I have a very beautiful friend. She has it all: small frame; slim, shapely body; fabulous poise and posture; long, straight, jet black hair; smooth skin; good teeth; an open, friendly smile; brown eyes you could drown in. She is married with a kid and a part time job, she and her handsome husband own their own home. She also suffers from severe depression.
People ask her all the time, ‘How can you be depressed when you look so gorgeous, when you have so much?’ Society appears to equate beauty to happiness, with a lack of understanding that more may be required. On the other side of the same coin, when a person has an obvious disfigurement it is assumed that they deserve to be pitied.
When I read of a person suffering facial burn wounds commentators will look on the outcome differently depending on gender and age. If it happens to a young girl it is considered a tragedy that she has ‘lost her looks’. There is little discussion about the potential infections or future pain that a serious burn wound can cause. The discussion centres around the potential for cosmetic surgery, how she will feel when she looks in a mirror, how society will treat her.
None of this is new of course. We notice beauty and are initially drawn to a person based on outward perception, although this view is quickly coloured by actions and conversation. Still though, health appears to be undervalued except by those whose quality of life is adversely affected by a condition. When the illness is unseen there is a tendency to assume that the sufferer could get over it if they really tried.
In recent years there has been more open discussion about mental illness, yet still it is assumed that the young and beautiful have no cause, no right to feel down. Outsiders, sometimes even supposed friends, will look at a person and judge if they have an acceptable reason to feel the way they do. Years of suffering and self hatred are swept aside as well meaning passers by suggest losing weight, getting out more, a change in attitude as a cure. Become a different person and all will be well, just do it.
When the sufferer already looks perfect there is incomprehension that they could want more than they already have, as if beauty were the pinnacle of achievement. Could this be why, as an older woman, I hear certain peers talking with concern about losing their looks?
There are many older people who look fabulous, but even highlighting this is to give credence to the idea that beauty is so important. At what cost has this look been achieved, how does the person feel, what else have they achieved? When we read of mental health issues amongst the rich and famous does it help us to empathise if we can see something about them that we consider could be improved?
Nobody chooses to suffer a mental illness, and there is no treatment that can yet cure it. The best that can be hoped for is a strategy for management, improvement to allow for survival.
There is no doubt that achieving a healthy weight can improve physical health and thereby quality of life. An attractive haircut or a flattering outfit can give a temporary lift. What an ill person needs though is not a demand to change, but support and acceptance for where they are now, however they happen to look. Well people would benefit from that too.