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What's beautiful to you?

I enjoy People magazine and have counted on it to make long waits in a doctor's office go faster many a time. Last week's issue, though, gave me pause, as does any medium proclaiming to know who is the most beautiful person. Most beautiful in our nation, in the world, in our neighborhood?  They gave the "most beautiful" title to Beyoncé this year. And yes, she's beautiful. That's not the point behind my pause. The point is, who is People magazine or any other publication to decide for us what or who is the "most beautiful" anything?

I began my professional life as an assistant social worker in a gerontology unit in a large medical center. I had the privilege of meeting hundreds of "senior citizens" or "personas de la tercera edad." Once I even participated as a judge in a nursing home beauty pageant.  It was a tough assignment, because so many of the elderly female contestants were so beautiful. They promenaded in conservative "evening gowns" and did so with great poise and grace. It's an experience I'll never forget, and a deep lesson in what defines beauty.

During my social work tenure, I presented a paper on aging and the arts to an audience of social work and psychology professionals. I showed a slide of the striking photo of Marella Agnelli by Richard Avedon and then projected next to it a slide of one of Rembrandt's paintings of his mother in her old age.

I presented my paper to more than one audience. And on each occasion, I asked them which of these two images was the more beautiful one. The response was always unanimous. All votes went to Rembrandt's mother. Beautiful, slender, wrinkle-free, porcelain-skinned Marella never had a hand raised in her favor.

Even at her most ill, no person was ever more beautiful to me than my mother. Even at his most rebellious, no person was ever more handsome to me than my son. And I don't have a single close friend that is not seriously beautiful.

What is beautiful to you? Don't let a magazine cover, a commercial, a billboard or social media or anything else tell you how to see or feel beauty. Deep in your heart, you know exactly what beauty is and who, in your life, is beautiful. In a world where images called "beautiful" are thrown at us as though our eyes were twin dart boards, it's good to stop and remember that we already know what beauty is.

And is not.


Grant Flint said…
Lovely, as are you.

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