Beauty And Perception
When it comes to perceiving a woman’s beauty, the range of possibility is enormous. I have been lucky in this lifetime to have known several men who love all kinds of women—all types, body shapes, sizes, colors, races. Blonde, brunette, redhead. Short and round or tall and rectangular. It’s all good. Sadly, I have known far more who have such a narrow window for what is lovely that most women can’t even get an “acceptable” rating. They may be liked well enough as people, but they would need to change, sometimes drastically, to be perceived of as a beautiful woman.
One particular year, inspired by the men I knew who loved all women, I set myself on a course to learn more about this kind of openness.
In the several years between my two marriages, I dated a lot. A lot. I love men, and while I had my standards, they were not so high that I sat alone most Saturday nights. Even so, this one year, I really challenged myself. I decided that, for twelve months, I would not turn a man away because he was not good looking enough (nor because he was not as financially secure as I would have liked, since that is a more subtle but very real social attractor factor to most women). I wasn’t going to force myself to into a relationship that had no merit, of course. But if there was a draw of some kind, the looks and money “magnets” that I had been culturally trained to gravitate towards were not going to be mandatory. In short, I made myself push past my knee-jerk criteria for courtship and experience whatever came.
It was a good year. I made some good love and some good friends. As I had hoped, I learned that a perception of beauty was not required for love or intimacy. Neither was sex, for that matter. But there was more. I also learned that once I got past the standard issue version of physical beauty I had been trained to see, I saw new levels of beauty I never imagined.
Beauty as A Whole Body Experience
When it comes to true beauty, the single greatest challenge I can think of is to actually see it, even when it hits you upside the head. We are so culturally indoctrinated into accepting common standards of what is beautiful, and what is not, that finding our own true perception of, and response to, a person or object of beauty is a fantastic feat.
Notice in the last paragraph that I wrote “to actually see it.” You probably didn’t pick up on that limiting language, because most of us don’t. We have been trained to think of beauty in terms of the visual. Yet what about the beauty that wafts through our sense of smell, trails the beloved through the fingertip touch, greets us in a bird’s chirp, or tastes like down-home goodness? Are these not aspects of beauty? Must we see beauty as a movie with no sound—not to mention no color, no popcorn, no friend laughing with us, touching arms as we huddle in the darkened theatre?
We have been so bombarded with stimuli to the visual senses, we seem to have atrophied in all the others experiences that beauty brings us. Yet when we stunt the visual (which is what I did when I decided to date men that in my visual perception were physically unattractive), other senses come alive. It is not unlike the blind who develop a heightened sense of hearing.
In that year, beautiful men who were physically unattractive (to me) taught me about this. I learned that you can close your eyes as the tongue is awakened with tiny bits of dozens of different foods, in order to reawaken the sense of taste. I learned that you can close your eyes as the nose is awakened with the scent of roses, oranges, and evergreen needles. You can also close your eyes as the body is stimulated with feathers, fabrics, and fingers. So much so, you feel your skin, your arms, even your toes, as if you have never really felt them before. I learned you can close your eyes and awaken to the voice of the violin, then the cello, then the bass, finding them within the symphony as it plucks at your heartstrings and begs the blood in your veins to come along for the ride. Maybe best of all, I learned that you can close your eyes and awaken to the still small voice that speaks of what is true, what is not true, and what can’t yet be known.
If we must judge our experiences of beauty, we can at least learn to judge them on a full-sensory basis. Dating men I found unattractive physically, I discovered that is not all that I found attractive. I found I liked the smell of one man so much, I would anticipate his scent all day before a date. I came to love the skin of another, not because he was a muscle-man, but because his skin was so soft. His hair too. The sound of one lover’s voice always kept me laughing (in a good way), for he seemed to perpetually have joy in it. And the way I felt sleeping safely next to one particular partner—a big, rough and burly bouncer at a bar who was ever ready to fight any problem character at a moment’s notice—is a feeling of beauty I will never forget. We had nothing in common in the outside world, but his soul touched mine, and he brought the woman in me to life in a completely new way.
We can never fully appreciate the beauty of another with only our eyes. They have been trained to look astray, to judge in the nanosecond the gaze is focused. Only through the full body experience can the beauty of the body be the wonder it is meant to be. Only then will our perception be acute, and our memories vivid enough to savor, again and again. That year, I learned to live with my eyes closed and my capacity for perception wide open. It is a beautiful way to live.