Are We Hard-Wired to Be Attracted to the Beauty of Our Elders?

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Is it me or are we finally looking at our elder beauties in a new light?  Every where I look I feel like people are starting to pay attention to the beauty of the older women and men in our society in a different, progressive and admirable way.  Or perhaps it’s because my birthday is coming up that I look at aging with a fresh eye.  Whatever the reason, I feel like we are finally starting to see aging beauty for all the glamour, wisdom and experience it offers.

First, I was struck by the amazing comments I received in one of my recent Linkedin posts: Age and Decay: A Twist on What We Actually Crave.  The fact that we instinctively need to experience the aging process in others is what makes vinyl records, dilapidated buildings and older women so beautiful.  And then I came across a scientific study claiming that women don’t want beauty companies to offer them “anti-aging” products, but rather products that make them look and feel awesome as they are now. (Science Daily)  Finally, when I came across this story in Los Angeles Racked: “Fashion and Beauty Secerets form L.A’s Most Stylish Older Women,” I knew I must be on to something.  The article shares images of gorgeous older women, strutting their stuff, donning eclectic outfits, and displaying amazing hair and make-up (see pics above & below).  And what’s even cooler about them?  They are all active members of society — working in film, non-for-profits or even modeling!

But why try to stay beautiful?  For younger people it promises a mate and eventual propagation of the species.  But who needs it as we age?

But maybe there’s another way to think about people’s beauty.  Beauty — both inner and outer (frankly, I can’t separate the two) forces us to take notice.  It mesmerizes us.  It stops us in our tracks and draws like a magnet.  Nature has hard-wired us to react this way.  For the youth it may have one reason for it’s existence, but for others, another.  By admiring and being attracted to an older person’s beauty we can’t help but learn their stories, adopt some of their joie de vivre and hopefully take on their desire to keep building in this world vs let it all go and wait for the end to come.  When we see it in the best possible light, beauty’s allure can help us learn something, build for a better future, and see the opportunities before us.  We need the beauty of youth AND the beauty of old age.

Nature has made us beautiful creatures at EVERY stage so that we all strive to build a better world — whether that means more babies, more equality, better forms of entertainment, more happiness — and the list goes on.  Let’s hope I can adopt some of this lesson for myself as the big day rolls around :).



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What do Lady Gaga, the start of spring and your bodies have in common?  So much.

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If you were like so many of us who witnessed Lady Gaga’s amazing Oscar performance of “Til It Happens to You,” you were moved.  The song is amazing, but it’s her passion and power that make it so riveting.

I later learned one of the reasons this song affected her so much was that she, like the people she sings about, was sexually abused.  In an article about her story, she explains how the trauma of the abuse lasted for years and manifested itself in her body.  She was in chronic pain for years.

The idea that feelings and memories can bury themselves in our bodies may sound a little “hocus pocus” for some of us.  And I get it.  Aren’t feelings all manufactured in our brain?  Where do our bodies fit into this?

Well they do.  And I, myself, have spent that past year starting to explore my own feelings via my body.  I’m fortunate enough to have an executive coach who employs some techniques of Somatic Experiencing.  What is S.E.?  Wikipedia defines it this way:

Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a form of therapy aimed at relieving and resolving the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental and physical trauma-related health problems by focusing on the client’s perceived body sensations (or somatic experiences).

Psychology Today further explains: “When any part of this normal cycle (cycling between alertness and stress) is interrupted, the charge of energy gets ‘stuck’ in our bodies. We can then fail to fluctuate easily between states of different intensity. And the charge stuck in our systems will likely be triggered when in the future we encounter events, people, or things that remind us of the earlier experience that was never completed.”

Fortunately I am not suffering from major stress like that of Lady Gaga.  But my coach and I still feel the techniques could help me be more aware of how my body is holding emotions that are preventing me from experiencing happiness and progress.

