I am a sucker for beauty. I always have been. It dazzles me, whether in the form of a man, a woman, a sunrise, or tiny shoots poking their heads through encrusted mud after a devastating flood. One way or another I have spent more than forty years of my life working with beauty, writing about it, researching for product formulations and helping create skincare ranges in the beauty industry. Superficial? Nothing but an indulgence? Nonsense. Like truth, beauty can be one of life’s greatest joys. Keats knew what he was on about in the final lines of his Ode To A Grecian Urn: "'beauty is truth, truth beauty,' – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know"
For years I had a recurring dream: I am walking through a wood and come upon a tree so magnificent I cannot bear to look upon it. I never understood what the dream was telling me. Then one day I got it. True beauty—the dazzling uniqueness of a tree or a wonderful piece of music or a woman, be she 18 or 80—in some way annihilates us. It takes us beyond what we feel comfortable with to what physicists call zero point, a realm of no thoughts, no opinions, just a sense that we are at that moment in the presence of something wondrous.
THE ZEN OF BEAUTY
To me there is nothing more beautiful than the unique nature of a human being, that “seed power” within each of us which carries the genetic potentials of what we can become. Each man or woman boasts her own brand of seed power—a unique collection of physical characteristics, passions, needs, quirks and agendas. Like a stalk of bamboo in a Zen painting, the seed power of a human being is absolutely unique, yet carries with it a magnificent sense of the universal. The more freely and fully a person’s seed power gets expressed in how they speak, think, look and live, the more beautiful they become. This is what I call deep beauty.
Real beauty is above all authentic. That is, it is carried on the energy that comes from living your own truth instead of buying into somebody else’s rules. The mythologist Joseph Campbell used to say that the best way to live your life is to “follow your bliss.” I think he’s right. When you live this way your eyes shine, your body grows stronger and your skin glows, no matter what your age. In this lies the truth of what they call “inner beauty.”
ICING ON THE CAKE
But what about “outer beauty?” I also love the trappings and trimmings, the glory and glamour of lotions and potions, sparkling eyeshadows and shimmering lip-glosses. Since I was a teenager my dressing table has been littered with colors and brushes, hair clips, bottles and sprays. They were my playthings for adornment and exaggeration. Like the ribbons nineteenth century women wove into their hair and bodices… mmm… sheer delight.
I had a beautiful mother whose name was Violet. She looked like a cross between a golden-haired fairy godmother and a Hitchcock blonde. Always impeccably dressed, my mother could walk through a barnyard in a white suit and emerge without a speck. Not me. I am a walking advertisement for what I ate for lunch, since most of it ends up down my shirt.
Violet was a cool beauty. She never shared her clothes with me, her jewelry, or her cosmetics. Even to walk through her dressing room and touch them was a crime punishable by banishment. But she did share some important advice: First she taught me that beautiful skin matters. To maintain it, she insisted, you need just the right amount of sunlight—half an hour early or late in the day—no more ever. She was adamant I needed to eat natural foods and to supplement my diet with some judiciously chosen vitamins and minerals as well. “Stay away from sugar and breads and pizzas,” she insisted. “Never go to bed without cleaning your face first, and always nourish your skin with something active, be it fresh papaya or an absurdly expensive but irresistible French night cream. That will help repair damage that takes place in the daytime.”
At first I balked at the idea. Then, in my mid-twenties, I decided she was right. I began to make a little time each day to look after myself. It was then I discovered that the time a woman spends at her dressing table (this can be as simple an affair as a cardboard box covered with cloth at which you sit on a cushion) far from being a narcissistic self-indulgence can become a time of silence, solitude, and renewal. I believe this right to this day. It can be a time every bit as full of peace, simple pleasure and quietude as meditation. It can also be a lot of fun.