On Beauty and Arrogance

The UK’s Daily Mail published an article this week written by a woman named Samantha Brick, who claims that women hate her because she is so beautiful, which has made her life difficult. The article features numerous photos of Brick, as well as anecdotes about all the times men have sent her gifts and women have snubbed her because of her beauty.

Naturally, the internet blew up in reaction to the article. Between comments on the article, tweets, and blogs, the public reaction is obviously strong and polarized. Some women are thanking Brick for revealing this truth while others are berating her for her arrogance.

Yesterday, ITV posted an interview with Brick and a psychologist (who is female), discussing the article, Brick’s claims, and the backlash. The interview is almost ten minutes long, but well worth watching if you’ve read the article and seen some of the reactions:

The female interviewer and the psychologist are obviously angered by Brick’s claims although they are very professional and logical in their assessment and critique, telling Brick that what women actually have an issue with is not Brick’s beauty, but her arrogance and her assumption that women won’t like her.

My initial reaction to Brick’s article, which was confirmed by this interview, is that there’s just something wrong here. Brick’s arrogance dominates anything else about her, and I can’t help but wonder if the arrogance is actually overshadowing some deeper problem. Has she been rejected by people all her life and is looking for a way to explain it? Does she actually dislike other beautiful women and is trying to mask that trait in herself? I don’t know.

What I do know is that her identity is completely tied up in her appearance (and, maybe, the fact that she lives in the French countryside, which she mentions 4 times in the interview). As a woman, I know how difficult it is not to assume people judge you on your looks. I know how difficult it is when you don’t feel beautiful. I know how difficult it is not to identify yourself with your looks. And I can only hope that, for Brick, this experience is eye-opening, that she sees herself as more than just a beautiful woman because she is that, she is more than her appearance. She just, perhaps, needs to figure that out.

I am the war I fight.

When I was ten years old, I discovered baseball. I’d spent the summer playing softball (right field, where they put all the really bad players) for the town’s league, which gave me enough of an understanding of the rules of the game that when I sat at home one night flipping channels and came across an Atlanta Braves game, I stopped to watch. On the screen, a man wearing a Braves jersey with the number 10 (the same number I wore that summer) hit a home run. I became a baseball fan, Chipper Jones became my hero, and I began progressing toward being a baseball-obsessed tomboy who eschewed all things “girly.”

I’m not blaming baseball for any kind of identity crisis I’ve had as a woman, but I can look back and see that this was a pivotal moment in my life. Even at ten, I already felt the disconnect between myself and other girls. I much preferred reading books and watching baseball to wearing makeup and flirting with boys. I was also beginning to realize how cruel and catty girls could be, and I tried to avoid those kinds of girls at all costs. Being a baseball fan in the mid-90s was just cool enough to earn me some points with the boys in my class, who would actually carry on conversations with me about the Braves’ lineup or whether the Yankees would win the Series yet again.

Because I tend to be an extremist who follows her passions wholeheartedly (even obsessively), I decided that I was going to embrace this identity as a tomboy as completely as possible. I wore my long blonde hair in a ponytail pulled through a Braves baseball cap, I stopped wearing dresses, and I declared that I hated that ugly color pink. To show how pervasive this was: 16 years have passed, and I still own that baseball cap, I am still self-conscious when wearing a dress (I own 6 dresses right now–more than I’ve ever owned in my life–and it takes a lot of emotional effort for me to work up the courage to wear one), and I still avoid pink and polka-dotted and sparkly, girly things. Man, when I make a decision, I stick to it.

I could write of many more examples (and, in fact, I have before), but they would only further serve to reveal the disastrous image I built of myself and what it means to be a girl. And I was also already overweight, an impossible challenge for a middle-school girl to overcome. Over time, I developed this unreachable ideal woman who represented everything I’m not. She was thin and tall and wore dresses and had perfect hair and cooked amazing food and had a man who loved her, and she liked polka dots and carrying a purse and wearing heels. Ugh. If I had artistic skills, I would draw her and tack her to a dart board and become really good at target practice.

Everything I hated about myself became inverted in my image of an ideal woman. And I became mired in a complacency that allowed me to believe that my physical appearance didn’t matter since I could never be beautiful anyway, that the areas of my life that I’m passionate about are useless or unfeminine, and that no man is ever going to love me because someone else more beautiful and graceful will come along that he will prefer. I have avoided mirrors because I didn’t want to look at my own face and body; I have walked out of shopping malls in a haze of self-loathing after trying on clothes; and I had convinced myself to give up on my hope of being married because I’ll never find a man who could love me. I haven’t worn makeup because I never believed any paint or powder could improve my looks, and I didn’t cut my hair partially because I didn’t think any dramatic change would make a difference. I’ve never been able to show a guy I’m interested because I’ve almost always convinced myself from the beginning of any friendship that I’m not worth fighting for.

