Which is More Important: Appearing Beautiful or Seeing Beautifully? Aesthetic Realism Seminar by Devorah Tarrow
I love Aesthetic Realism for asking the question of our seminar. It is more important, I learned—the most important thing for our lives—to see beautifully. Aesthetic Realism explains for the first time the one way a woman will like herself is to want to see accurately and justly the meaning that things and people have. If we use our looks to have a big effect on people—including men—but not to see them as deeply as they deserve, to be kind, we cannot like ourselves no matter how good an appearance we put on, or how much adoration we get.
In this paper, I talk about what I've learned and what women are learning in Aesthetic Realism consultations. I’ll also talk about some aspects of the life of the screen actress Hedy Lamarr. Miss Lamarr wrote in her 1966 autobiography, Ecstasy and Me, this sentence: "My face has been my misfortune. It has...brought me tragedy and heartache for five decades. My face is a mask I cannot remove: I must always live with it. I curse it." What made her say this? The answer can be useful to every woman. Mr. Siegel explained in his essay "The Everlasting Dilemma of a Girl":
“Doris is vexed. When she seems to be affecting gentlemen, when there is admiration in their eyes, the victory is not entire. Because Doris has come to ask..., "Is it I that is doing these things, or perhaps just someone standing for me?"...A girl...has found it most difficult to be effective as a beautiful feminine being and yet, honestly, to go after being thought of beautifully. First, she had to see her own intention as beautiful. That wasn't easy.”
How important it is to have an intention that is beautiful —and what that intention has to be—Aesthetic Realism makes clear. Our purpose is not to "knock 'em dead"; the purpose we were born for is to know and like the world.
1. What Are the Two Contenders?
At ages 11, 12, 13, I would spend hours wishing I had the eyelashes of my girlfriend Suzy Sutton, the golden curls of Sally Bernstein, the cheekbones of Jackie Marzani. Meanwhile, I also thought my particular combination of looks and smarts could do a lot. At 12, I gave this comprehensive view of my exterior: "I have full lips, a pug nose, hair streaked blonde by the sun;" and ended with self-satisfaction, "I am popular." I was after victories through how I looked: I thought I could charm my way through anything, and as time went on, that I could have a big effect on men through my body. When I was 16, my boyfriend Doug who was a senior, went away to college, and soon stopped writing. I wasn't interested in knowing why—I plotted ways to get him back, like going out with other men, hoping he would find out and get jealous. In a journal entry, I described with high drama and conceit what occurred:
“It was a scene that would have done credit to Darrell F. Zanuck. Shelly had taken me out. I really did look pretty good—hair long, black dress, no jewelry except for a gold drop—when bang! Doug walks in big as life. We just looked into each other's eyes. I had thought to myself while I was dressing that if this were to be the night [we finally met] it would be perfect, and it was. Now everything's fine.”
But it wasn't fine and I wrote later:
“Something's gone. I don't know why or how, but it's both of us—his manner and my fickleness.”
Instead of my big moment, all I felt was a sickening letdown, and that I had to do with it. What Doug's objection to me was, what he felt or hoped for, the fact that, as I think of it now, he was one of the saddest people I knew—I could have cared less about.
As time went on, even as I took courses in college and had a respect for my mind and thought, what I went after with men, including through sex, looked worse and worse to me. Periodically, I would abjure what I saw as bourgeois dependence on outward attractiveness —cut my hair short, wear grungy jeans and baggy shirts—but still nothing changed. I felt I faked about how much I knew in order to make a big impression, and I came to have the feeling I was a fraud.
Then in 1968, I met Aesthetic Realism, and I knew I had met honesty. And I felt my deepest self was honored and respected when Eli Siegel asked me in an Aesthetic Realism class:
ES. "Do you feel you have the sex and intelligence problem? It tears women apart. There's not a woman here who doesn't do big things with it.
"There are two ways of getting a man's affection: 1. The way one sees or can see more fairly; and 2. to change sexual phenomenon into affection, thinking, 'I don't have to see you in a certain way.' Women think, 'How much of a big feeling I can cause in you with as little expenditure as possible on my own part!'"
"What is more important, to be admired, or to love truly? There is usually a fight between them. Do you know which is running you?"
