The Sacredness of Imperfect Human Beauty & Bodily Patina
PHOTO: "Contemplation, or the Angel of Patina" by Carmen Zavislake
DEFINITION: pa·ti·na, pronounced pəˈtēnə (noun) is "a green or brown film on the surface of bronze or similar metals, produced by oxidation over a long period".
Time gives a lovely patina to castles, temples, standing stones, tombstones, copper, silver tarnishes, and as the mosses and lichens speckle the tree trunk, or stone, so too, the sun speckles the human face with wrinkles, laugh lines, and freckles aka the dreaded "age spots".
Yet, there is something comforting about old things like antiques, as comfortable as a well-worn soft leather boot, so we should be somewhat comforted in the patina of our own aging, or the joy of the imperfections that tme brings to our body, especially our face.
We become living fossils, of sorts, so we should cherish the fact that we ourselves are living relics of ourselves, we are a visual record of our accumulated experiences, including our wounds, scars, birthmarks, visible or invisible, from missing limbs and fingers, to blindness, everyone has some tiny impediment or imperfection, especially as the years go by. It is not something to be feared but relished and experienced as a privelidge and pleasure to behold, life is a gift and growing older and wiser, more at peace with yourself is the silver lining!
PHOTO: The beautiful face of Jane Goodall, photographed by Philip Phorak, from his web site.
Celebrate being a wee bit tattered,
Take a dash of the dishevelled,
Quench your thirst for the quirky,
And embrace the enigmatic you.
We are born scarless and flawless
But, you have not lived until you are
Truly baptised in blood and show the pangs,
Marks, scars as badges of honor in that flaw,
Beautifully tarnished with golden bodily patina.
My own flaws are the reason I started this blog...here it is, my deep dark secret that for 20 years I hid from the outside world. I have melasma (hyperpigmentation) that I developed as a result of being on medications such that made my skin vulnerable to photodamage of the sun, despite wearing suncreen. After having tried every cream, laser and topical solution, even putting lemon juice, straight Oregano Oil on my forehead which peeled it all off, but when the raw meat grew back, so was the melasma.
There comes a point when the exhaustion of hiding the flaws, like plastering my face with heavy make-up before leaving the house, even to go to the grocery store, becomes a seemingly silly exercise. I have scars from having Chickenpox, and acne, on top of having the melasma. Luckily, as I gained a wee bit of wisdom with my age, instead of wanting to shatter the mirror before me, I wink at my own visage and say to myself..."You're alright!" For those of you who know me, and how hard I have been on myself, know this is a big step toward and daily practice of inner peace. Compared to what I used to say to myself and my reflection, that is massive progress. There was a time I was so self-destructive, so drowning in self-loathing, and utterly despised myself, that I scratched my face with my own fingernails in frustration, as a frequent daily ritual.
Thankfully, over time and therapy, learning and practice of mindfulness, nurturing and forgiving - including letting go of guilt - the time arrives where I have let go of most of the self-loathing I once had, and began speaking and nurturing myself the same way I would my friends and family. Replacing the harsh critic and imperfection banter with a more kind and gentle inner dialogue towards truly loving myself. I am not totally there, nor without days where I don't want to look in the mirror, but at least I can smile at my own reflection now, instead of wanting to break the mirror. Mother Nature is creeping in the silver hair, and I become less and less frantic about covering that up, and hopefully I can embrace that change too, but one thing at a time...
PHOTOS: Me with a totally naked face, showing my hyperpigmentation on my face, known as Melasma. No filter, no make-up whatsoever, no altering of the photo afterwards.
"May we find such peace with our past so that we can celebrate our scars and realise the treasures within them."
For most of us, let's face it, we are conditioned to and respond to the perfect ideal of beauty that is equated to perfection. Beneath the Photoshop magically unreal stills and the altered ideals projected on the movie screen, and in television, in newsprint and magazines, even celebrities have scars beneath their make-up. And youthful images abound, and of those who try to recapture their lost youth wind up looking more and more frightful instead.
Sadly, the struggle ensues that we can never live up to those ridiculous illusions and beat ourselves up because of that failure, we spend most of our lives fighting the phantoms of our perfect selves instead of embracing our sacred humanity, which is warts, flaws, scars and all. To me, the more ancient, lived-in, and well-loved something looks the more comforting and comfortable it seems to me.
From Tina Fey, Cameron Diaz, to Nicolas Cage, singer Seal, Ray Liotta, Edward James Olmos, Danny Trejo...and many others. Hey, I think scars can be sexy!!! For me, seeing a visible flaw is like a badge to a unique club called humanity, we can recognize each other unmasked, or even represents the key to nirvana.
PHOTO: In character as Indiana Jones, still visible is Harrison Ford's chin scar.
PHOTO: Tommy Flanagan.
Shine from within and your soul
Will warm others, like a thousand suns.
Love unhindered, untethered,
With an open, kind, and tender heart:
Then, love will manifest outwardly,
Like a comforting angelic embrace...
In Buddhism, the "Discourse of the Suppabuddha" gives an analogy of the Lepur as representing the outcast, the seperateness from the normal spere, the exiled from perfection, is Wide Awake and has gained wisdom, insight, and mindfulness, the only person in the crowd who can truly understand Dhamma according to the Gracious One. Because the leper Suppabuddha had a ready, trusting, unhindered, uplifted, malleable mind becomes one of the Awakened Ones through "suffering, origination, cessation, path" and once he dies, he transcends the earthly body and claiming his fortunate destiny in Heaven, where he surely "outshines the other devas with beauty and repute" (Ancient Buddhist Texts 5-3: 43).
