This article was originally published on Medium.
The other night I had the gift of listening to a friend perform a Schubert piano sonata to an audience of rapt listeners. For a moment, when the music quieted to a haunting adagio refrain, something about the beauty of the piece made me want to cry. I reflexively wanted to hit “replay”. Damn our on- demand culture. The expectation of being able to get what I wanted — now — momentarily roadblocked me from hearing the next part of the sonata.
But what was the beauty I wanted to return to? I’m in an arena where I’m engaged in discussions about beauty all day long. Mostly I hear “I’m too fat” which, in our culture, definitely means not beautiful.
Even my model thin (yes, stunningly beautiful) 24 year old patients feel fat. Several wonder why men don’t approach them when they dare to enter a bar. Why, they ask me, do they get lost in a crowd? Do they look fat? Are they really not that beautiful? (I can assure you, they are).
I’m an eating disorder specialist but i’m hardly the only one thinking about what beauty means. What made Schubert’s sonata beautiful? Art and music scholars question beauty endlessly. A group of researchers from McGill University discovered that music produces pleasure through enhanced emotional responses and the release of dopamine in the mesolimbic reward system. (http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v14/n2/full/nn.2726.html). The emotions induced by music are evoked, among other things, by temporal phenomena, such as expectations, delay, tension, resolution, prediction, surprise and anticipation. In other words, we can’t always get what we want — now — and that, actually, can be associated with beauty.
So what about model skinny twenty year olds who walk into a club and feel fat? What actually does “feeling fat” really mean and how can they feel beautiful?
Beauty has to do with emotions. If you are focusing on your thighs or stomach, likely you’re not feeling anything at all — and neither will anyone else who is looking at you.
What are your eyes saying? Your smile? the tilt of your head?
Victor Hugo put it well when he said “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent.” Can your stomach do that? Your “fat” arms? Do flat stomachs and skinny thighs evoke emotions?
Think about it.
I’d say no.
So the next time you walk into a bar or a club, play with beauty. If you were music, what would you sound like? Slow the pace, play with the tension, talk feelings with your eyes when you are speaking to someone. Find one thing about yourself that you think is beautiful — your hands, your walk, the glimmer in your eye. Let that lead you into the room. Play your inner sonata gently, quietly or with gusto.
If your eyes are talking, if there is music nuanced in your look, someone is bound to feel something. Maybe then those around you will hear beauty. Maybe then they too will want to hit “replay”.