I’m not writing this story to compel you all to try out Somatic Experiencing.  Rather, I’m continually struck by the strong connection between our emotions and our bodies.  Our bodies are not just vessels or shells.  They shouldn’t be ignored unless we’re hungry or cold, nor should they be turned into the only reflection of we are.  

Are bodies are ARE us.  We are intimately connected to them. And so we must nourish, care for and connect with our bodies as much as possible.  And certainly when we experience trauma — both physical and emotional, we can’t will away the pain, we have to face it in mind and body.

Spring has sprung and it’s a time for new beginnings.  It’s also a time when we are more physical again.  Let’s celebrate this time by re-connecting with, listening to and caring for our whole selves — mind, soul AND body.  

 

Would You Risk Your Lives for Art? These People Did.

 

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Painting by Nelly Toll

Musings by @APosner on the @NYTimes article “Art From the Holocaust: The Beauty and Brutality in Hidden Works”

If you think beauty is a luxury and not a necessity, think again.  

While in hiding or in work camps during the Holocaust, Leo Haas, Bedrich Fritta, and Nelly Toll, just age 8, struggled to survive.  Smuggling food, staying sheltered, and trying their hardest not to get sick — the basics of basics — were a daily challenge.  And yet, they spent their hours imagining and capturing beauty.  And what’s more?  They would risk their lives smuggling art supplies into their rooms to fulfill their need to express their talents.

Interestingly, Haas, Fritta and Toll didn’t depict images of horror or suffering as we would expect given their circumstances.  No, they painted or drew glorious images of landscapes or fantastical paintings of fairies.

How could they let their imaginations go there?  And how could they even think about beauty, let alone, risk their lives to obtain beauty supplies?  What about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?  Logic tells us that we focus on immediate needs in order to survive, like food, water and shelter.  Certainly art should be the last thing from our minds.  

What’s going on here?

As Ms. Toll, now 80 years old, explains in the NY Times article “Art From the Holocaust: The Beauty and Brutality in Hidden Works“: ‘“When you’re fighting for your life and your basic human needs,”… creating art “is not just an escape, it’s an active choice of defiance.”’  Bedrich Fritta depicted Jewish concentration camp workers in his pieces, not as feeble, ugly and downtrodden victims (as the Nazi’s liked to show), but as muscular, proud and handsome men.  He was later executed because of these works.

We often analyze art to better understand the times in which the artists lived.  We learn about what sorts of technology was available or their cultural values.  We effectively see the world at the time through the eyes of the artist.

But what’s so interesting in this case is that the very act of creating art — not necessarily just what it depicts, is a form of defiance and rebellion.  Art was these victims’ lifesaver.  It was as necessary as food and water.

Now, I’m going to tread into familiar ground.  But I still feel like we have to talk about this.  

Our society values the arts.  Our schools have art classes, philanthropists fund museums, and city governments create boardwalks and parks.  But when the budgets are cut, what’s one of the first items to go?  The arts.  After all, we need to learn math more than art, right?  And art won’t prevent us from getting diseases.   Art won’t lower the crime rate.   Net, net, we don’t need art to survive.

Ah, but we do!  The arts not only reminds us of what is good in our world, but it fortifies us, challenges our thinking and sparks our ingenuity.  And without that those things, we, as individuals and as a community, cannot survive.  If some people are willing to die for it, shouldn’t we at least raise the arts to the level of daily necessities?

These paintings are now on display at the Jewish Historical Museum in Berlin and accessible via web.  Take a look and I guarantee you they will fuel your imaginations and emotions.

Despite What David Brooks Says, We Can Experience the Deeper, More Spiritual Side of Beauty

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The world-renowned New York Times columnist and author, David Brooks, published a piece on Friday that initially depressed me.  In his Op-Ed, “When Beauty Strikes,” Brooks laments our lack of deep appreciation for the spiritual gifts of beauty — an appreciation that dwindled after the end of the era of Humanism.  Brooks writes:

“These days we all like beautiful things.  Everybody approves of art.  But the culture does not attach as much emotional, intellectual or spiritual weight to beauty.”  He concludes with: “The shift to post-humanism has left the world beauty-poor and meaning-deprived.”

