong,” we stray down the dangerous path of relativity, defining truth as whatever feels good, rather than Truth with a capital “T.” But while judging an act and deciding that it is not “right” or does not reflect the Truth for which humans were intended holds the person accountable for their actions, it does not strip them of their fundamental dignity.
For me, fear has always been such an omnipresent and unavoidable participant in life. Between fear and love, there is a constant struggle, a struggle that seems as though it will be ever ongoing, never complete, until the ultimate end. And yet, it has been said that “perfect love casts out fear.” I think we all have an idea of what this means, and simply reading the words provides a certain level of comfort. But how far does this “perfect” love extend, and how permanent is this banishment of fear? Is it truly possible to “cast out” fear while in the transient and shifting world, or is it only a promise for another world to come?
I think it can be both, and that there are often unexplored depths to the profound relationship between love and fear. On a first and fundamental level, “perfect love” refers to God. Since God is love, any genuine display of love reveals part of His nature. Because of this, we can turn to Him and in His presence, experience the divine love, the “perfect love” that is stronger than and has no need of fear. This is the only way in which we can truly vanquish fear, or any kind of evil. By placing ourselves in God’s hands, the fear no longer belongs. It is no longer necessary. We can see clearly the distance between lies produced by fear, and Truth. Within these moments of clarity, fear is exposed for its powerlessness.
Can you sacrifice yourself, your own insecurities, comfort, worries, feelings of worthlessness… in order to add to the happiness of someone you love? Which has more power: love or fear? You want to believe that love is stronger, that choosing love can always shut out fear, and that this pursuit of love and sacrifice allows God to enter and work through you in ways beyond your small self and those ever-floating fears. Well, then, you must act “as if” the love is stronger; you must reach out in love as though there are the everlasting arms beneath to catch you should you fall in stepping out of the comfortable for the sake of love, in that perfect love which casts out fear.
This cannot be done by love focused only on the person in question, but by loving the divine presence in the person and the way in which it is uniquely manifested in this image of beauty. No person is perfect, or fully worthy of love and sacrifice, just as your love and sacrifice are imperfect and still motivated by self-desire, even in striving for selflessness. But if this love is channeled through the flow of divine love and sacrifice, the movement of the spirit and its reflection of perfection have transformative power. As such, love is able to move, change and grow, while fear is capable of nothing save stagnation. Fear limits your movements, places false boundaries on your freedom and potential for love, joy and peace, and the deepest fulfillment of your selfhood.
It’s highly unlikely any of us have been spared that moment of rejection: of loneliness and deep-seated disappointment when someone we trusted lets us down. Life has certain inevitabilities, and sadly, I think this is one of them. We are all too human to repay or be repaid entirely for our own trust or another’s trust in us. However, I think there is something to be said for our role in who lets us down and how they do so.
A lot of life is spent looking for others who will understand us, or at least take the time to try. In my opinion, this is one of our most deeply felt human needs: the need to be understood. We all want someone to listen to our hopes and fears and feelings, to see us truly as we are.
At the same time, we often don’t want to talk. I know there have been many occasions when my response to the generic “how are you?” query is “fine,” when I’ve been anything but. I want to be seen, and yet I shrink away from the light if it might expose my weaknesses. A paradox of sorts. Maybe it’s because I’m not comfortable with generic. Maybe none of us are comfortable with generic, with shallow, surface level interactions, even though we often pursue and produce them.
I have never been the kind of person who is eager to spark conflict or garner hostility. I suppose most people don’t deliberately create confrontation, but I’m not referring to a disposition merely not inclined to seeking ill will. In my case, it might be more accurately described as avoidance.
Perhaps it’s due to overthinking. Does everyone exhaust all the gruesome possibilities of unfavourable reactions from others? For every actual conversation, my mind fabricates many more divergent paths, unpleasant outcomes that will surely arise if I say something to ruffle the feathers of my companion.
What should I say? What will she think if I say that? She might be upset. I think she might be mad
at me. Oh no! I said it. I can’t tell if she’s mad at me now. She might be offended. What is she thinking about me now?
Sometimes reason responds quite succinctly: Why do you care?
That time of year has come again. Valentine’s Day. The day on which a lucky few receive chocolate and flowers and are lavished with love and affection. The day on which the rest of us wish we were on the other side.
What is it we feel we’re missing? Love may seem like the obvious answer, but we still have family and friends who care about us deeply. So where does the stigma of being “single on Valentine’s Day” come from? And why does the absence of a significant other qualify one as “alone?”
One of the utmost longings of the human heart is the desire for love. We want it. We crave it. But what is it about love that draws us in? Although most of us have been loved since the moment of our birth, those childhood attachments somehow seem insufficient.