The Ugly Business of Making Something Beautiful
Updated: Jan 14, 2021
When I look in the mirror I don’t often see a girl. I see an accumulation of parts pieced together into what most people think of as a girl. But if you look deeper...I become something else. My parts become visible: pores saturated with dirt, long nose, big chin, a body with an extra smidge of fat. Maybe no one looks that deep, but I do. Why? Because I am obsessed with being beautiful for fear of being something ordinary.
And in that, I know I’m not alone.
Yesterday, I heard a character in a TV show say “it’s an ugly business making something beautiful.” They were talking about ballet. Before that, my aunt sat across the table from me and told me about how difficult it was for her to become a chef, and why she ultimately gave it up. She talked about needing a master, a mentor; someone who can cultivate your greatness. It’s the same with ballet. Now, I am not a ballerina. And though I like to cook, I am not a chef.
But I am a human being. I am a thing subject to the same reality of beauty achieved by torture. I witness it everyday when I look in the mirror and prod at my skin or my hair. I feel it when I pick up a camera and press record, only to later doubt if anything I captured was worth watching…was even half as good as the kids doing the same in art schools across the world. Whenever I glimpse the work they create, I must fight to silence the green monster inside me.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I do matter. My art can make an impact.
These words are the only weapon I have. And sometimes, when I’m out among others, they are successful. Other times, when it’s just the monster and I, they are less so.
I have to remember that this is the way it is for all of us. I have to remember that like me, there are people striving for this immaculate beauty — the dancers and chefs breaking themselves day in the hopes that one day what they love will commit to them as much as they commit to it. All for a result that is flawless; a perfection that, if they are lucky, can be revered.
Even though the reality is, most of us will not be revered. Whether it’s because we aren’t good enough or because we don’t strive for it, there are many of us left in the audience, watching. Waiting. And the little green monster can’t help whispering that that person will be me. I will be the forgettable one. The ugly one. The untalented one.
It’s in these moments I worry I can’t endure the ugly business of making something beautiful. I am too comfortable in my rejection, too wrapped up in my sensitivity. I am unable to be this cut throat machine that the world demands me (all of us) to be. At least not if I want to remain myself and remain a human being.
Because isn’t that all we really are? Yes, there are bodies that appear descendant from gods, and minds too great to make sense of, but those are just components that make up a human being. They are not the being themselves.
Physical perfection, mental perfection, artistic perfection — whatever version you subscribe to, they are all a lie. They are societal values built on the construct that some of us are worth more than others simply because of the talents and the bodies we were born with. Or, if not born with, then cultivated overtime.
But me? I don’t want to believe those lies any longer. I don’t want to hold myself to a standard of greatness that keeps me from creating and living and being as I am. Maybe you don’t either. Maybe you are afraid that when the hours of your life have been stripped away, your body bent into its proper place, your mind razor-focused on the one thing you thought you had worth in… you will no longer find the beauty you once did. The cruelness of perfection will rip it away, and the ugliness will taint everything. Especially your humanity.