What Is True Beauty?

All the rage, currently with over 22, 10, 7, 5 million hits on YouTube as of April 16, 2009 (number appears to have quadrupled in 24 hours), Susan Boyle stepped onto the Britain’s Got Talent stage and sang in full-throated glory I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables. I cried when I heard it yesterday, and still do watching the video. Admittedly, I kvell at lots of stuff like this, even at the theater when performers receive their applause—perhaps, it’s the unfilled performer in moi, but I’m just an emotional kind o’ gal. Back to story: Unfortunately, the YouTube is disabled for embedding by the evil entertainment conglomerates, but you can watch and come back.

I’m a true sucker for and believer in underdog stories, so perhaps it’s the dichotomy of her not-ready-for-camera looks and her diamond clear voice. (The very minor part of me that’s cynical says: Who knows, maybe we’re all duped and that was part of the act. However, the pre- and post- interviews belie that.) But, even when I close my eyes, the voice that did not break into a belt as its velvet slips up the stair-steps of “eternal dreams are shar-er-er-air-aired” gets me every time, every time.

Andrea Bocelli’s album Viaggio Italiano had a similar effect, but I’m that way about music: I get a tune in my head and it permeates my entire body and being. I find it extremely difficult to read when music’s playing and could never do homework while listening to music, because the music always, always wins.

As the judges put it, people were all very cynical and didn’t want her to succeed; they were laughing at her. The pervading cultural tone, in any culture, I’ll venture to say, is that Your Shell Sells. You must look the part. Anyone can chime in that its a female, sexist thing, and you’re welcome to discuss, but that’s only partly true. How many times has Dennis Kucinich, one of the smartest, most compassionate, hard-hitting, and liberal politicians of our time, been ignored or dismissed because of his height or his looks?

One could say it’s a Western cultural thing, but every culture has its norms, what and whom it considers beautiful, according to the times, the fashion, the roles of women and men in the society, women’s slave-like body image concerns. Now, that’s a huge topic, name-a-culture, bringing to mind Western contemporary culture as compared women who must wear burkhas, to the 1950s as compared to Victorian times, or to foot binding, for example.

About one half of the citizens of the US bought what the media and the power brokers sold them, and people swooned, oo-ed and ah-ed over the hip, new Presidential hopeful and his family. They heard what they thought was deep, and it was coming to America: Hope and Change. (“That means trouble right here in River City . . . “) No matter what the media was selling, many people (not us) bought the ideal rags to riches, dreams of their 60s fulfilled story. They thought they were buying substance, but they really were buying style and all the hype that goes along with it. I’d describe the POTUS’ governing style as crickets fashion; and nothing’s changed about “that one.” Flatterers and detractors of Michelle Obama’s style have opinions—and mind you, I AM a fervent, well-put together, “follower of fashion” and often wonder what’s she’s thinking in that department. But, what about what’s inside? What is?

In contrast, in my work I teach people that bringing into coherence their inner and outer mission and purpose for the good brings them into integrity, which makes them look and feel vibrant, alive, and centered. And it’s true. How the heck do I look so good at sixty-one, baby? So, while I am saying that it’s what’s inside that matters, and that our outer reflects our inner and vice versa, beyond that, what do our filters tell us about ourselves? What do the glasses through which we see the world tell us as individuals and cultures about who we judge and how we judge them?

Of course, Susan Boyle has been singing since childhood, and has practiced her art and craft. But really, for me, this story is about letting ourselves be touched. Period. In this case, by someone who is sharing a genuine gift of something very special given from the heart. As the judge said, I felt privileged. Cynics, and even a bit of myself, might say, “What a sap, look at the swells of music, and how the clip was packaged.” But nothing can take away from the artist, and how the clarity and care she emitted in her performance touched a universal, higher realm in people, which is what they really were applauding and fell madly in love with.

I’d venture to say that we each can experience these moments in our day, in the midst of our despair and fear, if we slow down, open our eyes, breathe, and appreciate, really appreciate people when they’re here, and just be with what is true—without having to guard or sacrifice what is true about ourselves. That simple act is one of life’s most freeing and most difficult, isn’t it?

[cross-posted at The Widdershins]

Addendum: If you watch the Susan Boyle clip, when the judges interview her before she performs, you’ll notice that the audience’s biggest laugh at her came when she said her age: 47. It’s as if that age rendered her far too old to be discovered, a star, a hit, a wonder, a revelation, a gleaming light. Let it be known, I’m still going for it.

One of the most insidious -isms in our culture is ageism. Let this be a lesson to all those who ever doubted Hillary Clinton or any powerful woman who gives it her all and succeeds. Hey, don’t we already know that women live longer, peak later, and last for a long, long, long time? 😉