Monday, December 30, 2013

Notes on Looking Good, part 2

Part 1.

Before we proceed to the other aspects of beauty (grace, expressions, adornments), let us take a detour into the psychological effects of looking good.

What happens in one's mind if one knows that one is looking good?  Is the statement "I look good for myself, not for other people," a fair statement?  What is the psychological significance of beauty?

Humans are creatures with the capacity to imagine others' states of mind.  When we read and enjoy a novel, or watch a movie, or even when we talk to others, our reactions form because we are continuously evaluating how the other person (or the character) must be feeling.  Without this capacity for surmising others' states of mind, we will be severely crippled.  A person who cannot easily determine how his or her behavior makes other people feel will end up either in jail or in a mental institution.

Our appearance is a passive act.  It is a communication to others without an overt activity.  Fashion theorists never get tired of saying that fashion is a "statement of who you are".  That to dress in a certain way is to "express oneself".  That how one dresses determines how one will be treated.

It is all true.  We do get influenced by others' looks, and the others know that we get influenced and that is why they try to look good.

Looking good is a form of power.  In settings where appearance matters (and it does so in almost all social settings), a more attractive person finds it easier to have his/her way.  It is for this reason that after an age, people form cliques and groups of similarly attractive companions.  People in one group should possess similar levels of look-good-power otherwise there is the possibility of a tense hierarchy.  A group of clubbing women who are all fat but who have one member who is thin and in shape will soon find it expedient to expel the thin member.  Similarly a group of men who don't know how to dress well will not find a dapper dandy dying to gain friendship with them.

It is true that it "feels good" when one is "looking good".  But why?  Because one sees a beautiful person in the mirror and that thing of beauty is a joy?  Is that joy of a similar kind when one sees a beautiful person on the street?  Of course not.  The joy of appreciation, or the pang of jealousy, is very different than the good feeling one gets when one looks in the mirror and finds oneself looking at a beautiful person.

So, in case it needs to be said, it is not just the vision of beauty that is the provider of joy, but the fact that the vision of beauty is "me"!

In what manner is "me" being beautiful joyous?

Assume one is a Muslim woman living in Abu Dhabi and one is to leave one's home always dressed in a burqa, fully covered from head to toe.  Will one get as much joy to wear a great dress and put on lipstick and then cover it all before leaving home, than to wear a dress and have it appreciated by others?  No.  The joy will be much more if one's beauty is not just for oneself.  There might still be the joy in the realization that one is very beautiful and that when the occasion arrives (in days or years), one will surely wow everybody.  The joy of a an anticipated appreciation is not a small one.

The joy of being beautiful is therefore, to an extent at least, a joy about being appreciated.

To be fair, one might still admire one's own body, because beauty and fitness, inasmuch as they go together, are also indicators of health and longevity.  So at some level, there might be satisfaction about one's health.  Fit people are fond of looking at themselves in the mirror.  Gyms have full-length mirrors, and not just for watching one's form while one is squatting.

The joy of being beautiful is therefore also a joy of seeing oneself being healthy.

It might be said that fit people who continue to spend efforts at their fitness don't care about others' appreciation (since they already have that), but that they are doing it for themselves.  But that is not true.  Not only are their efforts intended to maintain their fitness, it sometimes does become a self-serving agenda to be extremely fit as an end-in-itself.  A person who wants to lower his BMI to 8 from 12 can be considered in this category, and so can someone who can already squat 300lb and wants to squat 310lb.  There is nothing wrong in having fitness as a hobby, but clearly beyond a point it is no longer about looking good (to oneself or to another) but is merely a hobby which gives one pleasure and pride.

To look good is to feel good because at a subconscious level, one is happy and confident about the favorable impression one will make on other people.  This confidence is energy-boosting and leads to a "seize the day" kind of attitude.  A married woman may not be looking for a husband or a boyfriend when she is all dolled-up and goes to a party, but she knows she is getting the admiration and desirous glances, and that sense of power and choice (and the jealousy or, less probably, the appreciation it might provoke in other women) makes her feel more alive and fulfilled.

The joy of being beautiful is primarily the joy of feeling powerful.

There may be other means of asserting one's dominance, say, one's knowledge about why General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics cannot both be correct.  But such assertive possibilities, even though they go deeper and are appreciated for far longer, are generally for restricted demographics.  Much more versatile is to just look hot.

(to be continued)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do you really feel that a beautiful face better than a presentable personality?

We are born with desired to look beautiful - otherwise, any service or product related with promise of better appearance would not have been successful. But I think, a smart , mature & Intelligent mind with decent personality wins over beautiful face or appearance in long run.

Don't you think the same?