The Unexpected Beauty of Imperfection
"I like any film where the female characters are complex and have a functioning imperfection." - Jenny Slate
What do you find captivating in another person? Is it a playful sense of humor? Quirkiness? Maybe a certain energy draws you in… It’s sometimes hard to pin down. And society’s standards of attractiveness are mercurial at best. One decade voluptuous is hot, the next minute, a frail waif has the spotlight. Airbrushed images are the norm. Even “candid” selfies are carefully filtered before being revealed. However manufactured, it can be challenging not to measure yourself against the “beauty du jour.”
Sure, surface attributes are appealing. But do they have true staying power? What you find endearing is incredibly personal. It might be a crooked nose or smile, crow’s feet… maybe even a goofy laugh… Things that may be perceived as odd, may charm you. The same goes for objects: tarnished copper, a butterfly with a broken wing, the tattered yellow pages of a good book. In Japanese culture, the art of Kintsugi pottery, is made by fusing together broken ceramic parts. The goal of the repair isn’t perfection. Instead these parts are dusted with gold, to create anew. Emphasizing flaws, in this case, reinvents the object in an ethereal way. Kintsugi is considered more beautiful than the original object, specifically because of its fractured past.
Ugliness like beauty, lies within the eyes of the beholder… And your perception reveals much about your nature. Various cultures view beauty through different lenses. For instance, the French have an intriguing expression called “jolie laide,” a.k.a. “ugly beautiful.” While there isn’t an equivalent term in English, Merriam-Webster defines jolie laide as: “a woman who is attractive though not conventionally pretty.” This is overly simplified… the term actually includes any gender, or non-binary person, and it’s more enlightened than you might imagine. To the French, beauty is transcendent. Beyond surface layers, they look past a pretty face and toned body, to notice a special “je ne sais quoi,” that evokes emotion. The French understand that a way of being, can capture the heart. Essentially, they see with more than just eyes, but the senses; a lovely whole, body/mind/spirit kind of thing.
If you’d like to expand your perception of beauty, read on...
Treasure Hunt in Plain Sight
Make it a daily challenge to find beauty… What is a 4 leaf clover but a charming freak of nature. Find one. Make a wish. And consider yourself lucky. Depending on how you view them, flaws are a curse or a blessing. A fun way to grow your appreciation of the unusual is through “beauty-hunting.” Instead of seeking out your favorite things, give yourself a shift of awareness… Go to an art gallery or museum and look at works that aren’t your taste. Don’t pass them by. Stop and explore. Begin to look deeper at what you’ve previously dismissed. Look beyond the flowers... discover the quiet beauty of a grasshopper perched on a petal. See a play, watch a movie, or read a book that wouldn’t ordinarily interest you. Consider common objects in a new light also; a tea-stained cloth, or vintage chair may not be what it appears. Be determined to uncover the mystery behind ordinary things. And when you do, pause and give yourself time to absorb it.
Photographer Diane Arbus was so enthralled by human imperfection that she dedicated her life’s work, to capturing striking faces many would find bizarre. Her unique visions told a compassionate story; just looking at an Arbus photograph makes you reevaluate ideas of human frailty. Arbus once said, “You see someone on the street, and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw.” A natural way to grow an awareness of unconventional beauty, is by choosing kindness… When you encounter others with an eye toward finding what’s wrong, it reflects back. Instead, like Arbus, look through the POV of compassion and curiosity… Notice what feelings are stirred. Lean into your instinct. Discover.
Practice Self Love
Carry that attitude of compassion into your daily life. And extend those kind feelings to yourself. What if, instead of feeling shame or unhappiness about a certain unchanging aspect of yourself, you uncovered something positive about it? After all, isn’t “body positive,” just another aspect of love and self-acceptance?
So resist the urge to pick yourself apart. That can be tough, considering how cool self-deprecating humor can be. Instead, view yourself as a whole, not a piecemeal amalgamation, or sum of imperfect parts unknown.
In her book, “The Eight Human Talents,” Kundalini Yoga master Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, writes, “Becoming aware of your body through Yoga and meditation is the first step to accepting your body.” As you experience mindfulness, this awareness grows and spirals over to all aspects of life. In the words of Gurmukh, “If you accept and learn not to criticize yourself, you will find true health—physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
Try this exercise: look into a mirror… and imagine meeting yourself for the first time across a crowded room… What might strike you through a first impression? Which visuals would catch your attention? Then, after getting to know yourself, what sort of lasting impression would you be left with? As you gaze at your image, come from a place of clarity, kindness and positive energy. Notice the unique essence that beams through your face. And embrace every flaw, with love, knowing it makes you beautiful.