In the C.S. Lewis book, “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, Lucy uses a magic spell to look like her older sister, Susan, Lucy’s idea of the epitome of beauty. But when shown the vision of her life under the spell, Lucy has ceased to exist for her family. The sage lion Aslan explains to her that in trying to be someone other than herself, she ceases to exist.
To be someone other than yourself has a long history, whether through art or through more modern desires to change appearance or thoughts. Greater consciousness of who “we” are and why we are here is a laudable goal, attempting to totally change the “who” and “why” for external reasons takes us right back to the consequences of Lucy’s spell, as well as being unlikely to lead to a healthy outcome.
Spending time in galleries, looking at the paintings of the royal and wealthy going back over the centuries, they clearly did not show up for the sittings in “this old thing”. There was probably also some degree of artistic licence to improve the appearance of the sitters-Tudor and Elizabethan Britain was a time of widespread disease, poor quality food and water, and even poorer medicine. The sitters more manifest imperfections could be smoothed over. It is said that Henry VIII rejected his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, when he finally met her in person, having been given a somewhat unrealistic impression of her beauty from a portrait sent to him.
Why? Because the portrait was the sitter’s statement to the world. I am wealthy enough to have these clothes and possessions, and to be well-nourished. I am powerful enough to have these chains of office and this jewelry. I am blessed and I meet the conventions of appearance for my era. Is this actually any different from now? Except we can capture an image at the click of a button and circulate it around the world in a moment. But still, feeling we have to change to measure up doesn’t seem to have gone away.
Day 2 of Celestine’s Affirmations Challenge is “I love myself unconditionally”. I find it heartbreaking to see and read of those who cannot accept themselves as they are because an external voice or movement or belief tells them they cannot, should not, must not. Yet how many succumb to these thoughts?
A slower start to the day makes me lazy and unproductive. A school career spent struggling with French grammar means that I am absolutely never going to be able to learn another language. Yet as soon as I tell myself this, it’s immediately a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am lazy and unproductive-so pass me the biscuits and kittens on Youtube, here I come. I will never learn a foreign language, so as soon as an irregular verb rears its head, put the Rosetta Stone book down and retreat.
But what about those with bigger yet unfounded beliefs about their worth, their skills, their looks? Their own fears and loathing magnified through comparison, retreating from opportunity, fulfillment and the rich tapestry of life. Heartbreaking.
My own response to day 2 is relatively straightforward. I can choose my pace for my own day, I am not scared to persevere in learning anything I choose. Like any human being, my value and dignity are innate, not something to be given from outside, depending on my view of how I’ve spent my time or whether I can negotiate a discount in Russian.
But isn’t it also important to offer encouragement to those who struggle, who can’t see their own worth and dignity? Human to human, it’s both decent behavior and an uplifting thing.