I said I didn't and Mr. Siegel continued:
"The deepest desire in a human being is to be just, ethically just and accurate. Success in life is to know what one is and to believe it."
I love Mr. Siegel for teaching me this. I was no longer driven to use appearance and knowledge to look better than I was. I don't feel like a fraud anymore. I have a deep and happy marriage to Jeffrey Carduner, who is an Aesthetic Realism consultant and we are learning together what it means to see beautifully—other people, history, economics, art, the world itself.
2. Which would come first—her seeing or her looks?
Wrote Eli Siegel in "The Everlasting Dilemma of a Girl":
“Girls have always found it hard to know what they should be liked for. Of course, they have wanted to be liked for how they looked; but suppose they couldn't feel that how they looked was the same as what they really were? Then there was something missing; and there were incompleteness and pain.”
This describes Hedy Lamarr, born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria, November 1913. She has been seen as one of the most beautiful women in the world having what Mr. Siegel describes in his essay as: “a pretty profound smile, mysterious at the corners of her lips, while still radiant.” This was the woman who said in a 1974 interview, after years of psychiatry, "I don't know what actresses think of themselves. I'm sure we have complexes—that's what Hollywood does to you. You don't know who you are anymore." "In order to appreciate a compliment, or any kind of...praise," Mr. Siegel writes, "we have to feel that, one, it is of ourselves; two, that we deserve it." Hedy Lamarr, I believe, often felt she did not deserve it.
The daughter of a banker, Hedy wrote: "I was an only child and everybody called me ‘Princess Hedy,’" she wrote. She had the debate which begins early in every self, which Eli Siegel described with great compassion in Self and World:
“Shall I...see the world as magnificently and as delicately as possible; or shall I see the world as the material for victories for just me?”
No matter how we look, I’ve learned our happiness will depend on whether we see the world as something we should respectfully know or as something we should conquer.
At 14 Hedy so intensely wanted to act, she would play hooky to be a script girl, finally getting her parents to enroll her in Max Reinhardt's famous acting school in Berlin. Mr. Siegel said: “All seeing is an extension of self, a change of self for the purpose of establishing the self. You might say that acting is continued seeing, overt seeing, because you show the result of what you saw—you become it.”
Meanwhile, as I see it, in her acting the thing she depended on most was her appearance. As I have studied her in many films, that reliance interfered, throughout her career, with her seeing and becoming characters deeply or sincerely, causing her to feel, I believe essentially unsuccessful as an actress.
I wish Miss Lamarr could have heard questions like ones The Three Persons asked Kim Stein, a writer who prides herself on her good mind and her attention to physical fitness: "Do you know how to see your body?," "No," she said with a look of tremendous relief. "Do you think most women are very much for their bodies and also very much against them?" "Yes!" she said. "Do you know what to value in yourself, what is the relation of the value of your body to that of your mind?" “No,” she said to this: "I thank you for asking these questions."
3. She makes a choice on the side of seeing people justly.
At 18 as she was learning to act, Miss Lamarr married an international munitions dealer, Fritz Mandl, who, though Jewish, was helping to arm fascist Italy to invade Ethiopia. At first she wasn't so interested in her husband's ethics, rather in his showering her with presents and jewels. But she also wrote, "From the moment I married him, I realized that Mandl was obsessed with ownership. He had collected me exactly like a business prize." She doesn't say that she collaborated with his way of seeing her. However, she also writes about something she began to see:
"In 1937, our home was a focal point....Hitler was on the move. It was surprising to me that so much of the world was unaware: from my perspective, it was not difficult to see the coming destruction....I had to get out."
When an English colonel came to visit and he was openly critical of the Nazis, she says she "sensed a fellow-conspirator." I believe also that she was furious with Fritz Mandl because she had used him to fortify the ugliest thing in herself—her desire to be above the world; and, hating him and herself for the fact that she had collaborated with him, she wanted to get away. And she did—to Paris, where she obtained a divorce in 1937.
