Ursula Le Guin on Beauty in the Context of Aging
Ursula Le Guin is a woman I deeply admire. I've shared her thoughts on beauty before and I come back to her work a lot for a sense of meaning and clarity on so many pieces of the human experience. I came across a passage of hers in which she reflects on beauty and age, and I found her honest reflections so moving.
No matter our age, our appearance will change, and that is an inevitability. What's not inevitable is our response. Have we cultivated a personal conception of beauty deep enough to see beyond the surface? Do we actively practice seeing this deeper beauty in others? And in ourselves?
The beauty ideal is always a youthful one. This is partly simple realism. The young are beautiful. The whole lot of ’em. The older I get, the more clearly I see that and enjoy it. But it gets harder and harder to enjoy facing the mirror. Who is that old lady? Where is her waist? I got resigned, sort of, to losing my dark hair and getting all this limp grey stuff instead, but now am I going to lose even that and end up all pink scalp? I mean, enough already. Is that another mole or am I turning into an Appaloosa? How large can a knuckle get before it becomes a kneejoint? I don’t want to see, I don’t want to know. And yet I look at men and women my age and older, and their scalps and knuckles and spots and bulges, though various and interesting, don’t affect what I think of them. Some of these people I consider to be very beautiful, and others I don’t. For old people, beauty doesn’t come free with the hormones, the way it does for the young. It has to do with bones. It has to do with who the person is. More and more clearly it has to do with what shines through those gnarly faces and bodies.
- Ursula K. Le Guin
Feature Ursula Le Guin photographed by William Anthony