[commentary] An Interesting Aspect of Beauty Culture


[commentary] An Interesting Aspect of Beauty Culture

July 2015

Why are we scared of beautiful people?

When we meet people many different processes click on and are hard at work under the surface. We weigh different incoming signals and to a certain extent make an evaluation of the other individual.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately and I suspect that two hundred years ago, before the rise of digital media, the methods of evaluation were different. We still cue in on many of the same signals that were used back then, like articles of clothing, composure, speech, and social proof.

But in this age, digital media’s absolute saturation of the average citizen’s life has created some interesting new behavior. Digital media is at its essence,  pre-written and prepackaged narratives. When we flop on the couch and flick on the tv, we’re looking for some stimulus that might elicit certain specific, enjoyable neurochemical states.

The theme of these narratives remains consistent throughout most cultures and time periods. The feelings of elation, tragedy, immense uncertainty, victory, suspense, romance, and peace are in universal demand. What varies are the characters chosen to deliver these stories.

In my life, every single movie that has in someway or another lit up my brain with emotion, has starred a beautiful character. And movies are never about dull people. They’re never about simple cowards. They’re never about wussies. They’re never about desperate men who spend most of their lives in a haze of boredom, cheap titillations, and standard menial routines from which Saturday and Sunday are the only respite. If they are, the movie is without a doubt about their transformation or redemption.

They’re always about the most epic. They’re about the folks who Monday through Friday, meet beautiful woman, experience epic office dramas, and then when they do get some time alone, spend it in nature passionately philosophizing.

This is completely fine. It’s the bread and butter of cheap entertainment.

But it gets funky when these narratives gently weave their way into day to day existence.

When we see a beautiful person we  project  the sum total of these movie characters onto them and experience some sort of envy/awe/resentment/curiosity/pleasure. When in reality, they tend to be just like you and me.

The Bradley Cooper look alike goes home and bored out of his mind, desperately scrolls through BuzzFeed.

The Miranda Kerr look alike goes home and with nothing to do after dinner, flips through magazines and looks for a good show.

Some certainly do take pleasure in knowing that their form mimics these illusory cultural narratives and that can be a real bother but still tolerable. What’s a bit more of a nuisance is when it doesn’t stop at themselves, but extends to others in the form of their superior airs.

But enough with bagging on beautifully formed cheek bones and full breasts. Our attention is limited and thankfully in this Life, we get to choose what to think about. There are so many good people out there.

My point is that I think it’s good to be on guard and carefully check this kind of tendency. We’re better off looking for deeper signs that signal genuine complexity and beauty.

When I meet the older looking gentlemen who’s studying on exchange here at the Haas MBA school, at first glance I underestimate the man. Broken english with an asian accent is an irresistible deception (a symptom of historical/cultural imperialism). I forget that he has his own native language in which he has full command and confidence, and that if i were to attempt to communicate in his language- I would with certainty be rendered a babbling, slow witted triviality. It turns out that he is the head of Hyundai’s heavy industries arm and has spent most of his life traveling the world, meeting all sorts of people, and affecting change.