Of course I see his point. There is no doubt that in our current times of hyper-rationalism, we don’t have the same relationship to beauty as we once had.  We see it as something that defines things, like a nice object or people, versus something that stirs our souls.  It is often something we critique.

So is that it?  Should we just cry in our soup?  Can we change this?

I refuse to be deterred by Brooks article.  Not only do I believe we want to have a deeper connection to beauty, I think we are driving towards it more and more every day.

Why do I feel this so strongly?  Thanks to increasing globalization, we are being exposed to world views that challenge the assumptions that come with Western culture.  In Hinduism, for example, beauty is one of the “triad of ideals.”   “Appreciating beauty fully and in the right manner is to experience Brahmananda—the joy of being one with the universal one.” (Source: What When How)

Also, in this digital age, our relationship to beauty and creativity has changed dramatically.  The internet has helped us create, capture and communicate in a much more visual, aural and creative manner than mere words ever can.  We now observe the world differently thanks to our smart phones.  Open up a Facebook page, there’s no question visual communication is far more disruptive and engaging.  And our access to beauty is so much greater!  Look at the picture I used for this post.  This was among thousands that I was able to get my hands on in a matter of seconds.

And with the advent of digital, came the ability to put our creativity to amazing use.  Sure, sometimes we just want to upload something silly.  But the act of developing pictures, creating and editing videos and music, even mashing up others’ clips is not just fun.  It is exciting, mentally engaging and, yes, even spiritual sometimes. What better way to appreciate beauty than when we are creators of it!  No doubt this creative process taps a powerful, spiritual side of us.

Do I agree that our culture often has an unfortunate relationship with beauty?  Hell yes!  But do I think we should be resolved to live with it?  No way.  And the good news is that there are ways to tap the more spiritual side of beauty.  We can seek out the interpretations offered by other cultures, and we can continue to push our own creativity.  We are seeing changes in Western culture thanks to digital, and especially social media, and how these have affected the ways we interact and see our world.  Let’s harness these changes to help us reconnect with beauty in deeper, more powerful and more fulfilling ways.

 

The Best Part of Star Wars May Not Be What You Expect

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So what’s really so great about the new Star Wars anyway?

I went to see Star Wars Episode VII: the Force Awakens with my two younger kids a few days ago.  I’m not much of a Star Wars fan, but as a citizen of the world how could I give up the chance to see highest first-weekend-grossing movie ever?!  As you can imagine, my kids and I anticipated something out of this world (no pun intended ;)).

As a bit of a Star Wars “novice,” I’m sure I missed a lot of the brilliance of the film.  But I definitely enjoyed the age-old good vs evil fights, father vs son theme, and the notion of the “force” within us all which makes the film oh so spiritual.  The presence of the original characters, including biggies like Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo, made the film that much more fun.  The best part of the film is Rey, the female Jedi.  How great is it to see women kick some ass!?

And I bet you’ve all heard this from everybody else who has also seen the movie.

So what’s new here?

As I was watching the film, I couldn’t help ask myself: “Why do people love this franchise so much?”  We’ve definitely seen these themes in other movies too.  But then about an hour into the film, it hit me.

The film is full of crazy looking characters.  Your could even call them freaks.  Some characters appear human and others — well, how do I begin to describe them?  Some are a combination of metal parts and some look like huge rodents.  Many are downright disgusting looking.  This makes sense actually.  We are watching characters from a galaxy far far away.  Of course most of the characters wouldn’t look human.

The result of this?  Nobody looks like an outsider (or an insider for that matter).   Yoda, probably the most beloved character, looks like a cross between a gnome, dog, and a human toddler.  In this highly antagonistic galaxy, nobody is deemed a friend or enemy, good or bad because of his/her appearance.  Instead a character is considered good or evil because of what he or she DOES, e.g., rip off Rey when trading her parts, fight against or for the resistance,  see the force in Rey, and the list goes on.