I also rarely spoke these thoughts aloud. I spent middle school, high school, college, and into my 20s hating the way I looked and sometimes even hating those aspects of my personality that make me different (or so I thought) from every other girl I knew. I knew, first of all, that people might be shocked by any admission of this nature and might try to change my mind. I also knew that, logically, those people might actually be right in confronting my destructive thoughts.

For the past month, I’ve been attending a Bible study with some other women from my church. The Bible study is about the calling of biblical femininity, and I was so resistant and afraid at first. I was afraid that either the Bible study would confirm my long-held belief that I was not good at being a woman or that the Bible study would actually make me confront and abolish that belief.

For years, I’ve convinced myself that I’m on a journey to understand beauty while simultaneously believing that I am not beautiful. I have believed that because I’ve never been in a relationship that I am, clearly, never going to be in a relationship. I have even believed that my grammar skills and passion for literature and my geek obsessions with science fiction and superheroes are wasted talents.

Only recently have I realized that every time I look in the mirror and criticize myself harshly, I am sinning against the God who created me. Every time I make an apology for my “geeky, uncool” hobbies, I am sinning against the God who made me passionate. And every time I think that my knowledge of theory and literary analysis is useless, I sin against the God who created story and provided the world with the hero we so desperately need.

I am sick to death of my sin. I don’t want to be enslaved to the lies anymore. I want to push back the gates of hell in my own life and claim the Truth that my God can heal and redeem my broken heart.

I’m finished with complacency. It’s time to start fighting.

Nietzsche and Me

I spent about two hours total of my afternoon reading “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense” by Friedrich Nietzsche. Because I’m addressing the issue of language use and its ties to religion in dystopias, my office mate Tim recommended this essay to me on Thursday. On Friday, as I was reading a research guide to theorists with application to dystopia, I found another mention of this essay. So I read it.

Nietzsche is seen as a precursor to postmodernism, and that’s abundantly clear in this essay. He believes that man constructs a conceptual framework that is far removed from the original idea that it seeks to represent. Over time, this framework is presented as truth, and so man equates the concept with the truth. We tend to follow this method because of the natural laws of the universe. We can all agree to perceive that red is red, a tree is a tree. Thus, when society agrees that a concept or metaphor is true, man believes it to be so. Moreover, man constructs truth only in relation to himself, not to the universe as a whole because his perception is only one of myriad perceptions within the universe. The entire construction of concepts is a deception, but man has no qualms with deception so long as he is not being injured by the deception. Man hates a lie only because of the harsh consequences accompanying that lie.

Nietzsche goes a lot more in-depth, obviously, and he also goes on to discuss how science replaces language as the creator of the conceptual framework. But as I’m reading and attempting to grasp his ideology, I’m recognizing truth within his argument. Yes, we do construct truth that is based on our own experiences and perceptions. I cannot create a concept of a tree based on a bird’s perception. I can’t create a concept of a tree based on my brother’s perception.

My worldview, however, is vastly different than Nietzsche’s. I do not believe that God is dead (and we have killed him). Instead, I see, within humanity’s creation of a conceptual framework, the results of the Fall. Perhaps in Eden, Adam and Eve had the exact same perception of God and nature and truth and reality. But with original sin came difficulty and confusion. God may not be the author of confusion, but humanity is, and in seeking to control the universe in which we live (through the creation of metaphor and concept), humanity seeks to wrestle control away from God.

Yet the nature of God is not totally absent from this creation of metaphor and concept. Nietzsche argues that we create metaphor following the pattern of the creation of nature. As a Christian, I have to believe that we create because God created, and because we are created in His image, we, too, must create as a reflection of His nature. We fall short, however. We miss the mark; we get it wrong. Thus, we are left with metaphors and concepts that can only reflect the original idea, not innovate.

Maybe this post makes sense, or maybe it doesn’t. Right now, my brain is full of Nietzsche’s ideas, so my own argument might be convoluted as a direct result. But as I’m researching and reading and pondering the nature of British dystopian fiction, I’m learning about myself as a scholar and a Christian. My faith in a God of truth and light is strengthened when I am confronted by a world of lies and darkness.

