When Beauty Interferes with Your Life

A therapist learns more about private lives than almost any other professional. Such knowledge informs him of the double-edged nature of many glorious qualities.

Take beauty.

Take beautiful women.

The upside of their charm is well-known: admiring glances, an expansive range of potential suitors, the possibility of marrying into a superior status. People who will do more for you, show you great kindness, pick up what you’ve dropped, and make exceptions for your failings because you dazzle them with bright eyes, a smile, and the symmetrical proportions of your face.

The genetic wheel of fortune blesses some of us, sideswipes others. One does nothing to earn this. Gifts of intellect, athletic talent, and disposition are subject to random distribution, but none more nakedly evident than how you look.

What of the downside of this accident of birth? As the Greek myth of Prometheus relates, we must be wary of a gift received from the gods. Here are a few observations about those complicated presents. One cautionary note: these remarks do not fit every one of those who make men look twice:

A number of the gorgeous ones become accustomed to the unearned advantages bestowed upon them. Some believe they needn’t develop other facets of themselves: education, tenderness, social intelligence, or financial independence, etc. Life demands less, so they give less.

An additional factor contributes to their confidence in a seemingly permanent entitlement. Few can grasp the reality of future unwanted changes to their physicality.

All of us believe advanced age is our destiny, but the idea is an abstraction. The magic mirror, like the one possessed by Snow White’s evil stepmother, reflects an everlasting prime. Time stretches when a rose is in bloom. Its alteration is imperceptible. A different life is unimaginable.

Perhaps we survive as a species because aging long remains at a distance, beyond the horizon, an affliction without application to ourselves.

An enchantress wonders about something else, at least early on: why does he love me? Everyone thinks about the reasons for another’s affection, but a beautiful woman confronts the plausibility her pulchritude alone is paramount.

Along with the power conferred by her sexuality, she regrets that her lover values her without knowing her. Perhaps she is an objectified prize to be displayed beside his most conspicuous trophies; as a testament to his worth and his victories in a chest-pounding macho competition.

The totality of the female as a unique, self-created, moral, emotional, perceiving entity might be obscured by the man’s singular focus on her arresting face and form. The woman’s periodic dismay at the irony of being “unseen the more she is seen” betrays the existence of an invisible depth.

The fetching lady is like a bejeweled well, so breathtaking and artistically constructed on the outside no one thinks to examine what is inside.

I met movie-star-beautiful women whose personalities, wit, imagination, generous humanity, and brains were more impressive and magical than anything else about them. And yet the floodlight of their externals blinded far too many who were already blind to the possibility something more was more important.

If a damsel’s charms are also long-lasting, females share the tendency to discount her strengths.

I recall treating a gynecologist whose appearance suggested early-20s though she was 45. Upon acquaintance, patients did not believe she was a doctor.

Once persuaded, a minority continued to question whether her medical experience justified trusting her. The physician’s presence confronted them with the contradiction between what she was and what she appeared to be.

To the extent one retains youthfulness and allure, an evergreen body postpones the portion of maturational instruction a fading flesh provides. How one adjusts to its transformation and the changing reactions of others to its metamorphosis influences everything else.

Aches and pains aren’t fun, but they are informative. Prolonged youthful skin plays the trick of extending the period in which you can act as you did in your chronological springtime.


Any of us might wish for this blessing, but wisdom is acquired not only by exposure to events and the passage of time. Sages achieve enlightenment, in part, by adjusting to alterations in the package containing their soul.

A significant number of good-looking members of the fair sex find relationships with their same gender comrades challenging. Rivalry for the male gaze creates unease among possible friends. Would-be chums and colleagues hesitate to stand in the shadow of an apparition more magnificent than the hanging gardens of Babylon.

If these captivating creatures get divorced, married women guard the home turf against the temptation they represent. Dinner and party plans leave the insecure wondering if they would do better not to invite a Trojan horse into their walled dwelling place.

The signs of seniority and declining loveliness inevitably arrive, even when late to the game. The loss of a man’s instinctively turning head is still a loss, however long the delay. Grief is enlarged when self-concept is too dependent upon the vanishing thing.

Comparisons can’t be escaped. For one who caught every eye, she not only measures her effect on neighbors and friends but judges her current self against what she was.

If you are beautiful, you are aware of the downs and ups of nature’s largesse. A sense of well-being is enabled by gratitude for whatever one has. Those women who hang on to their appreciation of the whole of themselves will handle both their sexual objectification and its departure as well as possible.

