No matter how our day begins, it inevitably ends with a new collection of images logged in our minds that will shape the way we view the concept of beauty and how it relates to our immediate and global society. Dr. Pia de Solenni, an ethicist and cultural analyst, was a recent lecturer at Love & Fidelity’s annual conference, “Sexuality, Integrity, and the University.” Given her scholarship in the realm of feminism and women’s identity, she was an ideal candidate to address the women in a presentation entitled, The Quest for Identity Through Beauty.
At first glance, beauty may seem to be a vast and purely subjective realm, difficult to address in a short, hour-and-a-half-long lecture, but Dr. de Solenni tackled the topic with grace and aplomb. She examined the contradictory cultural messages on what constitutes true beauty and challenged women to think about how they project who they are through their personal style. Our society attempts to shape our conception of what is beautiful in hopes that as consumers we will buy into what they are presenting. Therefore, it would be beneficial for women to analyze and asses what these underlying, nuanced messages are to determine how far we would allow them to take us.
Our society reacts to visual stimulus on a constant basis. One’s appearance speaks volumes about what lies beneath: people, whether or not intentionally, emit signs that create in others a perception of who they are. In fact, men have been known to pride themselves in pin-pointing exactly what kind of woman one is and don’t bother to wonder whether they could be wrong. The conclusions they draw, however, are sometimes encouraged by how the woman in question carries herself and what she wears. Clothing should not place one within a certain category, but often this is what happens. In fact, dressing one way while acting in another only manages to confuse. Aesthetic expressions of character that lie so apparently on the surface should reflect what lies within.
In her talk, Dr. de Solenni stated this idea that, “We look for signs and symbols to realize what something is, who someone is.” There is no need to be wearing a graphic t-shirt with a bold message stamped across the front for others to imagine what makes up who you are. A certain sense of style and presence does the job. Some may dismiss this as frivolity, but it becomes ever more important to consider through the lens of pornography. Because of pornography and other modern signs and symbols, women are being silently degraded and they aren’t even aware of it.
I recently saw a film entitled, Out of the Darkness, which dealt with the negative effects of the pornography industry and the harm is has done to the women of our generation. After the film, there was a discussion in which a male panelist discussed his thoughts on women when he was a young man. He recalled how not too many years ago he didn’t care much for women’s feelings or intellectual capacities, instead he only saw them as pieces of meat to be consumed for his enjoyment.
It is therefore of supreme necessity, especially in the world in which we reside, that a woman do everything within her power to reflect her dignity and that men view her as something other than a mere object of desire and entertainment. It is assumed that dressing modestly is something of the past that should be replaced with a more modern take on women’s dress. The past, however, often holds golden truths that should be considered before tossing away a tradition of modesty. If women portrayed themselves for so long in this way in society, what was the reason? Despite what some may say, women of previous centuries were incredibly intelligent and were keenly aware that men were particularly in tune with what Aristotle termed the “lower desires.” Women knew better than to play into these thoughts and fantasies. Dr. de Solenni eloquently stated that those women were being authentic leaders, by setting a standard for which others may strive. In contrast, today many women have capitulated and cooperate with misguided and unhealthy standards. They have become followers. Women have trained themselves to think that men have certain expectations which women must meet; in fact, it should be the other way around.
How can women find the proper balance between dressing with dignity while maintaining a level of attractiveness? Dr. de Solenni demonstrated reconciliation between beauty and virtue when she stated, “Women are both beauty and intellect and there’s nothing wrong with looking beautiful, for in fact, you will attract virtuous people in the process.” Modesty brings out beauty and immediately calls others to view one in a different light, a more elevated light, one in which the person is seen for who she really is.
Since the start of the sexual revolution, there has no longer been a sense of the value of the mysterious. Today, everything is exposed, plastered across YouTube, Facebook, countless magazines and television shows. Annually we are treated to countless attempts by entertainers at revealing more, yet as aesthetic philosopher Roger Scruton states, “Sometimes the intention is to shock us, but what is shocking the first time around is boring and vacuous when repeated.”
There is a privilege to being a woman, as philosopher Alice von Hildebrand writes, one that is accompanied by a certain mystery that encompasses natural noble traits; traits of vulnerability, strength, tenderness and dignity, upon many others. We should look to portray these qualities in what we choose to wear and how we conduct ourselves. In an essay on the meaning of beauty, Roger Scruton clearly defines the importance of beauty by saying, “Put usefulness first and you lose it, put beauty first and what you do will be useful forever. We have more than practical needs. We have spiritual and moral needs and if those needs go unsatisfied, so do we. Lust is about taking and love is about giving. Real beauty lies beyond sexual desire.”
When evaluating the beauty of style, Dr. de Solenni suggested that women ask themselves: “Who am I dressing for? What do I want to project?” Without modesty, the imagination of onlookers will interpret what it will; with it in place, women will refine the affectivity of others. In so doing, she will allow for society to gain an elevated view of the true worth and dignity of a woman. And that will be truly beautiful.
 US Marine Captain John Campbell was quoted as saying: “Ladies, don’t send us mixed messages. That’s what you do every time you dress with less than nothing on.”