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Beauty and the beast?

It’s been an interesting weekend. Not a lot of sleep, but interesting. In the early hours of Sunday morning someone I know was assaulted outside a nightclub and ended up as an emergency admission in hospital. Actually he’s ok and now discharged, and this post isn’t about him. I drove his mum, V, over to the hospital, and we found him in an assessment unit, under observation.
In the same ward was a woman waiting for psychiatric assessment. And we got to talking. Her story was essentially this. She’s a single mother, professional job, and she’s bought into the whole commercial/advertising beauty thing of how unless you’re perfect in every physical way, you’re worthless as a person. Bought into it really heavily, because once you start noticing it, it’s in every women’s mag and a huge proportion of TV adverts, along with every other advertising media you can think of.
Now at this point we’re into ‘as if’ speculations. Because I’m male, I have grey hair and my teeth will start falling out soon unless I can be bothered to fix the overdue dentist’s appointment. And basically I don’t really care. For 99% of the time, anyway, all anybody ever sees of me is the words I write.
But if I were female, late 30s/early 40s, and there’s that much media telling me how I need to be perfect physically, and I’m also trying to work and bring up a kid and feel insecure and don’t have a partner to support me, how would I react to that kind of pressure? Would I feel completely insecure if I had lifeless hair and a couple of crow’s feet beginning to show around the eyes?
OK, so I have no idea if there’s a longer back story to her illness. And there probably is. But it seemed at face value as if she’d touched on something important to her and possibly to many other women as well; the way advertising, and other media content, exploit women’s insecurities in search of a fast buck and the ‘collateral damage’ of this exploitation.
So the three of us – me, V and the woman – went and had a cigarette (another of my failings though socially useful in this case), for which we had to walk about a mile to some specially designated zone. And in the course of the smoke, both V and I told her that beauty isn’t about physical appearance, it’s about how you feel inside. Everyone has a kind of inner beauty that comes with confidence and feeling secure in yourself. If you can connect with that, you look beautiful to others irrespective of your physical looks and makeup. Equally, we all have dark periods when we lose the plot. That’s life. And we know that in those dark periods you think you’ll never come out the other side, but somehow we do. And if you can find a way to get just a little bit of confidence back, it can all come back really quickly.
So as a tribute to an unknown woman waiting for psychiatric admission, I’d say this is a story about beauty and the beast. Except in this version, she’s the beauty but she just doesn’t know it. The beast, unfortunately, can’t be slain. But it can be made irrelevant and powerless if she just realises she’s beautiful anyway.
And while I’m on a rant I’d just like to nod to Karen Ranney on writing romance, which is a powerful post and one that was waiting on my PC when we got back from the hospital. It was that post, really, that made me think I should write this one. OK, she writes romance and I write SF and horror, but there’s something fundamental about human experience that she touches on and it transcends our respective genres…

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