When considering the beautiful, do remember that the higher they climb on the list of bathing beauty winners, the farther they must fall into the water.

While no one escapes gravity, some qualities defy it. Shoot for the stars with whatever excellences best define you today.

—–

All of the images above are sourced from the Art Institute of Chicago. The first is Three Beauties of Yoshiwara (1793) by Utamoro. Next comes Madam Pampadour (1915) by Modigliani, followed by Dorothea and Francesca (1898) by Cecilia Beaux. Finally, Two Sisters (On the Terrace) (1881) by Renoir, Bust of an African Woman (1851) by Charles Henri Joseph Cordier, and Celestial Beauty from 8th century India.

13 thoughts on “When Beauty Interferes with Your Life

  1. I need a dictionary. I love the words you chose to write this, and the photos of artifacts from the Art Institute of Chicago. I miss that place of beauty, and my youth 11 years ago when I first visited. I was never that pretty, but I still felt this loss of self when my disabilities, weight gain, gray hair, and wrinkles changed what I looked like and caused more negative reactions than I would have ever imagined. Ageism, perceived lack of attractiveness, and abelism are social problems that lend weight to adjusting past 40 or 50. I am 45, but I look my age, not younger (though on bad days, I appear older). The beauty that fades is a societal standard, and maybe an evolutionary one. But there are people and institutions trying to challenge the negative perceptions about ageing and beauty. A woman or man can be beautiful without symmetry, with flawless skin, or with overfilled adipose cells. Our abilities matter more than our age-related or life-related disabilities. Models, Olympic champions, sports players, military personnel, clandestine operators, construction workers, and police officers must eventually find a different role or career once their natural aging processes slow them down, weaken their physical strength, and/or drastically change their appearances. My eyesight has worsened, and editing has become a huge strain. I still type, but I will not be a typist or secretary again. Aging challenges us all. I suppose the more youthful beauty and/or physical abilities you have, the harder it will be to face the losses of those things when aging naturally takes its course. It is sad how superficial we can be to ourselves or others. I wish love blinded the perceptions of ugly.

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    • Thank you, glb. As you suggest, we have been programmed to be superficial by evolution. Of course, we often take it too far, along with all the other qualities in that programming that set us up to eat too many sweet things and mistrust those who look different and have different customs.

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  2. Random thoughts about beauty: When I visited Bill in Hollywood, I was always struck by how beautiful everyone was, the women and the men. The epicenter of commercial beauty. Closer to home, I noticed that women on Michigan Avenue were better looking than those in Itasca or Schaumburg (my company moved). Maybe vision overwhelms our other senses. When old age made me invisible I took it in stride. Now, I chuckle when people tell me how good I look. Are they surprised that I’m still around?

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    • Vision is overwhelming, at least for men. The invisibility of age extends to men, to a more limited degree. I think most of us would like to be seen as we see ourselves in our best moments, and understood as we understand our best selves. As for you, Joan, you brighten every room you enter just by walking in.

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  3. I knew a man who was the embodiment of a blond Clark Gable, and he had the charm to go along with his gorgeous face. His whole persona was waiting for admiration from others telling him how handsome he was. He lacked other attributes. He was a decent man but was shallow and I felt felt kind of sorry for him.

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    • Sounds shallow & narcissistic, as well as handsome and charming. Better to find these things our early than late, for those who might succumb to the charm alone. Thanks, Nancy.

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  4. I like stories/shows like Beauty and the Beast, Shrek, and America’s Next Top Model. I may not have a story of my own like theirs’ – not even close – but I admire beauty in all shapes and sizes.

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  5. This post kind of reminds me of the Genie story you wrote a while back. That poor woman with all the nip tucks, and her poor husband. That is beauty-chasing at its worst!

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  6. Love this post, Dr. Stein. It’s jam-packed with lots of insights and wisdom. I’ve never considered myself a beauty, but, as a divorced woman, I could relate with your following observations:

    “If these captivating creatures get divorced, married women guard the home turf against the temptation they represent. Dinner and party plans leave the insecure wondering if they would do better not to invite a Trojan horse into their walled dwelling place.”

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    • Thank you, Rosaliene. Beauty is a funny thing. I’ll bet everyone has had the experience of a person changing in our perceived estimate of their attractiveness as we get to know him/her. Others would be surprised that they are considered attractive or unattractive when they, themselves, don’t get why they think so.

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