Thoughts on Beauty
When I was a teenager I read a biography of George Bernard Shaw. (My Fair Lady is adapted from one of his plays.) The playwright was asked to compare the two great actresses of the day who were then appearing in London. One actress was the gorgeous Sarah Bernhardt and the other was the less than gorgeous Italian actress, Elenora Duse. When asked by a friend who he preferred, GBS said that he preferred the Italian: "Her wrinkles are the credentials of her humanity."
But not all people are as perceptive at judging a person's true worth as was GBS. Most of us judge people, at least on first encounter, by how they look. Research has indicated that women are no less prone to do this than men. And this judgment based on looks does not just apply to grown-ups. A few years ago when I was taking the train (the "L") down to the Chicago Loop, I was standing next to a woman carrying her baby daughter in her arms. The baby could not take her eyes off a beautiful African-American girl who was about 13 years old and standing with her less than beautiful friends. The baby reached out and took hold of the teenage girl's finger and would not let go of it. It was love at first sight - based on beauty.
There is no doubt that looks count. I'm sure you've seen articles about how people with good faces and good bodies make more money, make more friends, and have more sex. This is obvious. What is not obvious (and not fair) is that kids with good looks get on better even with their parents and teachers.
Does all this mean that the less beautiful and less good-looking are lost? I hope not. Most of us eventually find mates and get jobs that are at least tolerable. But the really beautiful do seem to have a leg up even though physical beauty says nothing about moral worth or depth of personality.
But then there was the Sunday matinee of Cole Porter's Anything Goes at the high school in Hilliard, Ohio where I live. The young girl with braces on her teeth who played the ingénue was ordinary looking. The well-bred suburban girls of the chorus-line were world-class beauties. Yet all eyes were on this fine teenage actress who reached out and grabbed the audience with her charm, talent, and warmth. So are all these social scientists who do the studies on beauty and success missing something - that intangible thing that certain people have that lights up a room and people's hearts?
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