Beauty, Superficiality and Lessons from the Ugly Duckling

There is a picture of a beautiful girl on the front page of the paper. She died in tragic circumstances, before her time. It is very sad. Is it sadder because she is beautiful? Because she is slim, with curly dark hair and deep brown eyes that almost penetrate the soul as they look up from their last resting place on the front of the morning newspaper.

Would she even make the news if she was less attractive, let alone the front page? It is a question I almost don’t want to answer because I know the answer is so perverse.

When a young person dies due to a car accident or drug overdose, it seems more likely to make the news if that person is physically appealing. The less attractive the subject, the less likely their story will be reported. The news would have to be bigger, the death even more bizarre or tragic for it to be reported. Perhaps a terrorist attack or kidnapping would override the tendency toward superficiality perpetuated by media providers, whilst anything that happens to a model or beauty queen makes the news. I don’t want to be morbid here, nor am I trivialising the tragic death of anyone killed in any fashion, but one could argue that all who die before their time should be in the newspaper with an article to remember their life – All or none; certainly not just the beautiful.

I don’t think that this tendency to superficiality is found only in the media. This is a community problem that is illuminated by the stories that are reported by the media. We care more for the beautiful than the ugly, more for the fit than the fat. There is constant discrimination in favour of attractive people going on around us – for jobs, partners, friends, compliments and even conversations at a party. This is not something kept secret – Hidden away like our discriminatory protection of cute animals. It is everywhere – from marketing and advertising to media and online dating apps like Tinder. We accept the superficial as part of our make-up, as if it is just a natural part of the genetic evolution that got us here. Perhaps it has a role to play, but I don’t see how beauty benefits the species. One would think that resistance to disease would be more important in a potential mate than what they looked like, but beyond what one instinctively grasps from the release of pheromones on a first date, there is no discussion of this at all in the dating world.

I wonder if it is more environment than genetics – A trained action from years of learning. It’s been built in to the psyche from a young age where the learning comes from stories – Fairy tales involving the beautiful young dame saved from the ugly antagonist by a handsome young prince. Most children’s stories use a physical representation of beauty to describe the characters morality. The prince is always handsome and more often than not, the evil character is ugly. I don’t know if this is designed because writers don’t think children can make the distinction and need this type of physical representation of the soul to help delineate the characters, or the writers are naturally superficial from years of their own indoctrination. If a child untouched by social pressures was asked to paint a picture of a good and evil person, how would they represent them? Would there be a physical manifestation of their souls?

These stories teach us from a young age to know that beauty is good and ugliness is bad. Even the general allegories of these tales can encourage this. The only lesson I learnt from the Ugly Duckling (or the Ugly Signet as it should have been called) was that beauty equals popularity. When the duck was ugly no one liked it, yet when it turned into a beautiful swan, everyone loved it. Perhaps the moral of the story was that it doesn’t matter if you are different, things will be alright in the end, but surely there are better ways to represent this. The same could be said of Cinderella. If the writer had really wished to make a positive impact he should have made Cinderella plain or disabled. Her sisters could have been really sexy – the sexy step-sisters instead of the ugly step-sisters. They all go to the ball. The fairly average looking prince meets the whole family but falls in love with Cinderella despite her disability. And they live happily ever after, well until they get a divorce. But it doesn’t really matter for the point of the story is not the ‘happily ever after’, but that the prince accepts her for who she is – despite her disability and physical appearance – he see her true inner beauty.

Even with help as a child from the lessons of the revised Cinderella, I may still have ended up with a degree of superficiality in my nature. On an individual level there will always be a level of physical attraction that affects choices in partners and this may cause a general discrimination toward the beautiful, but if we look at things for a little longer and see the beauty in all then perhaps this could change too.

The Greek or Eastern philosophers would tell you there is beauty in everything. Look at a lamppost long enough and you will see beauty in its elegant frame and its purpose – providing light in the darkness. Beauty radiates from within all inanimate and animate objects illuminating their cosmic creation and the infinite chance and incredible nature in every life there is.

There is beauty in everyone. Perhaps all that live and die should make the newspaper – one last story to tell the world of that person’s inner beauty and their positive affect upon the world.