What if beauty is a distraction? A smokescreen? "A quietly mad population is a tractable one."
What if beauty is—and this I think seems truer—a real thing and a relevant one, but a central thing only because of the issues to which it is adjacent? Angela Davis's afro. (Where is the line beyond which functional irrelevance?)
Like this: some ESPN anchor is on television talking about that basketball player that came out. He disapproves of his lifestyle; it is an affront to God. He says he also disapproves of the lifestyles of the guys who run around on their wives, the guys who fornicate (unmarried!). But that disapproval is a lightweight thing, the latter kind. It doesn't change the lives of the men subject to it. It doesn't threaten their standing.
Or in the marriage plots of yore (your Eliots, your Austens, your Dickenses), you are reckoning marriageability, and you know beauty is an asset, and you know who has it and who doesn't, and yet the people who don't manage to go on existing without too many histrionics. Get married, perhaps mostly to clergymen (unless very rich). Beauty on par with speaking French or playing the harpsichord or coming from an unentailed estate. A thing in the portfolio. Though not unaffected, nobody wrecks her life on the rocky shores of lack of beauty, it would seem, not even those radically defaced (Esther, Bleak House) (who is the very plain but very good one in Middlemarch? She wins out, no?).
Except Lucy Snowe. What first freights this is hope? That the orphaned plain Jane, the original one, Eyre, wins out too, wins big? (Did we know that "The Sound of Music" was a remake of Jane Eyre? It totally is, right?) This is what makes it dangerous. If you can hope above your station. (How does this fit in with liberal political thought? Mill, Locke? The rise of the idea if not the reality of meritocracy?) Lucy Snowe. And this is why (one reason why) Villette feels so contemporary. Lucy Snowe's whole life is sacrifice to her injustices. There is a whole argument here that would spoil the plot of Villette, one of the best five novels ever written, I think, so I won't make it.
Okay, the Villette thing, a distraction. But what if beauty only matters as much as it matters, as much as it matters to me and to other fat people suffering or defying on the internet and in their regular lives, when it is prioritized? Are we in a moment of its prioritization? Why? How do we know? Because sometimes I just want to admit that I do not find someone beautiful but I love them nonetheless. Sometimes I want to be able to say, "there are things about me that are not beautiful; I do not care." (This latter is an aspiration of affect, not an admission.) (Read that Lauren Berlant book? Ugly Feelings, I think?) The absolute imperative of beauty. (This is true of women, perhaps only, perhaps only primarily.) Beauty as a prerequisite for everything. Bitchy Jones's Diary & the post about the male gaze/male submission/the link to that slightly shitty article about how women can want to be poets but they know they want to be beautiful poets.
What are the levers that insert themselves into our subjectivity? Into our standing? In Florida, two parents have been told that a grown man had the right to be afraid of their child, had the right to kill him because of that fear.