“Hi,” the woman said to me brightly with a smile. “How are you?”
I looked at her and my eyes met hers. I didn’t recognize this beautiful stranger. I had been lost in my own thoughts as I walked through the store, so I hadn’t even noticed her. I smiled back and returned a friendly greeting and that was it.
There was nothing important about the exchange, but it made me feel good as I realized once again what was going on.
I’ve recently shed 70 pounds. I’m not yet down to the weight I’d like to be, but I look much different from how I looked four or five months ago. I’ve struggled with my weight for years, so I’ve seen this pattern enough to understand what had just happened with the woman in the store, even though she almost certainly didn’t understand it herself.
When I’m as overweight as I was last spring, I become invisible to attractive young women in public. I don’t mean I’m treated badly. I just mean that unless I have reason to initiate contact — and she has reason to respond — I might as well not be there. I’m not someone she wants to talk with.
But as I get smaller, a mysterious thing happens. More and more attractive women start meeting my eyes and speaking to me. I might or might not be someone they want to meet, but at least I’m no longer invisible. For a greater percentage of the attractive women, I’m at least worth considering — and I very much doubt a single one of them ever makes a conscious decision about that, whether they’re ignoring the fat me or initiating contact with the somewhat-thinner me.
I was telling a friend about the phenomenon later that evening and he scoffed about how shallow these women must be. That’s had me thinking for a few days — not for the first time — about the contradictions we have in our culture about physical appearance and virtue.
When I was growing up, I was taught that looks shouldn’t matter in selecting a romantic partner. I don’t remember whether anybody ever directly said this to me, but I heard over and over how shallow people were when they seemed to care so much about beauty in romantic choices.
“He just wants her because she’s good looking,” people might say. “He’s so shallow.”
I didn’t want to be shallow, of course, so I learned not to talk about what beauty in certain women made me feel. I’m not talking about sexual attraction. I’m talking about something far deeper and more meaningful. I learned to speak only of the other qualities I was attracted to in a woman — to treat her beauty almost as though it were something to apologize for — because I wasn’t supposed to be attracted to a woman because she’s beautiful, as though there is virtue in ignoring beauty.
The longer I live, the more strongly I see just how insane this nice-sounding egalitarian platitude really was. I do have a strong need for certain kinds of intelligence, personality, values and more in a woman, but what she looks like speaks to me on a level beyond explanation or logic.
There’s something in a rare woman’s face — especially her eyes — that melts something in my heart, especially if she’s a certain kind of tall, blue-eyed woman who I admire in other ways.
Why does this beauty matter so intensely to me?
I’ve talked in the past about the degree to which beauty captivates me and moves me deeply. I think I love art and beauty so much because I’m addicted to the raw sensations I get from experiences which truly move me emotionally. This somehow feeds my soul.
When I see certain instances of beauty, it causes an explosion of feelings inside me — apparently triggering some kind of brain chemical that makes me happy. When something pushes that button in me — even something tiny — my heart and brain are doing some sort of delicate and exciting emotional dance that fades only slowly.
I crave beauty because of how it makes me feel. It’s actually something like a spiritual or religious experience. Whatever that is, it makes me feel closer to the being I experience as God.
I am so in love with beauty that it intoxicates and overwhelms me.
My priorities in life now seem to have coalesced around love, beauty, creation, wisdom, the spiritual world, and questions about life and death. (I used to find power, politics and fame very interesting, but my only remaining interest in those is generally how I can achieve the freedom to be left alone.) It’s hard to find a word that encapsulates this particular combination of interests, much less find a “club” of like-minded people to spend time with. I just know it as a deep passion for experiencing life.
Craving beauty doesn’t have to be shallow and I’m no longer intimidated of the people who preach that looks shouldn’t matter at all.
Yes, it’s shallow if physical appearance is all you care about. If you’re willing to accept someone who doesn’t share the values that are important to you, but happens to be attractive, yes, you’re shallow. But if you have specific standards that you know matter to you in a partner — across the board, not just physically — there’s nothing wrong with having physical preferences.
I’d like a mate who’s a tall, blue-eyed, blonde-haired beauty. (That’s my ideal, but it hasn’t stopped me from falling in love with a few women who didn’t match the ideal. In fact, there’s been only one I’ve fallen in love with who matched my physical ideal, so I’m clearly open to other possibilities.) There’s nothing wrong with having a preference — since those aren’t the only things on my list. Very few of us will find someone who is perfect (in the sense of meeting all of our preferences), but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting physical beauty or with having physical preferences.
If some busybodies consider that shallow, so be it. My heart knows what I need. Your heart knows what you need, too.
In an increasingly plastic and emotionally sterile world, I think it’s more important than ever to pay attention to beauty and those things which our instincts tell us matter. There is very little we can control in this culture, so our inner need for soul nourishment from beauty gets ignored more and more. I think that’s emotionally unhealthy.
I have a deepening sense of unease that the only way to live an emotionally healthy life is to pull away from much of what modern culture considers normal. The background clutter of modern life gets in the way of listening for our hearts to tell us what’s important, like a perpetual jackhammer drowning out a symphony. If the jackhammer never stopped, you wouldn’t even know what a symphony sounds like, even if you had a vague internal sense there must be something more beautiful you might hear. If you know only noisy cacophony, it’s hard to experience the silence needed in which to find the quiet music of beauty.
We are somehow programmed to need beauty.
I don’t know why I need to watch sunsets. I don’t know why I need to listen to beautiful music. I don’t know why I need to listen to the rustle of dry leaves in the autumn breeze as I watch colorful leaves flutter. And I don’t know why I need to look into the eyes of one beautiful woman who I love.
I just know all of those things matter to me, not just a little bit, but very deeply. They’re part of the difference between really living this life and merely existing.
There are many things I need in a woman. A very rare kind of beauty that excites something in my heart and spirit is among those things.
I need and crave beauty of all kinds, whether it’s a sunset or a pair of deep blue eyes. There’s nothing shallow about listening to what my spirit insists it needs.