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Familiarity, Love, and Beauty

In every other field of knowing, familiarity and affection are seen as Rather Good Things. The marine biologist with an undying passion for plankton, the physicist who spends twenty years investigating a single theoretical particle — these are the people we trust to say true things about the objects given to their attention. Why is it, then, that when the object is one’s neighbor, and the proposition is “you are beautiful,” familiarity and affection are suddenly considered detriments to true insight? If a man spends several years gazing with fascination at a particular combination of pores and creases and comes to the conclusion that they make up a beautiful face, why is he checked by the possible-opinion of plebeians without the wherewithal to enter into such a study?

The assumption that love distorts our view of the truth of things assumes that the loveless begin with 20/20 vision. Au contraire, I say there is no gaze as susceptible to the cataracts of bias, prejudice, idiocy and bigotry as the general gaze of a public unfamiliar and loveless towards their object. This gaze made the sexless, air-brushed, photo-shopped, unsmiling, pre-pubescent super-model into a profitable standard of beauty. This general gaze has elevated the sneer of disgust into the supreme symbol of sexual attractiveness. This gaze sails the waves of fashion — first praising the plump, now boosting the bony; now powdering the skin, now the toasting it tan — all of it driven by the winds of novelty and corporate suggestion. Why do we trust this “real world” with greater accuracy than those who actually see our faces — our mothers, fathers, friends and lovers?

That a mother thinks her child’s squishy face is beautiful may not be a bias, but the destruction of a cultural bias for thin faces. That a man thinks his wife’s small breasts are beautiful does not make him small-minded — he may well be of larger mind than a culture prejudiced in favor of large breasts. It is not a prejudice of affection that has a wife think her husband handsome through weight gain, weight loss, wrinkling and all the rest. Rather, affection frees her from the idiotic prejudice that beauty is an attribute plastered to a single, youthful stage of life — her familiarity with her object lifts her from a cultural crust of unthought preferences and unchecked beliefs.

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I assert a truism no longer considered true: To be objective is to be concerned with an object. There is no absurdity waiting at the end of this line of thought. If it is true, then the most objective man in the universe would be the man so fascinated, so in love with the object of his study, that he pursues the truth of its being with devotion, refusing to allow any prejudice or bias to hide its true nature from sight. It is not a peak of detachment that makes a man objective, but a peak of interest.

—from the blog post Onward Affectionate Scientist by Marc Barnes who blogs at Bad Catholic

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