"Thou canst not see one wrinkle in my brow; Mine eyes are gray and bright and quick in turning; My beauty as the spring doth yearly grow, My flesh is soft and plump, my marrow burning ..."
-- Venus, to Adonis, in Shakespeare's poem Venus and Adonis
In Shakespeare's erotic poem, Venus uses her feminine wiles to seduce the beautiful Adonis, a boy named after the god of love. Venus is so enamored of the boy that she declares him "thrice-fairer" than herself, "the field's chief flower, sweet above compare/Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man."
The fact that Adonis manages to thwart her at every turn says something profound about the complicated nature of beauty and sexual attraction. Venus invented feminine wiles, yet Adonis remains uninterested, even revolted, to the end of the poem. And, as luck -- or Venus -- would have it, his life.
Venus is the goddess of beauty in all of its aspects. The woman who deliberately puts on a mask every morning, wearing so much makeup that her face barely shows, illustrates one type of beauty -- painted, with a veil between herself and the rest of the world. The woman who shuns mascara even on her wedding day emphasizes another -- natural, unannounced, this-is-me-take-it-or-leave-it. Many of us experience both extremes at different times in our lives.
Venus represents what you're attracted to as well as who is attracted to you. And it may be a cliché but it's true: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
The goddess Venus married the lame and deformed Vulcan but was notoriously unfaithful to him. Their son, Eros, is more commonly known today as Cupid, the sometimes mischievous instigator of love at first sight. Thus love is born from the union of ideal beauty and extreme ugliness.
Women have worn makeup since before civilization. Henna and kohl were popular in ancient India and Egypt; we still use henna today to color our hair and to create temporary tattoo-like patterns on our skin. In modern times, Elizabeth Arden and Mary Kay are two woman-owned cosmetic giants. The Body Shop takes a different approach to selling makeup and personal care products, urging women to love our bodies no matter what shape or size we are.
The Beauty Paradox
Astrologically, Venus instigates initial attraction, the force that brings you together with friends and partners. Venus also guides your changing perspective -- the more you get to know and like someone, the more attractive he or she becomes for you.
Most women seem to understand the beauty paradox without too much trouble. Our mothers have told us that "beauty is only skin deep" and that "beauty comes from within." In the context of Venus, it makes sense that these contradictory statements go together.
"The beauty that addresses itself to the eyes is only the spell of the moment; the eye of the body is not always that of the soul."
-- George Sand
Temporary beauty, the comeliness that sparks the initial attraction to someone or something, is something the immortal Venus will always have. Mortal women rely on skin care products, cosmetics, and healthy living to prolong their surfaced beauty. A bouquet before it fades and dies in the vase is another form of this beauty.
Deeper, long-lasting beauty becomes apparent after the first flush of pulchritude fades -- it's the whole person, the beauty of love between friends and partners. A gift bouquet has this kind of beauty too, in the affection the giver is communicating to the recipient.
Beauty is cultural. Physical appearance plays a large part in determining your social status. Imagine a Wall Street CEO wearing cut-offs and a tank top to a meeting with the shareholders. Now picture a construction worker in Los Angeles wearing a tuxedo to the job site.
Decorations like the facial tattoos of the Maoris of New Zealand indicate rank, beauty, and belonging. Gen X also finds skin art and body piercings attractive. Their ideas of beauty may go against those of the previous generation, but they are still using physical adornment to express themselves.
The Western world considers certain movie stars to be beautiful. Uma Thurman plays the role of Venus in Terry Gilliam's whimsical film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Michelle Pfeiffer regularly appears on lists of the world's most beautiful women. Marilyn Monroe enchants us now even decades after her death; it has been said that it was "better" that she died young, before her beauty faded.
But what makes these women into cultural icons? Who decided that they were beautiful? How much is appearance, and how much is attitude?
"There is no torture that a woman would not endure to enhance her beauty."
The Dark Side of the Quest for Beauty
Sometimes women go too far in their efforts to achieve an impossible standard of "beauty."
In the race to sell more products than the next company, the so-called beauty industry bombards us with pictures and words calculated to make us feel inadequate. We are then supposed to buy the merchandise that will make us taller, thinner, blonder, smoother, and so on.
Eating disorders, repetitive cosmetic surgery, and obsessive exercising are some of the symptoms of an quest to achieve an indefinable and unreachable standard. Women who engage in such behavior have lost their ability to think of themselves as worthwhile human beings. They become so focused on their appearance and on what they believe they lack that they can't think about anything else.
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