Beauty: In the Eye of the Beholder?

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Once upon a time, a man whom I was dating quite seriously said to me, “Anne, I do like you, but … I’m just trying to find some piece of you I can be attracted to.”  Now, I’m reasonably sure that at least the female contingent of this readership is wondering just how fast he got booted to the curb.  Alas, it took me far too long to realize the full ill-intentioned import of such impolitesse, as love is not only blind, it’s pretty doggoned stupid and holds out hope on some pretty flimsy limbs.

But remembering this “sock it to me” dis got me to thinking about beauty. What is beautiful? Women of my generation were brought up on Twiggy and Charlie’s Angels, drank Tab, took all the quizzes in Cosmo magazine, and secretly wished we could all have waistlines like Scarlett O’Hara.  Oh, and we always fell so short!!  The names and idols have changed, but I’m not sure the admiration or aspirations have, alas.  And each generation of girls appears to emerge worrying about the shape of her hips, the fullness of her lips, straightening curly hair and rolling up straight, practicing her walk and her coquettish glances, and thinking that these may win her something that she actually wants.

The irony is, I’d be willing to bet that any animal lover, that is to say, anyone who has learned to love and accept unconditionally — even those of you who just came from the salon and still drink diet sodas and fret about dress sizes — I’d be wiling to be that you are able to see the beauty in any creature, no matter how homely.

The other day I was observing Toby the Brown Dog stretched out on his bed. His extra long legs twitched a bit in sleep, and the absolute full relaxation of his body was poetic.  I couldn’t help thinking, “how beautiful he is.”  Now, Toby, by any objective standards, is not an attractive beast.  He lived for a good many years in the woods behind an unfriendly farmer’s house, catching a slight meal here or there, but largely never getting enough to eat.  When I met him two years ago, all of his bones protruded, the skin stretched on his skull like an ill-fitting bathing cap, all of the fur around his eyes was rubbed away leaving a leathery black eyeliner effect, and he was bleeding from multiple sores and scabs on his haunches. His ears were swollen and half eaten away by flies, he smelled bad, and he held his head down towards the ground as he walked, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone.  And his eyes were haunting; they spoke of such suffering.  When the farmer commented casually, “I doubt he’ll make it through another winter”, I loaded the dog into my truck without a second thought.

I can sometimes see the dismay in some visitors’ eyes when they meet Toby.  But they have not witnessed the transformation – how he now smiles — no — grins at being petted, dances a jig when dinner is being served, how he delights in rubbing his back in the tall green grass, grunting and making primitive cave-dog noises, exposing the lovely wide white streak of fur that goes from his neck down his belly.  I often feel compelled to defend him – to explain his scars, his difficulty in putting on weight, to give the comparison of then and now.  But I should not!

Interestingly, the children who come to the farm don’t see a bony old dog.  They see a friendly, happy guy who smiles at them and invites them to play.  As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them. ”

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.

–Shakespeare, Sonnet 130


Till next time,


Farmer Anne

Star Gazing Farm 501(c)3

A haven for retired farm animals and wayward goats



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