Audrey Hepburn: Beauty Icon or Humanitarian?

imgresIt’s been a while since I’ve written on my favorite topic – “beauty in our society”, but rest assured that this delay is not from lack of content. In fact, in the past few months, I have been collecting, storing and sifting through a great deal of information on looks and our society. This post on Audrey Hepburn is one that I have been mulling over since mid-April.

I think most everyone knows or has at least heard of Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993). I mean how many times have you seen the iconic picture below from Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

She is well known for her starring roles in a  number of famous (and really terrific) films,  including Roman Holiday (1953), Breakfast  at Tiffany’s (1961), My Fair Lady (1964) and Wait Until Dark (1967).

But, she is perhaps even better known for something equally as impressive, though completely out of her control: her natural beauty.

She is not just a film icon. She is a beauty icon. When people think of beautiful, glamorous women, they naturally think of Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and perhaps Angelina Jolie.

With that in mind, take a look at this picture below:

grave-at-trenzalore: followingthedeer: sainthannah: heatherbat: stunningpicture: ‘Cause people seem to only post the 20-something Audrey Hepburn. Audrey Hepburn was the granddaughter of a baron, the daughter of a nazi sympathizer, spent her teens doing ballet to secretly raise money for the dutch resistance against the nazis, and spent her post-film career as a goodwill ambassador of UNICEF, winning the presidential medal of freedom for her efforts. …and history remembers her as pretty. AND HISTORY REMEMBERS HER AS PRETTY note this is the first time I have ever seen a picture of her older than 20 and I think that’s scary

I saw this picture on tumblr with these three comments below:

1. “‘Cause people seem to only post the 20-something Audrey Hepburn.”

2. “Audrey Hepburn was the granddaughter of a baron, the daughter of a nazi sympathizer, spent her teens doing ballet to secretly raise money for the dutch resistance against the nazis, and spent her post-film career as a goodwill ambassador of UNICEF, winning the presidential medal of freedom for her efforts …and history remembers her as pretty.

3. “this is the first time I have ever seen a picture of her older than 20 and I think that’s scary”

That second comment is my favorite. She was a kind, compassionate and brave woman but, most importantly, she was born with good genes for us to fawn over for generations to come.

Now, to be honest, I think perhaps the older people of the world do remember that she was a humanitarian, but what is her legacy? Already, after perhaps one generation, what do us “kids” know about her? That she was a pretty face?  We must not reduce her life’s work to something so trite and temporary.

Men are most often valued for their brains and money, and women are most often valued for their looks. Why? Because we are sexual objects in society, and that stereotype is reinforced everyday on the internet, on tv and on the streets.

Well, I’m trying to keep my posts shorter, so I’ll leave this topic for now. But, as owner of this blog, I will not leave this post on Audrey without highlighting her real legacy:

1. A seriously brilliant actress. Have you seen this beautiful lady act? Please tell me you haven’t just seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s because, if so, you are seriously missing out. Please go watch Wait Until Dark immediately. I mean she wasn’t picked to star in so many classics just for her looks. In fact, she won an Academy Award for Best Actress, a record three BAFTA Awards for Best British Actress in a Leading Role, three Golden Globe Awards and a Tony Award for Best Performance for a Leading Actress. Bam! Talk about talent!

2. A seriously compassionate humanitarian. In 1988 Audrey Hepburn was appointed as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and spent the remainder of her life traveling throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America in an effort to raise awareness for suffering children.

This five year period from 1988 to her death in 1993 was not a publicity stunt or a way to stave off the guilt of her successful life. In fact, Audrey’s friends and family later said that she was consumed by “the thoughts of dying, helpless children” until her death (audrey1.org).

During one trip to Bangladesh UN photographer John Isaac accompanied Audrey and still remembers her genuine love for the children. “Often the indexpicnewkids would have flies all over them, but she would just go hug them,” Isaac said. “I had never seen that. Other people had a certain amount of hesitation, but she would just grab them. Children would just come up to hold her hand, touch her – she was like the Pied Piper.”

I love that quote because he was a photographer and photographers look for beauty. When Audrey was young, her face was the “beauty” of the photo. But, as an older lady, her actions were the “beauty” of the photos (as in the picture to the right).

Audrey used her powerful name and status to help thousands of children because Audrey got it. She knew that the thousands of children pictured in the countless “feed the hungry” ads each year do have a name and do have a life and do need help. Each child has a story. They get embarrassed. They get scared. They worry. They laugh. And they need food and water.

