Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Is it contingent on a subjective point of view? I think that all of my ancestors are beautiful, even the progenitor of my family, William Armstrong, aka “neck beard”. (Okay, maybe that’s a stretch.) But when I look at family photos, I see the spirited glint in my grandmother’s eye when she was a teenager showing off for the camera with her friends, or the gentle way that my great-grandfather’s hand steadied his young son on his knee, and I see beauty.
For me, beauty is all tied up with recognition: with the scars, beauty marks and tattoos that stamp these humans as being part of my tribe. I feel an absurd bond of blood and belonging. I am grateful to these people who made it possible for me to be here. If they knew me better, they might want to disavow all knowledge of me, but they can’t, because we’re family, we belong together. And as with reincarnation, they provide me with a great way to get out of being responsible for my own life – all the traits that I dislike in myself can be blamed on someone who came before me, one of those folks sitting stiffly posed in the upper branches of the family tree.
When I was a kid, I was always embarrassed when people told me that I looked like my mother or my grandmother. Back then, I didn’t possess the objectivity to know if it was a compliment or not. And if it wasn’t a compliment, it was a double insult, or probably, a slander against my whole family. That was something I was completely unprepared to take on, since 1) I had no idea whether I could trust my internal sense of beauty, and 2) this was during a time when I wanted very badly to secede from the tribe anyway. It was only years later that I came to appreciate resembling my family, and to be grateful that they still haven’t thrown me out. I now see a resemblance between my grandmother and me, and love that she has passed something on to me. And I see her as beautiful, and know that we look alike, but don’t see it in myself. Surely that is the very definition of beauty as a subjective point of view?