The Role of Ugliness and the Need to Address the Topic Head On

A couple of weeks back I posted my point of view on the recent film, Beauty and the Beast. Honestly, I didn’t think many would read it too closely, let alone comment on it.

Well, I was wrong.  And I’m thrilled!

What’s even better is the conflicting point of view that I sparked. Certainly not everyone agreed with my argument, and that was fine by me.  The sheer number of views and comments reinforces the opening point I made in that post: the movie and the subject of beauty, which is clearly part of the story, generate a lot of interest.  My question was why?

Many of the commentators on my post explained that the story line around inner beauty touches us all and the fact that the Belle character is even more nuanced elevates the story even more.  I buy that.  But I was more interested in why the subject of beauty in fairly tales still resonates.  Period.  A few years back I wrote a post about the animated movie, Brave, and how I appreciated that fact that she was not regarded as beautiful or ugly, but rather stubborn, athletic, loving, etc.  In other words, beauty didn’t enter the equation.

I concluded that the subject of beauty has a key role.  It isn’t something to ignore, but a topic we should raise and discuss.

And this means we should also encourage the topic of ugliness.  This is the other side of beauty.  Can someone look or be ugly?  I notice that I dissuade my children from describing things or other people as ugly. But in doing so am I am I shutting them down entirely.  Is that right?  Shouldn’t we invite the discourse?  Doesn’t Beauty and the Beast do just that?

Here’s a reason to talk about it.  I recently read a fascinating article by Mindy Weisberger of LiveScience, Beauty and the Beast: Why We are Fascinated By Human-Animal Mates?  As you can tell from the title, the story delves into the role of half-human half-animal characters in fairy tales.  Interestingly the half-animal characters are mostly male.  I won’t summarize the whole article but share one reason.  In the times of fairy tales, young girls, say around 14 years old, would often be betrothed to much older men.  To these girls, older men were obviously bigger, harrier, more muscular, perhaps even animal-like in their eyes. To assuage their fear of their future husbands, stories would often depict the princes as part animal.  And as we all know, everything turns out all right and we live happily ever after.  What an interesting explanation to share with our children!  And you can imagine the profound discussion that this explanation would lead to around women’s rights, equality, strong partnerships with romantic partners, and the list goes.  But without the freedom to pursue the topic of beauty and ugliness, we may never get to broach those issues.

We are innately interested and appreciate beautiful things and beautiful people.  And in an effort to shield girls and boys from placing too much emphasis on beauty, of course we shouldn’t elevate it to the only, or the primary source of conversation.  As an aside, there’s a book that just came out this week by Renee Engeln about our attention on beauty as a form of sickness, aptly named, Beauty Sick, How the Cultural Obsession with beauty and Appearance Hurts Girls and Women.  The analysis shows the ramifications of too much thought around beauty.  Obviously I don’t endorse that.  But I also believe that we shouldn’t ignore the subject all together or even downplay it.  Let’s embrace beauty, the uniqueness of it, and the bad and the good that come with it.

Week in Review: 7/1-7/7

Finally back to normal this week.  Here’s what we shared:

The new movie, “Brave”, offers a refreshing take on female relationships and the role of beauty Weekend Observations: Finally A Fairy Tale That Depicts Beauty Right

The hideous but also fascinating side of beauty in a new show Pic of the Week: Beauty Isn’t Always Pretty

Can the very act of cutting your hair makes you more attractive? Cutting Your Hair Makes You More Attractive Than You Think

Another curated reading list More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

Happy July!

Weekend Observations: Finally a Fairy Tale That Depicts Beauty Right

There’s been much hoopla over the past few months about all the fairy tale movies in Hollywood: “Mirror Mirror“, “Snow White and the Huntsman“, and “Sleeping Beauty.”   Why?  Because of how fascinating, scary and true-to-life the villainess are.

What do I mean?  Whether we’re talking about Julia Roberts, Charlize Theron or Anjelina Jolie, each depicts the fear, loathing, and desperation older women experience when they see their own beauty fading.  Each movie shows the classic older woman against younger woman story.  And we can’t get enough of these stories or characters because they hit a nerve.  Deep down they’re true for a lot of us.

But then I saw “Brave” this afternoon with my daughter.  And my view of fairy tale movies and the “truths” they reveal changed.

I was psyched to see the movie with Laila, my daughter, as the main character, Merida, has long, flowing curly hair just like Laila’s (though Merida’s never seems to get knotty the way Laila’s does…hmmm), loves sports and seeks adventure, as does Laila.  In essence, they are both tomboys.

And they are both beautiful.

But the movie doesn’t make a big deal about Merida’s beauty.  It’s just there.  And instead of her beauty being a source of friction between her and her mother, or it being the vehicle to “land” a prince, it remains int he background.  In fact, Merida pushes against marriage and ends up developing an even stronger bond with her mother.

A little aside, the mom is beautiful too and has this great grey streak in her hair.  She’s older and beautiful all at the same time!

I love that fairly tales are going beyond the age-old cliché of older woman losing her beauty and younger woman benefiting because of it.  The fact that Merida and her mother are beautiful, AMONG OTHER ATTRIBUTES, is fantastic too.  They are respected for their intelligence, bravery and beauty all together.

Now, when will real life follow suit?