Can Beauty and aging co-exist side by side?
Aging and Beauty
What is Beauty?
Socrates would often question his interlocutor over what beauty is. He would receive different answers to this question, none of which (to his mind at least) were satisfactory. One might cite some beautiful things (perhaps a beautiful young Greek athlete), but it turned out that these things were only examples of beautiful things. So one is no closer to a definition of what beauty actually is. Besides, it might be the case that some Greek athlete is beautiful in virtue of his good looks, but is known as a cheat, does not have good relations, and so on. So in respect to these other aspects he is not beautiful. So this cannot be an example of beauty. There are other problems, too. We might say that the Greek athlete is beautiful, the old tea-set is beautiful, the sunset is beautiful, the dog is beautiful, the old lady is beautiful, and so on. But these things are worlds apart and do not seem to have anything in common. Except, that is, for being beautiful.
Socrates was known for his persistent questioning, but he got no closer to a definition of what beauty is. The beautiful, he thought after careful consideration, was some kind of abstract existence that material things could partake in. So if the Greek athlete was beautiful in respect to his looks then he partook in the beautiful in respect to this aspect. The tea-set you have been given by your Great Grandma is beautiful in virtue of it partaking in the beautiful, and so on for sunsets, dogs, old ladies etc. In this way, we can make sense of calling different things beautiful, even though they seem to be worlds apart. The upshot of this is that everything that is beautiful is beautiful in virtue of partaking in the beautiful.
What is Beauty today?
But what do we think of as beautiful? Look at the video clips of young girls and boys dancing around. Are they beautiful? Or do you think that young children, playing together in, e.g. kindergartens, childcare centres, are beautiful. Or perhaps the young toddler following his/her mummy in the supermarket is beautiful. Most of us now do not think that Greek athletes (even those around in BC) are the epitome of beauty. So what, in today’s age, is it that we call beautiful? Or has what is beautiful never really changed?
Beauty in The Picture of Dorian Gray
Thinking about beauty and aging reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s book, A Picture of Dorian Gray. This book has as its protagonist the young Dorian Gray. Dorian Gray is very concerned with his looks and is quite the dandy (being around in 19th century England). He is sort after by men and women alike, such is his beauty. But, as everyone knows, youth (and in this case, beauty) cannot last forever. This was particularly known by Dorian Gray himself. He perhaps even feared his old age, such was his obsession for beauty.
The story has it that there was a portrait of Dorian Gray that was truly beautiful: it was a magnificent representation of him. What happened, then, was something rather odd. Dorian Gray did not age; the picture aged in his place. But it was not just age that was represented in the picture…
Every sin that Dorian Gray committed was represented, not in him, but in the picture. Dorian Gray’s outward beauty could not be tarnished. He was immaculate, but his soul was not. This was represented in the picture. The picture grew hideous, whereas Dorian Gray’s outward appearance changed not at all. So while Dorian Gray partook in the beautiful, his picture did not. That is to say, while Dorian Gray looked beautiful, he was not. His soul was ugly, as was represented by his picture.
What have we learned from Dorian Gray?
The case of Dorian Gray is instructive. Dorian Gray, the person, was beautiful, whereas his picture was not. But the reason for this was not because the picture grew old while Dorian Gray did not, but because the picture bore the burden of his sin, whereas Dorian Gray did not. It could have been that while Dorian Gray did not age, the picture, which did age, grew more and more beautiful in virtue of its age. In this scenario, the person Dorian Gray retained his boyish good looks, but the picture represented the experience, the love, the care, the charisma, that comes along with aging. Dorian Gray may have been picturesque, but it is the picture that is truly beautiful.
So have we got an answer to Socrates: what is the beautiful? Well, we can say at least this much: beauty is not only skin deep. There is something much more to beauty than surface appearances. Beauty is something that comes from within, but it is not invisible thereby. We can certainly imagine the alternative story of Dorian Gray where his picture grew old, while the boy did not, yet the picture was more beautiful through its representation of experience, love, care, charisma, and the whole host of other characteristics that come with age. This is reflected in the twinkling in their eyes, their mannerisms, their character as a whole. This sort of beauty can only be attained through age.
So, do you think that women over the age of 60 can be attractive and sexy? Yes they can, and this is an achievement , rather than a God-given gift!
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