A Joy Forever

12 Apr

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness — Keats

When I was a little girl, spring days were filled with warm waves of lilac breeze and white muslin sheets drying on the clothesline at Granny’s. The windows would be open, the air cool against the plaster walls. Post breakfast was often spent with her rolling my hair on permanent rods to keep me quiet. Then in the late afternoon, after dancing in the yard or playing on the back porch, the curlers would come out, brushing would ensue, sometimes ending in bow, sometimes just the curls. Thus began my introduction to the world of beauty.


My mother was the first feminine beauty icon for me. Simply put, she is a gorgeous woman. She’s been beautiful all her life with a genuine sweetness under the smooth skin, thick dark brunette hair, and olive complexion. Mom’s not an academic, by any means, but she’s kind, compassionate and she has an eye for beautiful things. Shopping for clothes is an art for her and she’s good at it. Once I reached my teen years, nearly every Saturday was spent in the mall shuffling from store to store with coupons and sales flyers. In high school, I poured through Vogue and Seventeen magazine, Brooke Shields as my teen idol. As an only child of moderately affluent parents, my wardrobe was pretty extensive even though I was much larger bodied than my peers. Through mom’s taste, I did learn discernment in clothing, classic pieces and lasting fine fabrics. But, the external value of adornments eventually became too heavy. In youth, I developed a skewed view of the personal aesthetic. A “flawed” body could be covered in man- made beauty, rather than uncovering the self and letting that become the truest form.

My fashion sense paused when clothing became primarily of my own purchase, but now that I am quite fit and of limited means, my fashion savvy gained way back when has come in handy. Eclectic style with mix matched layers, texture and quirk inspire me. Historical costuming is a love of mine for many years. And although I don’t sew as much as I used to, my style does have a vintage multi-era edge. As a non-trendy person, when I saw the flyers for the Vita 2013 fashion show, the blended layered Victorian inspired melange intrigued me. I’d never been to a fashion show and a peek at what was currently in others’ closets might be enlightening.

Vita 2013 was held at Phase 2 dance club in Lynchburg, and as I entered, I knew almost right away that the experiment into modern culture was not going to serve me well. Upon sweeping observation, the sense was of swimming in a sea of unconsciousness, the superficial exterior postures of others covering selves not yet recognized. The ridiculousness of trendy shoes didn’t escape me, gaggles of gals in taupe patent leather platforms, identically clad in Elle/ JCrew regalia. The same blonde streaked stacked hair, the same shuffled teetering like a five year old in mom’s big girl shoes, was like watching an assembly line of dolls roll toward the packaging department. Their shoulders revealed the lack of confidence in themselves, upon which they could not balance confidence in the clothing, as if the package would somehow make the present. It made me laugh, sadly.

Socially though, what gave me the most pause were the little girls, seven, eight years old imitating the walk, the flip. . . the focus on validation as object. Halfway through the pre-show, I almost left but something told me to wait, to see. What is the fascination for so many here? Such a variety of people were present, people I haven’t seen celebrated in this culturally narrowed town of mine. Gay men were in attendance in droves. Divas and hair/cosmetic stylists and fashion mavens and older male designers reminiscent of Yves St Laurent and Valentino, but then the experience began to change. And when the announcer talked about the desire of the show’s organizers, to encourage cultural creativity and the arts here, I felt caught in a dichotomy.

As girl after girl walked the runway, flirting and flipping her hip and her hair, I started to think about what was truly being shown: the woman, the fashion, or the mood which the fashion creates in the woman. Which is the truest form of beauty? The object or the emotion it elicits from us? Does that then qualify it as …gasp..art? Social superficiality as art, perhaps art of the masses, seemed then dependent upon perception and concept. Do I see the model as a canvas upon which an expression of life has been created or do I see a gendered subject decorated and rendered into an object of aesthetic pleasure? Is art’s value determined through medium? Through the results of its effect on individuals and the cultural constructs of society?

The experience really all narrowed down to this. All of life is artistic expression if one sees it as such. Beauty is both subjective and objective, all at the same time. It is the value we ascribe to the artistic effort and the way in which we approach judgment or comparison between one art work and another which determines its relative value. Do we judge on intrinsic merit and growth? On innovation? Or on the most widely embraced concept en masse? Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, but then again, what shades the beholder’s eye?

Many of the creations I saw were unique, not to be copied and sold. However, local retail lines were shown as well, the contrast remarkable. And perhaps that is another line of demarcation. In art, the unique combination of creative idea and expression presents itself to public scrutiny, from which an element may then be copied, developed and distributed. So in everyday form, we surround ourselves with fragments of other’s creative expression. Perhaps within that we need to place our own. To create beauty is to express that which is most honest, most genuine in our response to life. And we need not only array ourselves in the creativity of others to call ourselves beautiful, as we are also creative unique expression as selves alone. Beauty is the self and its expression in the outer world. Maybe we need this understanding to see a healthier separation between canvas and art in the fashion world. This might ultimately free us socially and encourage the type of diversity designers and artists embrace and desire to cultivate among us.

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