Two quotes from Audrey on her humanitarian work stuck out to me:

“People in these places don’t know Audrey Hepburn, but they recognize the name UNICEF. When they see UNICEF their faces light up, because they know that something is happening. In the Sudan, for example, they call a water pump UNICEF.” (US magazine McCall’s, 1989)

“There is so much we cannot do. We cannot give the children back their parents, but we can return to them their most basic human rights – their rights to health, tenderness and life.” (USA Today, 1989)

 

Sometimes I Don’t Like Being Beautiful

In arguments it’s important to consider the other side right? To put yourself in other people’s shoes? Well I decided to look for a firsthand account of the downside of being beautiful. I mean I continually point out the benefits of being beautiful, but what about the disadvantages?

In a blog post titled “Beautiful People – What is it like, day-to-day, to be remarkably attractive?” some talented photographers give us a rare look at the cons of being beautiful. This is the quote that stuck out to me the most:

“So much of my personal value has been placed on what I look like. It’s sad. Looks don’t last. So as I age, will I lose my value?” -Nicole

I think that Nicole has a great point. People who don’t have looks to fall back on automatically turn to other things – writing, art, sports, music, volunteer work, academics, etc. – in order to find something that they’re “good at” so to speak.

But, for Nicole, she’s “good at” looks. She seems wise so hopefully she’s good at other things too. But, sometimes attractive people can get trapped into just being a pretty doll to look at and admire.

Perhaps when she was just 5 years old people came up to her mom saying, “Nicole is so beautiful already. The boys will be fighting over her when she’s older.” Then she was 10 years old, and the boys were already starting to favor her above the rest of her friends. Then she was 15 years old, and she effortlessly took the title of “most popular girl” of her grade. Everyone – male and female – wanted to be her friend because of something she was born with, something she didn’t even have to work for.

Attractive people like Nicole are put on a pedestal without them even having to win a track race, earn the highest GPA, or land the lead role in the musical. They automatically get this same honor that others have to work for. So then maybe attractive people  don’t feel the need to work for something else – to do well in school, or to be nice to others – because everyone already seems to like them. They were born being “good at” something – something that seems to be very important to everyone no matter their age or cultural background. So why would they need to work at other things?

But then at age 40 your outer shell begins to peel off and what will be revealed underneath? An even more beautiful inside? Or a completely hideous inside? If you haven’t been working on your character that will be a horrific time for you. You will feel worthless because all of your value was placed in your now disintegrating outside.

Really, you should never put your value in anything that you are “good at” because anything can be taken away from you.

Looks? You get attacked by a chimp on a trip overseas and it mauls your face. 

Intelligence? You get in a car wreck and suffer severe brain damage. 

Singing? You get surgery and the surgeons mess up your vocal chords. 

Family? You lose your husband, children, and parents in a sudden tsunami. 

So what is it that you value the most? Is it a talent? A person? A position? A material possession? A future dream scenario? Picture this thing or person or scenario. Now picture yourself waking up tomorrow and realizing that it is gone. Completely gone. What do you do?

Did you even picture something? Is this too hypothetical for you? Maybe you’re thinking “My life has been normal – even boring – for 20 years. I am 99.9% sure I am not going to wake up to a tragedy tomorrow or any time in the near future.”

This is the “it will never happen to me” mentality or the “just world phenomenon” from social psychology.

Can I pause to brag for a moment? Okay thanks, I’ll be quick. Here it is: I don’t think I’m a victim of this mentality. I have many examples, but I will just mention one.

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I do not swim in the ocean past my ankles unless the ocean is perfectly clear. I’m not a beach snob, I’m just aware that I have just as much a chance of being eaten by a shark as the next person.

My friends and family sometimes get frustrated with me because of this. They all say the same things: you are more likely to get struck by lightning, only a few hundred people get attacked each year out of the millions and millions of people who swim in the ocean, what are the chances that it will happen to you?

Well, all I’ll say is that I have read “List of fatal, unprovoked shark attacks in the United States” on Wikipedia and it is freaking terrifying. Do you think anyone on that list thought, “There’s a good chance a shark will eat me today.” No, they all probably thought, “What are the chances that I will be the 1 in 11.5 million to get attacked by a shark?”

I mean look at that picture! That is not normal! If you see that coming toward you in the water, you are toast.

You have to realize that you are not immune. There is not an invisible shield around you protecting you from a shark attack, from a rapist, from a kidnapper, from a fatal car accident, from a damaging surgery, from a life-changing injury, or from being catapulted into infamy tomorrow for one mistake you make that goes public.

Now this is obviously very scary and depressing if your value is found in things, people, reputations, or future plans. But there is another option: place your value in God – the only being who can never suddenly be taken away from you. Ever.

