📚 Story of the Week #37
Western media is pretty mischievous. You can see it in the UK, but it’s clearer in America. Ordinary looking people are brushed under the carpet, so centre stage can be given to those with a perfect sort of beauty. At its extreme, its the pursuit of perfect beauty that mothers media personalities with fake tans and glow in the dark teeth, a virtuous signal that they’ve achieved that can-navigate-back-from-a-day-at-the-beach-after-sunset look.
Plato’s at fault here. In his writing, the Greek philosopher shared a theory that would be obsessively baked into Western culture: Platonic ideals.
Plato believed in a higher dimension. That dimension was home to the perfect form of every conceivable idea, like the perfect chair – or rather, the Platonic ideal of a chair. But chairs come in so many shapes and sizes, how can there be a perfect chair? Plato says there can’t be a perfect chair made by human hands because each attempt reaches for the ideal but falls short. Those closer to the ideal are the better chairs. Those further away are spinal contortion devices.
But perfect beauty’s an exhausting standard, especially as it demands a lot of bubble-wrapping, and there’s nothing we want to bubblewrap more than a baby. We’re born, and we’re these flawless little creatures, and our parents try to bend the universe to keep us that way. However, like most babies, I had a hunger for life, and that’s how I ended up getting my first scar. Being a speedy crawler, I wanted to explore every corner of whatever room I found myself in. The lifelong souvenir from my travels was a carpet burn on my foot.
Did the scar spoil me, or speckle me with something special? I used to think the former, but now I think the latter.
My days of crawling marked the beginning of my curiosity for travel, which eventually took me to Japan to work a summer job. It was there that I learned about imperfect beauty. Wabi-sabi is the term in Japanese, a celebration of the simple, worn and asymmetric. It allows us, as people, to move from trying to be ornaments to being adventurers. It flips all the standards of perfect beauty on their head.
Now I can look at my dog-eared notebooks and dented laptop, and cherish them more than when they were brand new. They now hold in their scuffs and scratches a history of adventures intertwined with my own. Looking at it this way, you can make the passage of time a friend to beauty, rather than an enemy to claw back at.
And that’s the wonder of imperfect beauty. It turns the signs of age into the signs of wisdom; the wonky into the wonderful; the wear and tear from an object’s use into fulfillments of an unspoken destiny.