When looking for someone to share our life, beauty won’t make someone more compassionate and companionable. And the current popular definition won’t last, so it’s guaranteed not to enrich or promote a long-term, loving relationship.

There’s an old saying: “There’s nothing as beautiful as gray hair and a long beard.”

It comes from traditional China, not twenty-first century America.

You would have guessed that, right? It’s definitely not an expression out of American pop culture.

In the US, our view of what is beautiful, especially for women, is a twenty-something-year-old or a “young-looking” thirty-something. Imagine those thirty-somethings worried that they don’t look young anymore!

We’re conditioned to be attracted to youthful looks from our first exposure to our culture, and also to criticize ourselves as we show the natural results of aging. If we’ve been thoroughly conditioned, we even feel that wrinkles, gray hair, “age spots,” sagging, and drooping are like diseases to fight.

That’s good news for the bottom-line of so many of the distributors of the products they want to sell us. Like most views of beauty that have existed in history, definitions of what is attractive are still dominated by current economics.

Queen Elizabeth I, tried her best to keep her skin as white as possible. A tan was a symbol of those pitiful working people who were required to labor in the towns and fields, of slaves, and servants, not of those who were upper-class, the lords and ladies.

When a tan came to indicate that people had the money and time to afford to dally at the seaside or some other resort, a “healthy,” “brown as a berry” tan became a desired mark of beauty. It was proof to others that you had taken a luxurious vacation at some glamorous Riviera or south-sea type place.

Then, with the growing recognition of the consequences of sunning, with skin cancers and sun-damaged skin, a dark tan began to fade out of definitions of beauty. And hundreds of products were marketed to “protect” the skin.

Today, we’re so economically committed to selling and buying anti-aging products and services, that it’s hard to convince us consumers that old age makes one more beautiful. We’ll know when that day finally does come because there’ll be a new skin cream that encourages and increases wrinkles: “Apply this and you’ll look years older.”

No, old age just doesn’t sell. The fact is, we’re all going to show the effects of aging. There’s nothing one has to do but hang around long enough. Much of what we do, breathe, and ingest, probably encourages it.

So, there’s no money to be made by the cosmetic industry through promoting the beauty of aging. We’re going to get there without the use of creams, nips, tucks, or other chemicals and surgery.

But there’s a lot of money to be made if we’re all convinced that to “look young” is beautiful. Youth is always sellable because it’s guaranteed to be fleeting no matter what we buy.

And most anyone can do youth. All that involves aging requires courage to experience.

It’s unfair that the different way we treat both genders allows some leeway for men. Our idea of a “successful man” is a business-type who shows some evidence of age. It’s the mark of a man who has beaten, or at least mastered, the economic system, a man who therefore can protect his women.

That’s different than the idea of a beautiful women we’re expected to have absorbed. She’s supposed to look as if she were a trophy, a jewel, hanging around to prove a man is successful enough to get one.

She’s not someone who fits the popular stereotype we’re supposed to accept of what a woman looks like who is independent of men. She must fit the current cultural ideas of feminine beauty.

But men are not immune as they age. There are three ages of men – youth, middle age, and “you look good.” It’s still considered a compliment to tell a man that he doesn’t look his age. And we wouldn’t consider that positively if we knew it meant he looks older.

In the middle of all this pressure, when we start to break through and are attracted to the look of someone who exhibits the fact that she or he is wise, experienced, and weathered, we’ll have gone far in rejecting a dominant idea of beauty that, in reality, represents nothing at all that is important in the world.

Except for the current dating game, “beauty” is a worthless characteristic. It won’t help discover a cure for diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. It won’t help someone run faster, jump higher, write a great novel, improve the educational system for future generations, make our laws fairer, or become a billionaire investor. It’ll just spend money.

When looking for someone to share our life, it won’t make someone more compassionate and companionable. And the current popular definition won’t last, so it’s guaranteed not to enrich or promote a long-term, loving relationship.

Contributed by

Bob Minor

University of Kansas
Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies
A national resource for information on gender issues and gay/straight relationships for organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and media outlets such as NBC and USA Today, Bob Minor, Ph.D. …

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