After Jesus Christ died on the cross he stayed on earth for 40 days to prove that he had risen from the dead. He revealed Himself at least 12 different times – once to 500 people. But, before he ascended into heaven Jesus told the people who were with Him, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). That was the last thing He said to mankind before He physically left – that He would always be there for them when they asked for His help.

Do bad things still happen to Christians? Oh yes. I struggle with this sometimes. Why do “God’s children,” whom He supposedly protects, suffer from the same things that unbelievers suffer from? Where was that in the Bible?

Job. It was in Job. And many other places. But  mainly in Job. Job is a man who is called “blameless and upright.” He “fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:1) And you want to know what happens to him? Satan attacks him with God’s permission. Satan. . .

1) sends people to steal all of Job’s livestock and to kill the servants who were taking care of them

2) kills Job’s 7 sons and 3 daughters

3) infects Job with boils and festering sores

4) destroys Job’s home and fortune

God loved Job, yet he allowed all of that to happen to him. Want to know who else God loved? His 12 original disciples and Paul. Want to know who was martyred? 11 of those 13 men. Everyone except Judas (suicide after he betrayed Jesus) and John (died of old age on Patmos).

God loved those men, yet he allowed them to be killed by men. And it’s in the Bible. So clearly God and his disciples are not trying to cover this up. It’s in the Bible.

And this same thing that frustrates me in 2013 frustrated King Solomon in 970-931 BC.

In Ecclesiastes – one of his two books that made it in the Bible – King Solomon says, “Everything is the same for everyone. The same fate awaits the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the pure and the impure, those who sacrifice and those who don’t sacrifice. The good person is like the wrongdoer; the same holds for those who make solemn pledges and those who are afraid to swear” 

If you haven’t read Ecclesiastes, King Solomon is the wisest person who has ever lived – and also one of the richest. He decides to pursue all of the pleasures in life in order to find out the lifestyle that makes one the most happy and the most content. He had endless resources to spend on this experiment and you want to know what he found? Everything was meaningless. After all of his escapades he says that all mankind can do is “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” Everything else on earth – any pursuit – will ultimately lead to discontentment.

So what I’m trying to say is don’t put all of your energies and hope and value into anything that can be unexpectedly taken away tomorrow morning – which, incidentally, is everything except God.

Bad things will still happen to you if you have a relationship with God, but you will not be broken by them. Instead of walking down the dark paths alone, you will have God at your side, leading you by the hand, catching you when you slip.

This is getting long, but I want to provide a real-life example so this isn’t just a hypothetical idea. This morning my teacher told us this story:

“About 18 years ago when we first moved to Greenville my family and I needed dental care. I had enough money to get our teeth checked out at the dentist, but then I didn’t have enough money to pay for the dental procedures that we needed. I asked God to provide the $2,500 that we needed. I kept praying for two weeks because I knew that God could provide. Finally, I started to walk toward the dentist office across the street to see if we could work out a deal. I felt terrible that I couldn’t provide for my family in this way. But, on the way to the dentist I was convicted. God knew that we needed a dentist, and He would provide. So I turned around and went home. Now my wife was working as a housecleaner for a family in Greenville. When she came home that evening she said that the woman she was working for asked, “Do ya’ll have a dentist in town yet?” “No. Not yet.” she replied. “Well my husband is a dentist and we can provide ya’ll with free dental care.”

And so they have ever since that day.

God held my teacher’s hand through that trial. And that’s just one example. Talk to Christians who pray consistently – yes they are out there – things like this happen all the time.

Paul Washer is a scarily powerful speaker – one of the only preachers who reminds me of the power and boldness with which Paul of the Bible spoke. If you want to know about authentic Christianity don’t listen to Westboro Baptist Interviews. Read the Bible without preconceived notions and then listen to some Paul Washer sermons.

Anyway, I thought I would try to explain trials in the Christian life with just 3 Paul Washer quotes:

1. Because sanctification is progressive, you will spend the greater part of your life chasing other things. And those other things will leave you empty and that is the why of trials. ~Paul Washer

2. You mark my words, and it won’t be long … when persecution begins in this country [USA], and it strips everything from you, and most of the evangelical church goes totally apostate, and little groups are left to be berated, THEN you will see that Christ is enough.  ~Paul Washer

3. Some of the believers that have been most fruitful since the ascension of Jesus Christ were people who experienced extraordinary difficulties.   ~Paul Washer

Like a woodcrafter, God uses trials to shave away at our faults. With each new trial, an obtrusive piece of wood is shaved away, revealing a little bit more solid, beautiful design. Does that makes sense? Trials hack away at our old, sinful character traits and reveal new, beautiful character traits.

