“I don’t like wearing dresses in public,” I told my friend once. “I feel like I’m not me and everyone can see that.”
“What you’ve just described—it sounds like objectification,” she replied.
I disagreed with her at first. I wanted to believe that wearing dresses was against my very nature, but I later realized that this is not the case. I think dresses are pretty and I wish I could wear such pretty things all the time. Digging deeper, I realized that what I don’t like about wearing dresses in public is how people don’t see the person in the dress. They just see the dress and the body that’s in it. Objects.
In the Symposium, Plato describes how we come to understand true beauty. First, we are attracted to beautiful bodies, then beautiful minds, then we come to love knowledge, and finally true beauty. After I read this passage, I thought about how wonderful it would be if this process were reversed. What if we could appreciate true beauty before appreciating beautiful bodies? If people saw beauty in the way I think before they saw beauty in my appearance, then I wouldn’t mind wearing dresses in public.
Alas, we are human though, and the senses are too overwhelming to ignore. We shouldn’t ignore the senses for they allow us to experience the world and experience beauty. Thought wouldn’t occur without some sort of stimulation from the senses. What we need to understand though, is what makes things truly beautiful meaning.
Is the dress I’m wearing inherently meaningful? It does have some meaning — to me, it’s pretty, but is “pretty” important? If you really want to say I’m beautiful, you’d say so because I love philosophy, I write books for teens, and want to swim across the English Channel someday. Those things mean more to me than a pretty dress. If you get to know people, you’ll find that the world is filled with beauty and meaning.
This same idea can be applied to art. If you see van Gogh’s Starry Night, you’ll see beautiful swirls of color and light. Once you understand what meaning is behind those swirls of color though, you gain a greater appreciation of the painting. The meaning behind the painting is why it’s famous. People ogle over The Mona Lisa because they wonder what her famous smile means. We value art because of the humanity that goes into its creation.
So why not value the humanity in humans?