When beauty is truth, and truth is beauty.
Inner and outer beauty. This dichotomy is how we are often taught to think about beauty. And it can be helpful, primarily because it draws attention toward the inner component, which sometimes gets overlooked in favor of the visible outward expression.
But there is another dichotomy that is even more useful: beauty that camouflages versus beauty that reveals. A lot of beauty is camouflage, intended to hide our weaknesses and amplify or exaggerate our strengths. In the animal kingdom this manifests as appearances that imply a certain strength or fitness that may not actually be present, like the peacock’s tail or the spots on a butterfly.
Humans express beauty that camouflages when we wear makeup, dress in particular styles, and even assume postures or attitudes that put forward the image we would like to represent. We employ strategies to put forward a better version of ourselves that we feel will be most attractive to those around us, even though we know we are hiding the reality of who we really are.
Another kind of beauty comes from revealing ourselves in a true and vulnerable way. In the animal kingdom we might experience this in the cuteness of a puppy, the grandiosity of an elephant or the playfulness of a monkey. We are attracted to these characteristics not because they trick us into thinking something that isn’t so, but because they show the way that an animal actually is. Humans also become beautiful by exposing who we truly are. We expose our skin, our bodies and our truth to those we trust, and we hope that they see beauty in the truth.
This dichotomy becomes even more important in the age of social media. Our digital devices give us new and different tools to express beauty. But we have a choice about which tools we use and how we choose to show ourselves online. Do we camouflage ourselves or do we reveal ourselves? Both options are available.
We can camouflage ourselves by creating an online persona that shows us as we would like to be seen. We can curate the right pictures, edited and filtered to hide our weaknesses or exaggerate our most attractive qualities. We can pick and choose the stories that we share to convey a particular version of our lives and who we are.
Or we can reveal ourselves by sharing raw, unfiltered images that show the reality of life, of aging or of struggle, which may stand out in harsh contrast to the polished personas of highly curated online profiles. Some of these images might be deemed “unflattering.” And yet they are also beautiful in their vulnerability and honesty.
This is not to say that one kind of beauty is better than another. Both are effective strategies and both have their time and place. From an evolutionary standpoint, the camouflage beauty strategy has a wider appeal and can attract more potential mates. But while many are drawn to camouflage beauty, they may be careful not to get too close until they can see and trust the reality of what exists behind the camouflage. Beauty that reveals has a much narrower appeal and will only attract a small number of potential mates. But the connections made with this approach can be much deeper and stronger as they are based on trust and truth.
This highlights a fundamental challenge with employing too many beauty camouflage strategies: The illusion can always be broken. The peacock’s beautiful feathers are a status symbol for the flock and help him to attract mates. But when a predator comes, and the peacock is unable to fly, the illusion is shattered, and the peacock is in trouble. A highly curated social media profile can send a great image out into the world, but fans and followers may be disappointed when the reality behind it is exposed. Beauty that reveals, on the other hand, is not so easily undone. Its truth and timelessness are exactly what make it so beautiful.