Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On Beauty and Ugliness

This was originally going to be a post about World's Ugliest Dog Contest at the Petaluma County Fair. It was a fun time. Just the right size fair on a perfect Spring day. Cerulean skies, funnel cake with strawberries, young parents pushing strollers and strapping wee ones in for the kiddy rides. Barns full of prize cows, horses, sheep, pigs, chickens and goats.  Of course the ugly dog contest was a hoot. There were some truly hideous canines, most of them hairless Chinese cresteds. These poor pups are bred to encourage the genetic defects that cause their strange appearance. (Why Gomez and Morticia Addams did not have one is beyond me).

The unfortunate critters  are hairless, brittle boned, weak toothed and subject to vision loss. Here's a foxy one. Kind of the My Little Pony of Chinese Cresteds.

And here is a sad, tragic, inbred Chinese crested. Now, that is one fearsome shade of ugly. Somewhere between Yoda and a shrunken head.

Indeed, the breed has a  history of winning the ugly dog contest, as you can see if you click on this link. Don't know whether the trophy is compensation enough for tooth loss, drooping tongue, osteoporosis, blindness, skin cancer and other fun side effects of being a Chinese Crested. Anyway, this year,  despite the many gnarly looking Cresteds in the competition, a mutt broke the ugly lock: This guy.

Walle, the Hunchback of Notre Dog. Yes, he's a healthy weight, but his bones look like they're too big for his skin, as though he were about to molt. Walle doesn't walk, he waddles on stunted legs and huge duck feet. He has a camel hump and a couple of bumps on his face. Still, it's a nice, noble, trusty canine face. When Walle, who has to sit on his butt to beg, looks up at you with those gentle eyes, you can't help but like him.

Three expert judges, including adult Timmy from Lassie, had 50% of the vote. The other 50% was up to the audience, and tallied based on the amount of clapping and cheering for each dog. I was yelling my head off for Walle, which offended my husband's sense of fair play. "Don't cheer for him, he's not ugly," he complained.

That's right, he's not. People just loved Walle because he is a dignified, handsome kind of homely. Truth is, they picked the least ugly dog.

Now I am going to be Debby Downer, and talk about this:

Ain't he purty. Don't he look like the boy next door. From the second photo (first one was from the profile and accented his large nose), people started speculating. Must have been his evil brother's fault. Poor boy, his father in another land, led astray by his religious fanatic, bitter older sibling. We really wanted that to be the scenario. Look at his tousled hair. Look at his girlish complexion. Just a touch of the exotic, not enough to register as a foreigner.  He's on the cover of Rolling Stone. If you didn't know better, he could be the next big thing, casually styled, innocent yet knowing. (Probably unwashed).  People wanted to come up with an excuse for him. Why? Because of his beauty. Rolling Stone demonstrated bad taste, sure, but we, and our zeit-geist snorting media, set ourselves up for this.

OK, Debbie Downer again. Are you bummed out yet? Yes, we're a long way from ugly dogs and it gets worse. Through social media, I recently became aware of the organization Stop Acid Attacks. Acid attacks are a life-destroying phenomenon in India. It can happen because a young woman turns down a marriage proposal, or a wife gets too darn uppity, or a daughter-in-law with an insufficient dowry doesn't excel at housework. In addition to running a shelter for the invariably female victims, Stop Acid Attacks is trying to raise awareness, and change India's laws to put this vicious crime in a special category, to be punished by life imprisonment. The women that have come together to form the organization look like this:

The men who burned them thought beauty was their only value. Yet not only are these women smiling through their scar tissue, they emanate genuine kindness and hope. In a profoundly human way, they are beautiful. 

Now, I'm not corny and I don't intend to speechify about inner beauty and gloss over horrible crimes.  I just think we need to be aware of the pull beauty has on us. It can prejudice us for or against people. It can ruin relationships. It can set an impossible standard. It can make us covetous and greedy. Or it can inspire. Uplift. Serve as a quiet reward for a stressful day. 

Looks can be deceiving if one wants to be deceived. As my dependably offensive late father-in-law used to say about female employees, "It's just as easy to hire a good looking one." How many men would hire the single babe over the single mom with three kids? How many women would make a point of NOT hiring the hottie, even if she's obviously qualified?  Why do we look at the doe eyed Boston Bomber boy and think "there must be an explanation" while dispensing no such empathy to the orange haired, bug-eyed Aurora movie theater shooter? Why do parents pay less attention to homely children? Why do good looking people earn more money?

Beauty is all around us. It is a comfort and a pleasure that enriches our days. But we should never let it stop us from seeing.


mc90 said...

Some wonderful points. I'm also fascinated by ideas of beauty and how they come about. For me, one of the compensations of getting older is my own changing ideas of beauty—it seems to me that I see more of it more easily and in the most unexpected faces. It's such a relief. As if a veil were lifted.

Bill Senger said...

Thoughtful weaving of ugly dogs, boy-toy bombers, and acid attacks. The concept of beauty should be frequently questioned and seldom co-signed without consideration.

Rand MacIvor said...

Thanks for this. Leaves me thinking that sometimes it's the acts that are ugly; moreso than people.