Beauty comes from contrast — juxtaposing light and dark, joy and sorrow, white and black. I remember typing those words as I listened to my English professor describe the thesis of the course.
Beauty comes from contrast.
“Isn’t it impossible to define beauty as anything?” I asked.
I grew up in a house immersed in art and fashion. My mom loved pretty things and had an undeniable talent for mixing colors and patterns in both her home — the artful world she created — and her wardrobe — wearable art, the definitive essence of style. My own taste and appreciation began forming accordingly.
The fashion books and magazines that decorated many of our rooms always served as sources of inspiration. They were meant to show off beautiful things, to be admired, to stimulate good feelings. But they were never what I aspired to mimic.
That came from my mom, the primary source of everything good and beautiful in my life. So when I first started wearing makeup, it was my mom’s routine I strove to copy, down to the winged corners of her black eyeliner and doll-like, mascara-heavy lashes paired with a simple cherry Chapstick lip.
I love supermodels, but even with their gorgeous long legs and flowing mermaid hair, theirs has always felt like a beauty of disconnect, devoid of anything personal. There was nothing there behind their pretty dresses and high-fashion eyes.
My sister and I were constantly being told how beautiful we were, as much for our young toothless grins as for sharing nicely with each other.
Both my parents put effort in to building our confidence from early on, helping us to understand beauty outside of superficial boundaries — a well-played tennis match, Sunday family waffle breakfast, a long walk with our two Jack Russell terriers — while also encouraging us to experiment with fashion and trends to discover our personal style, something my mom in particular thought important, definitive even.
She never criticized or critiqued our varied and numerous experiments, encouraging us to make our own choices, enjoy it, have fun and take risks.
And I mean risk-taking is a scary thing in all facets of life. Sometimes your risk-taking will lead you to do something totally awesome like cliff diving in Santorini. And everyone will think, “Whoa, look at that awesome cliff diver.”
Then there are times your risk-taking will lead you to, say, wear pink lace-up pants, and everyone will think, “No wonder that poor girl is JUMPING off that cliff…those pants are hideous.”
Though the hideousness of the pants (they were bad) is not the point my mom was making.
The point is, you can’t be afraid to take risks in life and worry what anyone else will think. Because, at its core, fashion, beauty, it’s all for you — it’s not about the runways and models and magazines — it’s your chance for an utterly unique form of personal expression — for an art — that makes you feel good.
After all, art can speak in a way mere words cannot.
Too often the fashion and beauty worlds are criticized as the culprit for dictating what is beautiful and, though perhaps unintentionally at times, what is not beautiful — when, in reality, the pages of a fashion magazine are just art. They’re artful representations of some idea or fantasy, just one of the infinite possibilities for what is and can be beautiful.
Each person has their own unique notion of beauty. There is no use defining or confining beauty as anything because beauty isn’t any one thing.
When ad campaigns surface claiming to portray real people and therefore real beauty, I’m glad to see other ideas, other representations of what beautiful is — though I don’t think this necessitates a backlash against the models and layouts found in Vogue and other like-minded publications because it’s simply beauty of a different nature.
While these “real beauty” campaigns are useful, important even, in better showcasing a variety of beauties, they will never succeed in shifting, converting or fulfilling each person’s preconceived notion of what beauty is to them. And why should they? The different nuances and notions, the different views, the fact that beauty means something specific to you is more inherent in its ever slippery “definition” than constrictive words.
For me, the beauty is in the connection I have to it. I see no use in judging whoever is on this month’s Elle Magazine Cover, just as I see no use in trying to be just like her. To this day, my primary sources of inspiration remain my mom, my sister and close friends whose style, whose beauty, I admired for the way they made my life more beautiful.
I know how lucky I am to have been blessed with parents who found it so crucial to surround me with beauty of all kinds, who instilled the confidence to take fashion risks that ended up being more life lessons (always better to say “Oh, well” than “What if?”), who prepared me for the differing and evolving nuances of all the beauty I’d encounter in life — from relationships to apartment art to frivolous journeys for the right dress for a first date.
And in that sense, I do agree, the beauty is in the contrast, the fact that beauty means something different to everyone (even if that is conflicting at times). Such is the nature of any form of art or self-expression. We all have had such utterly unique experiences and connections to this ever-elusive concept.
The evolution of fashion and seasons and art and personal style — I mean, overalls are happening again — speaks more to what beauty is, how it can be uncovered, recycled, found in the unlikeliest of places, than any glossy ad could ever hope to espouse.
Maybe it is just turtles all the way down, but despite whatever has shaped your notions of beauty, learning to embrace it outside the realm of boundaries opens up the possibilities for the beauty that is all around us — even when we can’t see it — in each breath, each season, each tomorrow, and that is so inherently beautiful.