On Beauty

By: Irwin Leventer  |  December 14, 2017

It was a frigid day, perfect for keeping the snow-tubing snow well-packed. I was waiting on line, kept warm by my skillfully engineered jacket, gloves and hat. I felt very grateful to have such things. In front of me, a woman, wearing gloves more fingerless than Ash Ketchum’s, was frantically squeezing and rubbing her fingers, trying to avoid them freezing to death and falling off. I asked her, attempting to be as friendly as possible, why she would wear such fingerless gloves in such cold weather. She responded quickly, with a gleeful sense of duty: “Fashion over function!”

Fashion over function. Beauty as a value. This reminds me of so many experiences and thoughts. I was on a Yachad shabbaton recently and the Yachad member I was with asked me a profound question. We were in the dining room on Friday night, talking before bed. He looked over at the flowers on the table and asked, “Why do people buy beautiful flowers as opposed to cars? You can’t ride around in flowers, even if they are beautiful.” I was at a loss for what to say, because I love flowers. Beauty is exciting and can be extremely spiritual; I can stare at Morpho menelaus and the iridescent blue of its wings for hours. But it was true, I did not know how to justify my love of beautiful things, despite my feeling the need to.

In a similar vein, I was walking with a friend through campus, a graduated biology major whom I look up to in many ways. A tractor was filling in the wells of the 185th Street plaza with dirt. I wondered aloud what the plans were, if we would be so blessed as to have beautiful flowers blooming in the spring. My friend  responded, “That’s most likely what’s going to happen. I wish they’d plant vegetables or something useful.” Again I was confronted with this sort of functionalism, and again, I was unable to think of any sound argument for flowers over… something “useful.”

Where this bothers me exceedingly and is most practically concerning is when it comes to meeting new people. I absolutely loathe the fact that beyond my volition, I judge people based on their appearance. My subconscious attempts to drive me towards beautiful people and away from those who lack physical beauty. Simply because someone’s face is more symmetrical than another’s, their eyes are a certain color or their hair looks a certain way, the playing field is no longer level: they have an innate, unearned grace in other people’s eyes.

Why I let this get to me is exactly because I want to negate it. The things that are most subconscious require the most conscious effort to undermine. When I am thinking of talking to someone new, I am not interested in letting such happenstance factors influence who I start a conversation with. Flowers are one thing, but people, along with their worth and goodness, can not be given to be diminished by their outward appearance. Values and behavior are the things that we should strive to make the most influential governors of how we view one another.