Beauty or Beastly?

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Blue Shot Marilyn, Andy Warhol

Everyone has their idea of the pinnacle of beauty.  Beauty is many things: cultural, ageist, societal-specific.  What is deemed beautiful is spoon-fed to us by the media and the advertising machine that drives it.  It is hammered into our heads at an incredibly young age, causing untold damage to the self-confidence of those who feel they do not meet that cultural norm.  A gigantic multi-billion dollar industry exists just to comfort these people and have them believe that without continued use of their products, society would shun them.

The concept of beauty crosses cultural lines and produce emotions that range from mild interest to outright disgust.  The binding of feet, for example.  Or wearing braces on the head during infancy to create an oddly cone-shaped alien skull.  Or wearing jewelry with a progressively larger circumference in a hole in an earlobe, or having piercings all over the place.  In many cultures any or all of these beautification rituals would be rejected outright but in some cultures one or more would be accepted.

ImageSo We Must Ask Ourselves: What Makes Me Beautiful?

Hmmmm.  So many things to consider with this question.  Are you really beautiful and if you believe you are, then what are the qualities that make that true?  Who made the rules that you follow in order to be considered thus, and who vies for your attention in the quest to make you more beautiful than you believe yourself to be?

ImageWhat’s More Beautiful Than A Great Smile?

Nothing else can match or beat a smile that lights up a face.  It’s a universal expression that in humans shows openness and beauty.  It shows happiness, amusement, joy, trust and even sex appeal.  What’s not to like about a wonderful smile?

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What’s More Beautiful Than Caring For Others?

Audrey Hepburn is seen as one of the greatest beauties to grace the screen.  But Audrey wasn’t very interested in being idolized for her work in film.  She was the Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, something of which she was very proud and made her great work during the later years of life.  She wanted to be known for giving children around the world a chance to live, not to be known for being a movie star.

What do a great smile and a giving heart say about people?  It says that they’re open, willing, caring.

And what does all this have to do with bipolar disorder?  Well. there’s a question that relates to mental illness and beauty: can society at large find people beautiful, whether or not they happen to have a mental illness?  What does being mentally ill have to do with a concept of being beautiful?

ImageLock Them In A Cage Where They Belong

Imagine if you exhibited symptoms of mental illness in 1850 or thereabouts.  No one understood virtually anything about the brain, how it works (or doesn’t).  Every odd or unusual behavior would be considered a reason to be placed in a cage.

A cage.  Like my bipolarized brain isn’t enough of a cage already, thanks.

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In those times of remarkable ignorance, receiving care for mental health might involve any of the drastic actions illustrated here, which could be considered torture by any modern benchmark we can think of (such as waterboarding).  Rather than treat people with dignity they were subjected to the indignities of ignorance.  And people who are treated without dignity or with disregard are not considered by this culture to be beautiful.  If they were considered such, there wouldn’t have been a need for cages and other monstrosities in the first place.

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What people believed to be Hysteria could land you in the funny farm.  What a vile name for a place that’s supposed to be a refuge of help.

Many things have changed from that time to today.  In spite of the progress that has been made, many people still believe that those who are mentally ill should be locked away.  They do not believe that mental illness can trap a person into homelessness or poverty.  They believe them to be defective, and when they use that word it does not mean mentally ill, it means they want them to be sequestered.  They want them put away.  They want this seemingly ugly part of life to be swept away from their sight.

ImageWhat Do You Think Is Wrong With This Picture?

This is not a portrait of someone beautiful in most people’s judgment.  If this is a self-portrait, then perhaps this person sees themselves this way, whether taught to believe so by others or by self-imposed belief.  Maybe, but consider this: is it perhaps that this person needs medical attention?  Does he not need love, support, comforting and knowledgeable assistance moving forward with being healthy?

ImageIs this person worthless?  Is he not a part of our society?  Do we not have a mandate as humans to find the beautiful within this person and free them from the tyranny of mental illness?

ImageIt’s All A Matter Of Perspective

If you consider this image carefully, you’ll notice something of our bias toward cultural beauty norms.  On the left, the person is viewed in ‘normal’ sense and then on the right the same person exhibits facial distortions.  Those distortions tell us how we really feel about beauty.  If you can see those distortions as humorous, painful, awkward or endearing rather than ugly then you possess empathy.

Empathy is the single most important element of a functional society.  And when you’re mentally ill, you might exhibit such distortions in your thinking, in your actions, in your attitude.  I assure you, no one finds those things endearing.  But more enlightened, open, honest and beautiful people might see them as something that each of these photos illustrate — temporary.

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All things are temporary and unless you have access to a time machine, they’re going to end.  Beauty will fade into wrinkles, bulges, unflattering warts and lord knows what else.  Those once taught muscles will devolve into a sagging mess.  The only thing that lives on is how you have treated your fellow man.

What makes an ugly person is being taught to hate others.

ImageThere Are Many Willing To Speak Truth

Jane Pauley, a newswoman and writer that I very much respect, is someone that suffers from bipolar disorder.  The disorder took her away from broadcasting on a regular basis but she continued on camera presenting programs regarding mental health issues.  She’s a hero to me, and someone that I believe is willing to speak truth.

When we disregard the truth it takes valiant people to remind us that we are all part of the same society, part of the same race.  We may come from different cultures but as culture and knowledge progress we come to understand both the amazing feats of our age and also just how far we have to go to live up to our potential.  Jane is a person who recognizes both ends of the spectrum.

ImageSo Where Is Beauty Heading In The Future?  Ask Yourself That Question

Is your idea of beauty evolving and if so, how?  Like all understanding, our ideas morph over time.  But for now, consider this: what is more beautiful that humanity, and what is more beastly?  What does it mean for some of us to be cruel to those who are in need of our help?  How can we change and adapt our society so that we concentrate on the truly beautiful — loving, teaching, caring, supporting, dreaming — rather than concentrating on the ugly, limiting, fearful, violent and meaningless?

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