In Mumford & Son’s “After the Storm,” Marcus sings, “You must know life to see decay.” Huxley and Orwell and the others created worlds in which darkness and chaos reign. And I certainly believe that our society, like the natural world, is moving toward entropy, becoming less ordered and more chaotic–this is a result of the Fall, after all. More and more I understand that I cannot store up my treasures on earth, for society is fallible and oppressive. But the ability to recognize truth within the darkness, and to sense the nature of God in philosophy that directly opposes even the presence of God, is a marvelous thing. I love that I can read Nietzsche and attempt to understand his philosophy and see truth in his perception of the world while simultaneously believing in and worshiping a God whose kingdom does not engage with chaos and deception.

Quiet and Intense

Earlier this evening, I went to the Bird & Baby, our local philosophy club/awesome place to hang out for a lecture on C.S. Lewis from a man studying to be a priest who received his Ph.D. in C.S. Lewis from Oxford and was president of the Lewis club there. The speech was on Lewis’ Abolition of Man, which I read several years ago; the lecture was indeed quite fascinating. Hopefully, the audio recording will be online soon, and I’ll link to it for those of you who might want to listen, but for now, I’m just gonna talk about one comment that Deacon Andrew discussed in his lecture.

He was discussing objective beauty and truth and Lewis’ idea that we need to teach children to feel, to sense the objective beauty that is innate in everything. Lewis believed that everything has an objective beauty and truth attached and each object or person or situation deserves a certain manner of awe. We cannot react to a waterfall in the same way that we react a drop of rain. There is a certain beauty that each entity merits, but the quality of that beauty cannot be the same. God did not design each of those situations to be the same.

Deacon Andrew discussed Lewis’ idea that the ability to feel must be taught. He mentioned that today’s youth are often anesthetized to such feelings. Teenagers must have extreme experiences to feel anything these days: the loudest music, an intense movie on a huge screen, 80,000 screaming fans in a stadium.

That last one got me thinking. At 24, I’m just barely past the age to which Deacon Andrew was referring. And 80,000 screaming fans in a stadium immediately brought to mind the Muse/U2 concert that I’m so looking forward to in October. On a smaller scale, what about recently? I’ve been to four shows in the past month, two in the past few days, and the intensity and excitement always overwhelm me. In fact, this morning at work, my co-workers asked me about my birthday, and I briefly detailed the events of the past few days. I spent most of my time, however, talking about meeting Jon Foreman after the Fiction Family show or the incredible show that The Fray put on Saturday night. I am quite guilty of getting so wrapped up in the music I listen to, in experiencing the shows I attend, in (dare I say it?) worshiping my favorite musicians that those moments tend to become the experiences I focus on. It doesn’t come without a price, however. I spent both Friday and Sunday exhausted after those shows, knowing I needed desperately to do homework but just wanting to sleep. Those bursts of energy I get when hearing my favorite songs sung live are quickly followed by stretches of exhaustion and wondering what the next big thing is going to be.

Fortunately, I know I’m not enslaved to this mindset. As I sat here thinking about this topic, I realized that I have plenty of moments where I find beauty in the small things in life, and that energizes me. Check out my list of the best days of my life–many of them do involve concerts and musicians. But many more involve my best friends, just hanging out, enjoying simple things in life. And as I think back over this past week, I know that those simple moments are the ones that are going to last. Yes, I have an awesome profile picture on Facebook of me with Jon Foreman. Yes, I swooned over Isaac Slade playing the piano.

But more than that?

I had frozen yogurt from this great little place downtown–actual dessert that’s low in sugar and won’t kill me!

I got to take my brother to Falls Park and feel his awe as he saw the waterfall and walked across the bridge for the first time. He’s enamored with Greenville now; he thinks the city is beautiful, and I know he’ll be back to visit.

Chris and I made tacos and cookies and hummus before we went to Asheville for the show Thursday night; hanging out with him in my kitchen is something I’ve seriously missed since he moved home at the beginning of the summer.

Squeezed in between homework and birthdays and concerts, Harvin and I managed to watch a few episodes of Angel. Yes, it’s just a TV show. But for us, it’s this thing we’re sharing right now; watching the show gives us something to look forward to, something to share, something to continually reference and joke about to the annoyance of everyone around us. 🙂 It’s a best friend thing.

And those moments are going to be the lasting memories, side-by-side with singing along to my favorite Jon Foreman song and screaming when Isaac Slade climbed on his piano. Those beautiful, everyday moments possess a different kind of transcendental beauty and power that encompass my everyday life. When those euphoric moments fade, I’m left with the quiet, gentle moments where I can feel God’s presence and experience real beauty and truth. The goal has to be finding that balance, and giving each situation the response that it deserves.