One of the steepest things showing the mix-up in a woman between how she looks and how she sees—and I was amazed to read this—is this: during World War II, Hedy Lamarr invented and patented, with the assistance of composer George Antheil, an anti-jamming communications device which helped the Allies win the war. But nowhere except in one book—on inventions by women—is anything said, including by her, about this tremendous contribution, which took careful, exact thought. The woman who had this kind of deep, exact thought about how to have justice come to people, was miles away from the woman who went after affecting people with her body. For instance, during the war she made the movie "White Cargo" in which she played the native seductress Tondelayo.
Women in Aesthetic Realism consultations have heard questions like these which we asked Kim Stein:
Consultants. Which is more important to you, your mind or how you look?
KS. I think I'm not sure.
Cons. A girl can think when she fixes her hair, she's a different person from when she thinks through a problem. What is the difference?
KS. I don't know—you seem to concentrate on yourself.
Cons. She's out to conquer the world in one, and in the other she's out to honor the world and have a good effect through her thought. We're obviously not against looking good, and you have gotten praise for both. But which means more to you?
KS. Which means more to me really? —how I use my mind.
Hedy Lamarr never was asked these questions, and she was confused, bitter, and suffered greatly.
4. The Pain with Men because We Don't Want to See
In London in 1937, Hedy Mandl met Louis B. Mayer, of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and her career was launched. He changed her name to Hedy Lamarr. After she made the movie "Algiers" and her second picture, "Boom Town": she says "I was studying harder than ever....Although I had been taken seriously at last as an actress, I wanted to be a fine actress." She did get somewhat deeper as an actress—including in 1947, producing her own movie, "Dishonored Lady." It was what is known as a "psychiatric film," and Mr. Siegel said of these movies: "It is interesting to see how goodness and badness keep on being goodness and badness through all kinds of additions." I think Hedy Lamarr was very interested in this subject and a theme of this movie is how a woman goes from managing the world as a contemptuous magazine editor, to wanting to become an artist and find love.
Hedy Lamarr was to marry six times. "Each one of my husbands thought they were marrying Hedy Lamarr the movie star," she said, “But I don't think good looks means anything after the two persons are married. What it does take to make a good marriage, I never quite found out.” She needed to know what Eli Siegel wrote in "The Everlasting Dilemma":
“Both men and women have been at fault….There has not been a sufficient desire to see each other completely. We have chosen to see another person in a way that suits ourselves.”
In the following catalogue Miss Lamarr gives of her husbands, you don't feel she is interested at all in seeing what the men were hoping for, what each man felt to himself. She wrote:
“Mr. Mandl married me to have a hostess he could be proud of. Gene Markey married me for someone to bounce his cynicisms off. John Loder just wanted a comfortable home with no untoward excitement. Howard Lee was looking for a drinking and fun companion. Teddy Stauffer wanted a lovely façade to help business. Lew Boies wanted to cut loose his family ties.”
This was a contemptuous way of seeing men, coming from a way of seeing people, that had to make Hedy despise herself. As time went on, it became harder for her to find work, and there was money trouble. She was twice accused of shoplifting, though both times she was acquitted. The knowledge she needed about herself and the world women are learning in Aesthetic Realism consultations.
5. A woman is learning what it means to see beautifully
Kim Stein had told us that sometimes she felt obsessed about how she looked, and that she worked out excessively. She wanted very much, she said, to be able to like the way she used her mind and thought about other people. She also told us that her mother had become ill, and that she felt she had been cold to her. Her consultants assigned her to read Eli Siegel's great essay "A Woman Is a Oneness of Aesthetic Opposites," to write about five pairs of opposites in her mother—and also to see how those opposites were in something in the world. The result was deep and immediate. She wrote about the opposites of Hardness and Softness in her mother:
"Sarah Stein loves to draw hands and works hard at these drawings, including my father's hands. I believe she cares for the way hands are hard and soft, also firm and flexible and wants to show it. Firmness and Flexibility: She can be insistent on having her way. Yet she can also be flexible and ask another's opinion or change what she was planning in order to go along with another....I am writing this with gratitude for the criticism I heard about how I see my mother....I see that I am related to her in many ways! I'm very grateful to Aesthetic Realism for what I am learning!"
Aesthetic Realism is teaching now and can teach all people what is most important in this world—to like how we see—and every woman should know be able to know it.