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The Beauty War: Why Men Fight

June 2, 2010

OK so it doesn’t sound like the kind of book that should appear on a blog about realizing your beauty but life can be funny like that. It was while having a conversation about all things confronting, painful and challenging that I decided to investigate why we feel compelled to ‘suffer’ for our beauty.  Again, it could be argued that these insights could have been gained more logically from one of the big feminist classics such as the Female Eunuch or The Beauty Myth but somehow that didn’t seem enough. I decided to channel my old friend Bertrand…..

Why Men Fight, Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell wrote this book as a series of lectures that were delivered in London  during the First World War.  Russell, a pacifist  and respected thinker was deeply troubled by the vigor and enthusiasm shown by usually peaceful human beings towards the war and this lead to a conclusion that it is impulse rather than conscious purpose which moulds men’s lives.  We could sum that up by saying that if our bodies were a gun it would be impulse that pulls the trigger.  That notion lead me to a thought – Is it an unconscious (or not fully realized) fight that we are engaged in when it comes to our beauty?  Let’s leave that on ice for a moment…

IMPULSE: Whim, Desire, Urge, Itch, Bent, Wish, Fancy, Inclination.

Could it be that people just go to war on a whim?  I must say that I have BIG trouble with this one but maybe I will find some common ground in the ordinary, everyday stuff.

Impulse –

  • It was an impulse buy. 
  • We went on holiday on a whim.
  • I just fancied a double chocolate cheesecake with extra dollops.
  • I feel inclined to ignore that.
  • If you have an itch you have to scratch it.

The itch one is interesting as we all know that there is nothing more immediately satisfying than scratching an itch. On the other hand there is nothing more irksome and distracting than having an itch in a hard-to-reach  or socially unacceptable place when you are in the middle of a public event. Every  nerve in our body is telling us to scratch but when we do it can end in tears – ask anyone who has ever suffered from eczema or psoriasis! You can itch your skin right off and it will still itch until it hurts and then it will itch again when it starts to heal. That is the nature of itches.

Do any of these impulsive things make us feel good in the long run?  Having that cake fills a hole for a short time but that ‘damn the diet’ attitude will not be with you when you go and try on your jeans and they don’t fit.   The impulse gold sparkly leggings and matching boots felt so good in the shop but  when you have no money left for groceries and your kids think you look like Barbie’s grandma you end up wishing that you could turn back time!

So, I have a real problem with the argument that we as humans act on impulse most of the time.  I mean, I have from time to time had the impulse to run around the swimming pool changing rooms naked but I don’t because I know that one could slip and hurt myself on the slippery floor – thankfully walking naked does nothing for me so I keep my clothes on much to the delight of the other patrons.

Anyway back to it.  Impulse may well be the name of a delightful range of body sprays and it is also the likely master of our silliest actions BUT I think the world is doomed if we are going to go to war on the back of it – even if it is a war against ageing!

However, Bertrand Russell also says this:

“Unfounded beliefs are the homage  which impulse pays to reason”

 I find this statement  interesting as it seems to make a lot of sense with regard to the above beauty fuelled behaviour. Let’s say that we see ourself as an unimportant individual who nobody will like unless we look good.  That belief serves (homage) our reasoning via impulsive actions.  An example:

One day we take our useless selves for a  walk around the shops. We are  feeling a bit daggy and useless until we see a sign that says ‘teeth whitening ONLY $200.   Our lowly state of mind provides the perfect breeding ground for an impulsive action and we find ourself seated at the whitening chair. We go through with the procedure in a daze and justify it by saying that our teeth were terrible anyway and we now feel so much more happy and confident.  Two hours later you realize that $200 was to pay for the phone bill that is now getting cut off meaning that you have great teeth but can’t tell anyone about it!  That’s impulse for you – a bleeding scar and yes, we have all been there.

So maybe Russell got it right and we do act out of impulse more often than not. But these are small things, not wars and it is for that reason that I prefer to think about intuition as a driver of our actions.

Intuition: instinct, Perception, Insight, Sixth Sense.

As much as it would be lovely to see nothing but love and perfection everywhere and to never have to worry about war, famine and poverty we do – at least for now.  Same goes for our beauty – we may like to think that we won’t mind ageing, we will embrace our wrinkles and hairy chins and will celebrate our differences but that is not always easy.  Surviving cancer in your thirties must be  an amazing feeling.  Life would  taste sweeter and the earths colours would look  brighter than ever as you pledge never to take a day for granted again. Life would feel so good but even though you are now a fit thirty something year old the treatment has left your skin prematurely aged and wrinkled. You just want to look your age and free yourself from the ghost of sickness past.  It is about balance.

 Intuition can only be intuitive if it comes from your true self. If it looks and feels like intuition but it leads you off onto a dangerous path then it may well be that old chestnut impulse wearing an intuition coloured wig  that is driving your car.  The reason that we get these two opposites confused so often is that they look, feel and smell the same if you don’t know who YOU are.  That sounds silly but how often do we sit down and strip ourselves of our ‘tags’ in life such as wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, employee, boss and find out what is really there. If this all sounds far too heavy I found  “EAT, PRAY, LOVE” by Elisabeth Gilbert really great as it gives an entertaining and very down-to-earth look at how one woman re-connected with herself after a failed marriage. 

So the big questions are:

  • Can intuition help me find my beauty?


  •  Will intuition stop war?

Well, I think that on balance one stands more chance in becoming comfortable with ones own beauty through paying attention to their intuition (or gut feeling) than by following an impulse  but as I have mentioned recognising the difference is key. When it comes to the big question of war (and the book does go on in more detail about this) I would have to say that the same rational would hold up.  The tipping point to war can be reached from a number of positions but the motive is usually to fix an unjust situation.  However, in reality ‘fixing up’ the unjust situation can mean a number of things including taking more than you need, kicking people out that you don’t like, restoring balance and equity or putting people back into their place (and many more besides).  Being conscious throughout the conception of war and it’s outcomes are pertinent to its success in bringing about balance.

In summing up and I do tend to agree in the most part with Russell’s conclusion. He talks about the fact that our actions are affected by both instinct and circumstance meaning that the environment that we find ourselves in plays an important role in how our instincts manifest.  Russell talks about the need for developing more time and space for creativity and beauty, more ‘me-time’, more  time to help others and more opportunity for the joy of life.  I could not agree more!

So, while I may disagree slightly with Russell on why men fight I fully support the need to place more value on the development of our ‘full’ self through creativity and space.  It seems fair to say that impulse is purely an action of the unrealized self and as such it can be as damaging as a war-time bomb.  Let’s Realize Beauty together by calling a cease-fire on fear today.


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