Join Date: July 2005
Defend what you love
Perhaps the one, single characteristic that unites the many diverse proponents of size celebration--whatever their gender, age, or class--is their common love of full-figured feminine beauty.
And sooner or later, in all of our lives, there comes a point when we are confronted by the appalling spectacle of seeing the things that we hold most dear--the things that we love--attacked, defamed, and slandered.
How we respond in such moments defines us as human beings. And our bravery (or our cowardice) in such circumstances will ultimately determine the fate of the aesthetic that we hold dear--and of the goddesses who embody that aesthetic.* * *
Have you ever wondered how the Classical ideal of Beauty endured the many social upheavals and political revolutions that regularly threatened European culture, before its final overthrow during the twin apocalypses of the World Wars? How did the Beauty Ideal survive the Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years' War, and even the French Revolution--the most terrifying social and cultural cataclysms prior to the last century?
In no small part, Beauty lived on because of the spirit of chivalry that prevailed in Western culture throughout its history--a spirit that prompted the great men of every age to rush to Beauty's defense.
Consider the case of the French Revolution. In his searching book Reflections on the Revolution in France, the great English writer Edmund Burke provides an impassioned account of the last time that he saw the lovely and tragic Marie Antoinette (who, along with her husband, lost their lives to the guillotine of the Revolution--along with tens of thousands of French nobles).
Burke's words are a reproach to anyone who has ever witnessed Beauty defamed in his presence, and has failed to act in its defense:
It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in,--glittering like the morning-star, full of life and splendor and joy.
Oh! what a revolution! and what an heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom! little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers!
I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.
Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom! The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness! (1790)
But of course, the "age of chivalry" was not gone, in Burke's day. So long as writers such as he were moved to express such noble sentiments, and defend Beauty from its detractors, it lived on.* * *
Burke's passionate words should chastize anyone who has ever witnessed Beauty (true Beauty, timeless Beauty) slighted in his presence--with a look, with an insult, or with an ignorant opinion--and done nothing to defend it.
If we had more individuals of Burke's convictions--and the courage to act on them--in our society, plus-size beauty would no longer be at the mercy of its resentment-driven detractors, but would be safely restored as our cultural ideal, "decorating and cheering the elevated sphere" in which we live.
But perhaps some female visitors to this site will read these words, and will be prompted to reflect, "Those sentiments are all very gallant--but how do they apply to me?"
They apply in exactly the same manner, for a noble heart that is free from vulgar envy will always rush to the defence of true Beauty.
Another literary classic that was created as a latter-day answer to the horrors of the French Revolution was Charles Dickens' immortal novel, A Tale of Two Cities. And let no one claim otherwise--this is one of the true masterpieces of world literature, a narrative so powerful that it transcends the genre of mere prose, and approaches the level of myth.
In this novel, two characters put their lives on the line in defence of Lucie Manette--the novel's embodiment of the ideal of Beauty. (And although Lucie, unlike many Dickens heroines, is not full-figured, the principle still applies.)
Along with Sydney Carton's famous sacrifice at the conclusion of the novel, Lucie's life is saved by the truly heroic actions of her long-time companion and surrogate mother, Miss Pross. Elderly and physically frail though she may be, Pross engages in a physical struggle to the death with the vengeful Madame Defarge, to protect her beloved Lucie.
As Dickens so movingly describes this noble character:
Mr. Lorry knew Miss Pross to be . . . one of those unselfish creatures--found only among women--who will, for pure love and admiration, bind themselves willing slaves, to youth when they have lost it, to beauty that they never had, to accomplishments that they were never fortunate enough to gain, to bright hopes that never shone upon their own sombre lives. He knew enough of the world to know that there is nothing in it better than the faithful service of the heart; so rendered and so free from any mercenary taint, he had such an exalted respect for it, that in the retributive arrangements made by his own mind--we all make such arrangements, more or less--he stationed Miss Pross much nearer to the lower Angels than many ladies immeasurably better got up both by Nature and Art, who had balances at Tellson's. (1859)* * *
They say that there are no longer any causes worth fighting for. Well--here you have one.
Defend what you love.
Defend Timeless Beauty in a world that resents it so much, and assails it at every turn.
In a world that has abandoned most of its ideals, this ideal remains--desperately in need of protection.
And whether the Timeless Ideal will, in fact, be revived in our time, or whether it will continue to be suppressed by the world of resentment that we have inherited, depends entirely on whether its present-day defenders can live up to the chivalric code that rescued the Old World from countless assaults in centuries gone by.
Barbara Brickner (at Lands' End, Fall 2005)--the Ideal of Beauty that bequeathed to us a library of literary greatness.
(You may click on the image to view it at a larger size.)