In Japanese culture, there is a lovely term called Kintsugi: meaning "to repair the broken pieces with gold" so rather than throwing out something that has been broken, it is just as (if not more) beautiful for the very flaws that it possesses. The perfect symbolism for human existence, showing cracks, highlighting them with precious metals so that the scars and damage are precious.
Reverence for the rough-hewn is not a new concept by any means, the idea of it existed long before the concept arose in Wabi-Sabi, as far back as cave art has been created, wobbly spirals carved into passage tombs may not be a perfect circle, or ripple but it represents the heart and soul of the believers, artist, and celebrants of ritual art. Wabi-Sabi is a celebration of "things imperfects, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional" (Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers by Leonard Koren).
One of my favorite literary characters of all time is Jane Eyre. For many reasons, including the multiple layers to the story itself and the sad tragic life that befell the author and the whole Bronte family. Jane Eyre embodies the unusual, the uncanny, the impish charm, vulnerability, honesty, coy comliness, homeliness, and sincerity that makes her appealing, enchanting, and in the end, his soul mate. The Master of Thornfield Hall, Mister Rochester is bewildered and bewitched by Jane: “What creature was it, that, masked in an ordinary woman’s face and shape, uttered the voice, now of a mocking demon, and anon of a carrion-seeking bird of prey?” (2.5.54) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
Jane Eyre, whose Otherworldly pixie appearance bewitches Rochester and even spooked his horse causing him injury. Rochester speaks:
"No wonder you have rather the look of another world. I marvelled where you had got that sort of face. When you came upon me in Hay Lane last night, I thought unaccountably of fairy tales, and had half a mind to demand whether you had bewitched my horse: I am not sure yet. Who are your parents?"
"I have none."
"Nor ever had, I suppose: do you remember them?"
"I thought not. And so you were waiting for your people when you sat on that stile?
"For whom, sir?"
"For the men in green: it was a proper moonlight evening for them. Did I break through one of your rings, that you spread that damned ice on the causeway?"
I shook my head.
"The men in green all forsook England a hundred years ago," said I, speaking as seriously as he had done.
"And not even in Hay Lane or the fields about it could you find a trace of them. I don’t think either summer or harvest, or winter moon, will ever shine on their revels more." (1.13.40-47)
PHOTO: European Grotesque that reminds me of what Edward Rochester should look like, from the Skeptic Friend website.
Even Edward Rochester is described more like a “grim” gargoyle or having more of a visage of a grotesque, rather than a dashingly handsome man, his inky black hair hearkening back to, his dog Pilot also likened to a Gytrash (a spirit that haunts the woods), and his master a brooding ghoul:
“his broad and jetty eyebrows; his square forehead, made squarer by the horizontal sweep of his black hair. I recognized his decisive nose, more remarkable for character than beauty; his full nostrils, denoting, I thought choler; his grim mouth, chin and jaw--yes, all three were very grim, and no mistake. His shape, now divested of cloak, I perceived harmonized in squareness with his physiognomy: I suppose it was a good fogure in the athletic sense of the term-- broad chested and thin flanked, though neither tall nor graceful.”
We are all wounded, like Prometheus. From Prometheus Bound he the Titan, Prometheus, angers Zeus and is shackled in adamantine chains because he ”in secret stole your pride and joy and handed it to men-- the sacred fore which fosters all the arts.” We are all scarred, like Captain Ahab, as found in this chilling, striking and powerful description from Moby Dick, Chapter 28: Ahab:
“Captain Ahab stood upon his quarter-deck...There seemed no sign of common bodily illness about him, nor of the recovery from any. He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness. His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mould, like Cellini’s cast Perseus. Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish. It resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top to bottom ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive, but branded. Whether that mark was born with him, or whether it was the scar left by some desperate wound, no one could certainly say.”
IMAGE: Woodcut illustration of Redcrosse Knight.
Just as the Redcrosse Knight in The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, wears battle-scarred armour, it is not his armour and he himself has never fought a battle nor obtained his own scars. It is his quest...to have the slings and arrows of life thrown at him:
A GENTLE Knight was pricking on the plaine,
Ycladd in mightie armes and silver shielde,
Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remaine,
The cruel markes of many'a bloudy fielde;
Similarly to Hamlet, life may be painful but in that joy there are moments of happiness, joy, pleasure, so we must above all ENDURE "the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to." Shakespeare's Hamlet
PHOTO: "Ornate Battle-Battered Breast Plate" courtesy of Ugo Serrano, an incredible armourer, designer and artist: www.ugoserrano.com.
PHOTO: "Gauntlet, Sword, Sheath & Armour" used with permission, courtesy of Ugo Serrano.
We are all disfigured, like Quasimodo, we are all scarred like Captain Ahab, or Prometheus. We are all oddballs, cast-outs, and outsiders, like Jane Eyre and Prue Sarn from Precious Bane. Beauty being equated with perfection, and accordingly youth, has long been the norm, but although it may be an evolutionary habit, there are those who swim against the tide of normal ideals of beauty, and flaunt their flaws.
We have all been taught to just "suck it up, Buttercup", but better than that, hold your head high, chin up and strut your flawed-self proudly. Instead of a demonizing un-beauty as somehow inherently evil, dangerous, unnatural, we shall create a new green, true, earthy self. We shall welcome and embrace our naturalness instead and unearth all your glory, as the most desirable kind of inner prettiness that exits because it is real, true, sincere, unobstructed, unhindered, unguarded. Therefore, that utterly makes it the most lovely thing in the world. So, my lovelies - strut your bodily patina and your spirit will shine brighter!!!
By Carmen Zavislake