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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder as Chuck Wendig pointed out so brilliantly in his recent post ( http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/06/29/beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholders-ten-magical-eye-stalks/ ), but it's also in the perception of that beholder. I came face-to-face with that issue in a recent review of one of my books.
In The Coming Storm and its sequels and prequels I tried to project a society where physical beauty isn't the measure of an individual, it's their accomplishments that matter. In their world, every being has equal value, whether they're the ones who clean the stables or the Hunters who defend them. Even their leaders have no title beyond 'first among equals'. It's a shock for Colath to discover that the people of men consider him beautiful by their standards. Elon, first among equals in his Enclave of Aerilann, is frequently described as stern, imposing, but not physically attractive. He's fit, well-muscled as suits a swordsman, but that wouldn't have been that uncommon in any society of that level. Most of our own ancestors would have been that fit, do to the physical labor the vast majority had to perform. In our own history, one of the issues the settlers had to deal with was what they considered the physical beauty of the natives.
Even Ailith, the female lead, isn't described as beautiful, her features are said to be too strong for real beauty. Nor is Jalila, but it's her confidence that sets her apart.
The review, by the way, was generally great...especially the comparison to Tolkien...but not the little bit about 'of course, the Elves are beautiful'. I took pains to point out that they aren't, that it's their self-confidence that makes them appear that way.
I experienced that first hand. Growing up, especially during those years when society starts to push young people into slots, I was labelled a geek. I wore glasses, I did well in school, and I was a little chubby. However, just before my senior year, we found out we were moving to a new town, and I decided to reinvent myself. I put the glasses away and took my chances with my nearsightedness. I started exercising. I took pains with my hair and learned how to apply makeup. It was a different, more confident, me who went to the new town and the new school. I knew I had made it when one of the 'popular' boys tried to copy my school work, knowing I did well. I didn't let him and he backed down. Suddenly, I was one of the popular kids.
The essential me hadn't changed, but the physical me had, and my confidence in who I was made the difference. It was just perception.
I would see that same thing when I met my husband for the first time. As he walked toward me I could tell he wasn't worried about impressing me, he was confident but not arrogant - he was just comfortable in his own skin and with who he was. He's not particularly tall, and although I consider him a good-looking man, some wouldn't. None of that matters, not to him and not to me.
About that perception thing... When my old cats, my constant companions through a lot of upheavals, died, I found myself missing that companionship. So I went to the animal shelter. They had dozens of beautiful kittens, but none as beautiful to me as this pretty piebald kitten in the very back. She was a cuddler, such a love... and she was in the very back for one reason - she only had one eye. I don't even notice any more. To me, it didn't matter. Any more than it mattered for the little stray I found attacking something in a discarded McDonald's bag. That his jaw was broken and his face was a little flattened wasn't important. He's got a great personality. And when he looks up at me there is so much love and trust in his eyes that nothing else matters. What's truly ugly is the person who did that to him, or who abandoned him.
I wasn't a big George Clooney fan - although people were always focused on his looks, they did nothing for me, I thought he was a little too self-involved...until he got involved in the situation in Darfur. As did the issues in a couple of his movies. His looks still don't do anything for me, but he has my respect.
Actions. It's what you do that matters.

If you want more of The Coming Storm series...
The Coming Storm http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004WLOBG2
A Convocation of Kings http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0050K6F86
Setting Boundaries http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004RJ7X50
Not Magic Enough http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004RJ44MA