Why "Beauty" Has Become A Dirty Word In Our Culture & Can We Reclaim It?

Why "Beauty" Has Become A Dirty Word In Our Culture & Can We Reclaim It? Hero Image
Photo: Stocksy

Beauty, it's become a bit of a dirty word. In the years that I've been writing about the idea in magazines, newspapers, and blogs, I've noticed a shift in its connotation. A shift that seems so seismic, it's hard to ignore. Whether through the hyper-glamorized and saturated social media campaigns of A-listers, or Hollywood movies or mainstream news, there's been enough visual representation to make us sit up and question what we are being fed, what resonates, and what we want to change. Are we simply fed up with an "approach to beauty" that looks a lot like asset stripping? I think we are.

So how can we change the conversation and reclaim beauty in all her glory? Many in the arena have lovingly made it their mission to meet an all-new awe-inspiringly photorealistic sensibility, one that's devoid of artifice, one that reveals the gleaming bones (or curves for that matter) of a generation so relentlessly un-minimalistic, that it actually breaks new ground in history as we know it. Many of these women and men write for mbg.

I'm an editor, acutely aware that we can all make remarkable choices from the glorious snack pack of this life, without succumbing to a relentless platter of regurgitated and recycled fare that's frankly made its consumers sick. It's time to see beauty as an all-encompassing tool for good, a way to live our lives, a notion to never ever be ashamed of.

Which is why I wanted to write this piece and I can't wait to hear what you have to say.

"We must take the time to discover what is beautiful to each of us, beautiful enough that we are willing to protect and cherish it, change our lives; beautiful in the indigenous sense that it is beauty that organizes and gives meaning and purpose to the world."


So wrote artist and writer Ruth Gendler in her soulful Notes on the Need for Beauty. The book is intimate and invites the reader to make connections between senses and the soul, almost like a concert or rally that fills the consciousness of the public long before it arrives and dominates its legacy long after it leaves. I think Gendler's communion draws me in because I'm stirred by surprising moments of intimacy that life offers, most especially in moments when we are given an insight into the minds of people unknown, unseen, and uncredited. It is in this anonymous experience that I find myself confronting stories all of us tell.

I like to feel the levity and brightness with how my fellow kin live because each time I'm expelled back into the world ever so slightly changed. You know when things seep into your skin and shape the way you walk around the earth, even change your heartbeat? The collective holding of breath, the explosions of laughter, the rapturous applause? Those are the gems that twinkle long after everything else is gone. I'm finding in my reading and interactions that the underbelly of this need for beauty is giving permission to receive it.

I interviewed the photographer and musician Ami Sioux in 2011 when I was working at British Vogue and asked her what it meant to be beautiful for a supplement we were producing. What she said resonated with me so strongly that I often read her luminous words. I wanted to share them in the hope that they will spark something for you in the way that they did for me a few years ago.

"I think the beautiful women I know have a sense of themselves, they are in their skin … inside of the process of exploring their lives … their sexuality, their desires, their boundaries, their goals … their beauty shows because they are working to explore what makes them really alive. This is what I see as beauty. It's not about traditional beauty for me at all, or photogenic beauty, the kind of beauty that most fashion models have … it's a beauty that shows on the outside when a woman is inside of truly being herself."

So I would utter: Be insatiably curious, nourish, create, share, and write new fables. We are amazing when we get together; we make the best kind of medicine. We can rip up cloth into ribbons to create a sky above our heads.

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