Many moons ago, on a long, long trip in the car with my family, we listened to a book on tape called "The Giver". It was a fascinating story about a town made ‘perfect’ by the strict control by its leaders. There was no pain, there was no death, everything was neatly sanitized through special language and the truth subsequently hidden from the average Joe. Everyone ‘in the know’ understood how important language was in keeping the truth hidden. One scene has stuck in my mind – a scene where one little boy says, “I’m starving” and his mother replies, “Precision of language darling, you are hungry, not starving.” (My husband and I still joke about that – precision of language darling, I don’t ALWAYS do that.) And it’s so true. Words have meaning – and it is very important to use them correctly, most especially when we’re speaking about issues like Abortion or Euthanasia.
This is the gist of what Simcha Fischer wrote about recently – that words are deeply significant - an intriguing little ditty called “Stop Saying All Women Are Beautiful.” Her premise was that when we have to say that everyone is beautiful no matter what (because our society demands we do this), we’re teaching ourselves not to trust our instincts and working ourselves into a corner where it is unfashionable – or dangerous even - to state the obvious. She says, “If you are never allowed to think, “That woman is not beautiful,” then it’s just a short slide to never being allowed to say, “That behavior is immoral” or “That relationship is unhealthy” or “That world view is not humane.””
And I agree wholeheartedly with her. It is very important to acknowledge truth in your words both spoken and written. Yet her article troubles me deeply, and it’s not because of the premise and point, but because of the example on which she bases her argument. The beauty of women. I don’t think this is a good example to use for many reasons.
First, a woman’s physical beauty is deeply and inextricably linked to her self-worth and femininity. In theory you can separate them, but in actual practice, you cannot. Why else would the women undergoing mastectomies need counseling around their identities as women? It’s because at the heart of every woman there are two profoundly vital questions she is searching to answer. Am I beautiful? Am I worth fighting for? And unfortunately for her it's all or nothing. If she is 'found' to be lacking beauty, she will conclude that she is not worth fighting for. We wrestle with this our whole lives through, PAINFULLY aware that we are likely more on the ‘Flannery O’Connor’ side of the beauty-scale than on the ‘Kate Middleton’ side. We do everything we can to disguise ourselves – tan, pluck, shave, stretch, tighten and tone – in the desperate attempt not to be found out for what we’re terrified that we really are: Ugly and Unlovable. So I have a huge problem with the premise that says, “You and You – you’re absolutely, stunningly, beautiful. The rest of you, well, I’m sure you have other gifts.”
I think what Simcha’s referring to isn’t necessarily beauty, but rather aesthetic appeal (precision of language, darling). I can easily and readily admit that I don’t have a whole lot of aesthetic appeal for the times we live in. I could stand to lose a few pounds, pluck a few more ‘feathers’ and tone a few more muscles. (...although my husband might argue otherwise.) I can also see and can state unabashedly that Audrey Hepburn is absolutely more aesthetically pleasing than say, Mother Theresa or Barbara Streisand, and I would have no trouble encouraging my children to trust their instincts by allowing them to distinguish between who they find physically appealing and who they don’t. Where I do have an issue is teaching my children that some women have beauty, and some women do not, because that, my darling, is simply not true.