What’s more, the really evil dudes — the storm troopers and Kylo — are the only ones who look the same.  They wear identical white or black uniforms and masks.  Clearly appearing the same as everyone else means you’re probably NOT a hero in this film.

Other films certainly try to mix races or “types” (think geeks and beauty queens) to represent a pluralistic society.  But they border on contrived.  And while each character may have a central role, it’s obvious each represents a “type.” Star Wars, on the other hand, pushes this multi-planetary look to the max.  While watching Star Wars you can imagine jumping right into the films’ scenes and not stand out not matter how you look.  And for many of us, that’s beautiful, beautiful thing.  I’m sure we’ve all wished we could just be the “normal” one in a situation.  I can imagine we’ve all wanted to feel like we belong no matter how we dress, sound, hold our bodies, or wear our hair.

I’m sure there are endless numbers of online communities chatting about all the many lessons Star Wars teaches us.  But the one I’m taking with me and sharing with all of you is that we should strive for a world where, like in Star Wars, there is no such thing as being beautiful or ugly, normal or weird, perfect or imperfect.  Instead, we should aim for a world where can harness our forces, and those of others, and use them for good.  Full stop.

Hope you all enjoy the movie!

A Social Experiment: What Happens When You Tell Someone s/he is beautiful?

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We are taught, and still teach, our children to look beyond people’s exteriors to truly appreciate who they are.  And I would be the first to endorse that.

But this doesn’t mean we should ignore people’s beauty.  Beauty has become such a source of conflict in our culture.  We worship and demonize it at the same time.  We see it as the holy grail or petty and shallow.   And we don’t want others to think we only appreciate them for how they look.  (See last week’s post as proof of this.)

The result? We can’t fully accept it — either in ourselves or others.  And that’s really not healthy.

There is a great independent video by teenage Chicago student, Shea Glover, that’s being circulated in social media.  One day she took her video camera to school, stopped individual kids — some she’s friends with and some she isn’t — and told them that they were beautiful.  It is a must see!  Every teenager she approached looked different.  Some were girls and some were boys.  Their skin colors, styles and facial features represented every look you can imagine.

What strikes me is how almost all of them reacted in the exact same way.

First, each is surprised, even shocked, at being called beautiful.

Second, each giggled with embarrassment by the compliment, and responded with a degree of disbelief (one of her friends even curses at her!)

Finally, they all smile — I mean REALLY smile  — with happiness and gratitude.  As one said: “That is so nice.  This has been such a great day.”

Glover explains on YouTube: “I want to clarify that my intentions were not to get a reaction out of people.  I was simply filming beauty and this is the result.”  For more on the video, “Things I find Beautiful”, read this story.

It’s a simple but powerful video.  While it only features teenagers, I bet you most of us, no matter our age, would react similarly.  It shows us that we still have a long way to go to feel confident about how we look.  And it also reminds us that we need to raise the next generation — our kids, students, loved ones — to not shy away from their beauty but appreciate it.  Not only will they feel better about themselves, but will see the amazing variety of beauty in others!  As the video concludes: “There is so much beauty in the world.  If you blink, you will miss it.”

What is also so clear to me is power of making others feel beautiful.  This few seconds of interaction with Glover gave each of these kids a wonderful boost.  Imagine if they felt this beautiful everyday!?!

What can we do?  Appreciate our own beauty for one thing.  But also help others appreciate theirs.  Think of what it would like if we told at least one person every day that we thought he or she were beautiful?  Maybe it’s a friend or total stranger.  Plus, it’s easy!  And it doesn’t cost anything.  The result is so worth it. Oh, and your kids and friends will see you do this and maybe, just maybe do the same.

Hey, we are in the middle of the holiday season, scratching our heads as to what to give are friends and loved ones.  How about whole-heartedly  complimenting them on their individual beauty?!  That’s pretty a nice gift.

Of course we are a lot more than just physical beings.  But as this video shows, appreciating all of our outward beauty can make us feel oh so beautiful on the inside too.