Friday, February 27, 2009
I've just been to the dentist. Happily, no problems were noted and, other than the usual buff-up with some sort of tiny circular saw, neither of my teeth needed any treatment. I like the feeling of having had a scale and polish carried out by a professional (although a Radio 1 listener which is disconcerting for some reason), and afterwards I meandered through town smiling manically at passers-by, hoping they would notice the glistening shine emanating from my recently pink-rinsed gob.
"Look at me!" I shouted silently. "Look at my bedazzling smile!"
Of course, none of them did notice. One or two actually crossed the road to get away from me, depsite my friendly, extremely-fast waving, but in general, my beautifully grimacing fizzog remained unnoticed. I sighed, forced my lips back over my now very dry teeth, and considered the relative subjectivity of appearance and beauty.
In the UK, we don't find very white teeth or very straight teeth particularly attractive, or at least slightly off-kilter dentures don't worry us enough to do something about. Small, bright white teeth in perfect alignment look a bit on the frail side, sort of unnaturally juvenile like a two-year olds gnashers (although having been on the receiving end of a two-year olds bite, I know from personal experience that they aren't that frail). It smacks of excessive vanity, as teeth are naturally a sort of slightly off-white colour. Bit like having very blue contact lenses or powdering yourself up like a Geisha I suppose. Whitening toothpaste sells quite well here, but it's generally more of a half-hearted effort to stop the natural decline into tawny beige that seems to be the ultimate goal of teeth. I expect fashion will change and our children will laugh at our saffron-tinted ivories (if we've still got 'em), but for now, it's enough to keep them clean and chompy.
So why do we worry about appearance so? I'm one of the last people in the world to understand fashion. I wear Doc Marten boots because they're comfy (after a while). I deliberately try not to wear anything with a logo as I'm not a billboard.I like coats with pockets. I have a belt to keep my trousers up that becomes more of an aesthetic prop with every passing year, but my intentions were practical. One might conclude that I am, in the opinion of my wife, annoyingly unconcerned with appearance.
But I obviously do care how I look, otherwise I wouldn't shave, or brush my hair, or buy new clothes when mine are looking a bit worn, even though they could feasibly go on for years yet. In the past, I have been known to have a day on the sofa in my underpants, watching films and eating cake, but that's only when I've been on my own and not expecting company. Usually. And that was more embarrassing for the Jehova's Witnesses than me.
So concern for our own appearance is almost universal in western society becuase we don't have to worry about important stuff like our bare survival. It's instilled in us, like many things, to value the attractive, and this is often contradictory. So, here are a few things I have recently come across which are beautiful in their own way:
First, a pig:
I took this photo last Summer in France, and this delightful critter followed us around for bread and fussing, quietly nudging the back of my leg if I neglected her, but not being too intrusive. I did have to stop scratching behind her ears eventually as the sun was going down, and the look of sad reproach she gave me as I left haunts me still. Not enough to give up bacon butties, but you know what I mean.
Second, a cooked mushroom:
Fungi are typical of the ugly-but-lovely brigade. They may look like something a specialist in urogentital surgery might keep in a jar, but they taste delicous and are good for you.
Except for the ones that'll kill you, of course.
And finally, Nancy:
Belonging to a local hairdresser and allowed free reign of the shop, Nancy is incredibly gentle and good with toddlers who, after a few minutes hesitation and worried looking around for parental support, find her endlessly entertaining. I thought that the pink, genuine faux-diamond studded collar was a vain attempt to make her pretty, but after chatting to her owner he really does think she's gorgeous and thought she deserved only the nicest things. It does actually go nicely with the conjunctiva of her eyes though.
The subjectivity of attractiveness is well known. Beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder after all, and it's right that we should value it for it's inherent loveliness.
We just need to remind ourselves that it's not just about looks.