When it comes to beauty, we’ve all gotten some mixed messages. The pursuit of personal beauty is often regarded as shallow or frivolous. Millions of people love looking at magazines devoted to fashion and beauty, but consider them a “guilty” pleasure. Several of my patients have told me they have a certain amount of shame around spending money to look prettier. And many of us have a strong admiration for expensive art and jewelry but would consider it an indulgence to buy such things.
Certainly there’s an extreme end of vanity that’s unhealthy, and of course the acquisition of objects of beauty shouldn’t be the primary focus of one’s life, but I believe it’s deeply healthy to recognize, admire, and surround ourselves with beauty. So, if you’re someone with hang-ups around beauty, I invite you to examine and revise your programming.
Taking time to notice beauty is, at its core, an expression of gratitude. And it’s one of the easiest ways to enhance your life. Put a vase of flowers or a lovely piece of art in a room and something tangible changes.
Besides noticing and acquiring things of beauty, the human soul desires to create beauty. Whether through music, poetry, dance, or art, we have an innate drive to tap into that spark that gives us life and to express it in a beautiful way. We can even simultaneously create beauty and relish the beauty we’re creating.
Since the dawn of human craftsmanship, we have enjoyed turning utilitarian objects into things of beauty. For instance, the recent excavation of a cemetery in Jordan turned up a cosmetic box from the sixteenth century BC that was carved into the shape of a fish with striking detail. A more ordinary box would have served the same purpose, with no need for painstaking handiwork. But something in the human spirit inspires us to put the same loving care into our creations that Mother Nature puts into hers. Our inspiration is instilled in the design and thus the design evokes inspiration.
Such adornment reveals the human perception of enhancing a thing’s value by adorning it. A plain unadorned item becomes something special when we put a decoration on it. More than anywhere else, this can be seen historically in our spiritual objects and temples. It’s a thing we do to show our appreciation for the spiritual sphere of our lives, and perhaps there’s a belief that the Divine will come and linger more readily around our beautiful creations because, by taking the time to make them beautiful, we have invited in a certain holiness.
In his book, Beauty, philosopher Roger Scruton explains that beauty was the overt purpose of art, music, and poetry for centuries, but, “At some time during the aftermath of modernism, beauty ceased to receive those tributes. Art increasingly aimed to disturb, subvert, or transgress moral certainties, and it was not beauty but originality—however achieved and at whatever moral cost—that won the prizes. Indeed, there arose a widespread suspicion of beauty as next in line to kitsch—something too sweet and inoffensive for the serious modern artist to pursue.”
Luckily, the spurning of beauty was a trend limited mostly to art and film, but modernism brought a certain utilitarian quality to many facets of our lives. That phase had its time, and now I believe people are coming back to the open appreciation of beauty as a personal, spiritual, and cultural experience.
This week I encourage you to do at least one thing to beautify your life. If you like art, one of the most direct ways to encourage the creation of art as a legitimate career is to buy a piece of art you love. It’s one of the purest purchases you could ever make. If don’t need more art, pick a flower and put it in a glass. Save a rock from a beach or river and place it in your space, to display not just the prettiness of the rock, but the memory of the beautiful setting in which you found it. And when you look in the mirror, be sure to appreciate the gorgeous reflection you see.
Dr. Peter Borten