Ruminations on Sustaining Beauty

Ruminations on Sustaining Beauty

By Caylie Warkentin

A person with good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely. 


Roald Dahl

"Solaré" is an Italian word that translates literally to solar in English, for solar power, or solar light. The word, though, is not used in association with the sun or its light. It is instead used to describe someone whose beauty manifests in an intangible light that emanates from within and is expressed in joy, radiance, and goodness. Spain has a similar word to compliment someone who exudes joy - es un sol, or que solete, which is used to describe someone who appears as if they have the sun shining out of them. This is one of the highest compliments paid to someone, and is beautiful in part because it recognizes and validates beauty within someone that is not based on tangible physical appearance. Beauty, simply put, shines from within. 


Let’s pause for a moment. Think of your favourite qualities. How many of them are traits related to your physical appearance? When was the last time you were complimented on something other than how you looked? This might be a novel concept. Beauty is often so rooted in the physicality of how we present ourselves and is memorialized in sculptures, in paintings, in photographs – things meant to be handled, worn down over time by curious hands rooted in the inevitability of its impermanence. Beauty in the physical cannot be sustained, if we only ever know it as something tangible to run our fingers over while it still glistens.


Let’s contemplate the paradox of the beauty industry that promises to sustain, enhance, or even regenerate youthful beauty, often by incorporating fillers, additives, or even microdoses of toxins, in efforts to slow the sands of time. However, the longevity of beauty might truly reside in everything beyond our physical appearance, in a glow that emanates from within.


Beauty inward, and outward


The French have a saying that goes il faut souffrir pour être belle, roughly translating to beauty is pain. This term is reminiscent of too-small high heels, of toes crammed into red soles, of cosmetic surgeries that weave bruises like a tapestry across our skin. But this pain isn’t new. Women in paintings hung on museum walls have waists bound in corsets, faces pale from costume makeup laden with powdered white lead and cadmium. 


Ever-changing trends are the ripples on the pond’s surface Narcissus gazed into. We begin to witness ourselves in our abstraction and the surface undulates, shifts to another image, one that is again foreign to us, made accessible only through the continuous consumption of products we abandon when the trend inevitably changes again. Over time, this is exacerbated. Chasing trends and aging often can leave us misaligned with how we feel internally, and our changing outward appearance might feel like a loss rather than an expansion.


There is value in impermanence. Our love for the moon doesn’t diminish as it cycles through phases, so why do we seek to impede the ephemerality of our physical selves? Stagnation is insipid, unchallenging. Revel in yourself as you exist within this moment. You will not meet again. Thank yourself for being here, as you are. It is enough.


Our experience of ourselves is so deeply rooted in the products on our bodies. Be it a favourite shade of lipstick like a good luck charm we leave on rims of glasses and letters we send, these products become extensions of ourselves. In recent years wellness and beauty have evolved from two entities distinct in their qualities – one relating to the “interior”, and one relating to the “exterior”, now two parallel lines intersecting at a crossroads. Physical and mental wellness and beauty are joined hand in hand and our beauty regimens provide space that is creative, meditative, and entirely ours.

Sustained beauty might be, in part, the recognition of our physical selves rooted in wellness, the ground upon which we stand and flourish. Through clean beauty movements that cycle through iterations of plant-derived formulas to locally-sourced ingredients to small-batch production, the cosmetic industry has sought to cultivate routines grounded in intent and mindfulness through healthful ingredients. This envision of beauty recognizes the necessity of beneficial ingredients for both our bodies and minds. Wellness beauty - no longer two separate words on a page but an understanding that beauty begins first and foremost with our inner health.

While constructs and ideas of beauty are inextricable from the physicality of our world, that does not mean they are confined to the boundaries of what is palpable. Sustained beauty relies not on our physical selves or on applied products but is beauty that exists within ourselves, independently of our external selves. Like the Italian solare, these are traits of personality, beauty that emanates internally into the outside world. This part is truly ours to keep and maintain, the part that we can sustain through time.


Author Patrick Rothfuss writes that there is a distinction between the outward perception and appreciation of beauty and beauty that simultaneously exists independently, and alongside, the perception of it. We are not seen as beautiful - we are beautiful, seen.


Let our sense of self rest not in the hands of others but in our own -  soft, gentle, and everlasting.

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