Now trials for unbelievers will 1) drive them to Christ or 2) drive them further away from Christ – their only hope – and thus further into despair (depression, suicide, alcoholism or selfishness).

Trials for true believers will 1) drive them to Christ. That is it. It may take them a few stumbles, but God never lets go of His children. Trials lead them to see that God is enough. Christians are not perfect. We doubt. We chase after other things. But then trials come and we depend on God and we realize that, were everything in my life gone tomorrow, I would still have everything because I have Christ.

That is a very quick overview of a complex topic, but I really don’t fancy overcomplicating matters. If you aren’t a Christian, I mean even if you have never heard of the Bible, then I would say read Ecclesiastes. I promise you that anyone would find this an interesting and worthwhile read. It’s only 12 chapters and you can read the whole thing online. Shouldn’t take you more than half an hour if you’re a fast reader. Then I would say listen to some Paul Washer sermons because he doesn’t sugarcoat the Gospel. He just lays it out there and you can take it or leave it.

You can take God or you can leave Him. It’s up to you.

The Hypocrisy of “Beauty and the Beast”

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La Belle et la Bête is the classic fairytale turned Disney princess movie that boasts a lasting moral lesson on the importance of inner beauty over outer beauty.  The Beast was once a handsome Prince until he refused to care for an old lady, who unfortunately turned out to be a fairy with the ability to turn him into a hideous beast.  This curse of ugliness could only be lifted if he could find someone to love him in spite of his outer unfortunate visage.  When the beast captures an old man, his beautiful and bookish daughter Belle comes along to rescue him.  After some time, Belle chooses to love the beast in spite of his abundance of fur and set of horns.  And they of course live happily ever after.

Now that that’s done, you will have to pardon me for looking past the surface of this innocent story to the real theme: outer beauty is more important than inner beauty.  Let’s begin with this snippet from the opening prologue (note: I have printed the full prologue for your enjoyment, but I will just be focusing on the highlighted part):

| e v e l i n  s p a g e | “Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a young prince lived in a shining castle.  Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind. But then, one winter’s night, an old beggar woman came to the castle and offered him a single rose in return for shelter from the bitter cold.  Repulsed by her haggard appearance, the prince sneered at the gift and  turned the old woman away, but she warned him not to be deceived by  appearances, for beauty is found within. And when he dismissed her again,  the old woman’s ugliness melted away to reveal a beautiful enchantress. The  prince tried to apologize, but it was too late, for she had seen that there was no love in his heart, and as punishment, she transformed him into a hideous beast, and placed a powerful spell on the castle, and all who lived there. Ashamed of his monstrous form, the beast concealed himself inside his castle, with a magic mirror as his only window to the outside world. The rose she had offered was truly an enchanted rose, which would bloom until his twenty-first year. If he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return by the  time the last petal fell, then the spell would be broken. If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast for all time. As the years passed, he fell into despair, and lost all hope, for who could ever learn to love a beast?”

This last highlighted part dealing with the fairy’s ultimatum to the Beast states that he “must learn to love another.”  This beast learned to “love” the first beautiful girl he saw.  She is literally so beautiful that her name means “beauty” in French, yet we say that he has learned the importance of inner beauty.  How does this follow logically?  He simply fell in love with the thing that he had always loved: beauty.  Nothing changed for him.  If, instead, Belle had been an ugly old pig of the fairy tale witch type then I would admit that the beast had indeed made a full heart transformation.  But, sadly, that is not the case.

Instead, Belle is the character who must look past outward appearances in order to fall in love with the Beast (though what she saw of inner beauty I cannot say).  Belle is beautiful both inside and out, and she is the one who successfully loves the ugly and unwanted, not the other way around.

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But before I step off my soapbox (is that someone throwing an orange peel at me?) I want to say that this small fracture in an otherwise beautiful tale reflects the way the world deals with beauty.  We say that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty, but is that true?  Or, like the popular theme of Beauty and the Beast, does it just seem that way? I’d like to use this blog to explore that question further.

For me, I would say yes, it’s just a nice saying to make people feel better.  Think about it.  What’s the first thing anyone asks when someone says they’re dating?  “Is he/she cute?”  “Can I see a picture on Facebook?”  Then, once we see a picture of them, if that person is less attractive than the other half, we say “He/She could do better.”  How do you know that?  How do you know that this less-attractive person isn’t extremely smart, interesting, nice, and funny?  Maybe this less-attractive person could do better.  You cannot judge someone by their unchangeable outward appearance.  And I’d like to use this blog to try to prove that to you.

Feel free to disagree with me in the comments.