Something beautiful?

Sep 2nd, 2012 | By | Category: Pop thinking

Sitting at a church service where the preacher had rambled for too long, there was an occasion to ponder the question of beauty.

In 2006, a video was posted on the Internet showing nightclubs in Newcastle in England and Stockholm in Sweden. The Swedish club was filled with suave, naturally blonde sophisticates; the Newcastle club was rather different (you can find the video for yourself!).

What the video projected was a gross misrepresentation of the respective realities. One could go to any city and find people who were not as glamorous as those who would grace the pages of the glossy magazine; to imagine Stockholm as peopled entirely by people who would readily find modelling work would be to delude oneself. But did it matter, anyway? Did it matter that the Swedes appeared considerably more photogenic than their English counterparts? Did it matter if those in the Newcastle video did not correspond to our society’s understanding of what constituted attractiveness?

What does beauty mean, anyway?

Paloma Faith’s 2009 song, ‘Do you want the truth or something beautiful?’ asked in its refrain:

Do you want the truth or something beautiful?
Just close your eyes and make believe
Do you want the truth or something beautiful?
I am happy to deceive you.

Are truth and beauty opposites? Is the beautiful make believe? Is it a deception, an untruth?

Isn’t there a middle ground between the stereotypical, ‘factual’ beautiful of the Stockholm video and the need to regard beauty and truth as contradictory?

Sitting in the back of a jeep on a road in Rwanda, a traditionally built African lady, sat between our interpreter and I. We discussed the health of someone recovering from illness, ‘Soon she will be well’, said the interpreter, ‘and she will be as fat as this lady here’.

The lady, who spoke perfect English, seemed to take no exception to the remark. Sensing a need for cultural clarification, I asked him if it was polite to suggest that someone was fat. ‘Of course he said, why not?’

Weight was a sign of wealth and a sign that one did not have ‘the illness’; to be fat was a reasonable aspiration, it was a mark of what was regarded as beautiful in the culture. The interpreter’s perception of beauty is so at variance with the assumptions of those who posted the Stockholm video that it is very much a case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. If beauty is entirely subjective, then those in the Newcastle club were as beautiful to those who loved them as their Swedish counterparts were to those who assumed a Western consumerist notion of beauty. The difference is not in the people, but in those who perceive the people.

Truth or something beautiful? Truth and something beautiful? Or maybe thoughts that have nothing to do with each other.




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