Beauty and the Beast

John W. Pinkerton

A couple of days ago, an old LSU friend emailed me to ask if I remembered a young lady who had gone to LSUA (LSU at Alexandria) when he and I attended there.  She had been the beauty queen on campus.  Although it was a small campus in 60-62, I had no memory of her.  I’m sure she’s a lovely lady; however, I’ve never taken beauty queens or, for that matter, cheerleaders very seriously and failed to file her away in my memory bank. If you’ve lived long enough, you realize that handsomeness and beauty give one, well, an unearned advantage in life. I know this may sound somewhat bitter, but as Edward Gibbon, a witty fellow, said in the Eighteenth Century,  “Beauty is an outward gift, which is seldom despised, except by those to whom it has been refused.”  Well, I was “refused” but I suspect that “despised” is too strong a word.

There is one picture of me when I was about twelve which when I run across it I find a little jolting: I was actually a cute kid.  Puberty was not kind to me.  It turned me into a skinny kid with big ears and a big nose and a bad complexion.  The only thing that has improved over the years is the complexion.

We don’t get to choose how we look.  My father, mother, and brother were average to above average looking folks.  I didn’t get a vote in the matter, and whoever did get a vote, voted me off the island.

Although there are many attractive folks who are quite intelligent, often they are not driven to do much with their intelligence because life dealt them a pretty good hand of pretty or handsome.  As the author Jean Kerr once said, “I'm tired of all the nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That's deep enough.”  Being ugly doesn’t make one a saint, but, if nothing else, it makes one try harder.

Boys don’t think much about their own looks, but, naturally, girls do.  They let you know pretty quickly where you fit on the handsome scale, bless their hearts, and I, apparently, was pretty far down on the scale.  Now this is not to say that I didn’t date some pretty attractive girls in high school, but I bathed and cleaned  up, and I think I got the sympathy vote.

We all know that beautiful people marry beautiful people and uglies marry uglies.  Mixing the two groups is as rare as rich people marrying poor people.  It ain’t likely.  Linda and I are an exception to this rule.  You would agree with me that she has symmetry.  I count my blessings often.  I sometime think that Linda’s perception of the physical world is different from mine.  Poor baby.  She thinks I’m handsome.

We don’t get to choose what we look like...unless, of course, we live in California.  A lady friend of ours who was reared in California but now lives here in Texas told us of a visit she recently made back home to California.  While having lunch in a patio restaurant with several of her California female relatives, she became aware that she looked much older than they did although they were all approximately her age, mid 60s.  She finally confided her concerns about her own apparent rapid aging.  Her relatives, all of them, quickly confessed without apology that they had had plastic surgery.  Now, my friend looks like, well, most women in their mid 60s.  I tried to make her feel better about her appearance by telling her that in Texas we like our women weathered. 

Early in life I realized that I could not be both homely and stupid at the same time. Okay, if I’m not going to be handsome, maybe I can be smart.  It was a natural fit which I worked at, not nearly as diligently as I should have, but I did work at it.  Although I was little better than an average student, I read voraciously.  That helped. 

I taught for many years and occasionally witnessed a youthful epiphany.  A young lady one day in class said with a puzzled expression on her countenance, “You know, if people pull their hair back off their foreheads, they’re really ugly.”  Why the heck do you think few people pull their hair back?  If you look at old yearbooks, the reason the people look a little strange is that in most cases you see the entire faces revealed, especially among the boys.  People arrange their hair to cover their foreheads for the same reason I have a beard and mustache: to obscure the ugliness.

Curious about why people are perceived as beautiful or handsome, I did a little research.  Regularity of features seems to be the number one ingredient.  Men are attracted by women who are short, youthful, and have symmetrical faces, full breasts and lips and a low waist-hip ratio.  Women are attracted to men who are tall, have facial symmetry, masculine facial dimorphism (Look it up.), a narrow waist, and a V-shaped torso.  Well, duh.  They didn’t need to do a study to determine these elements of attractiveness.  Needless to say, I come up short in several of these categories.

I looked around the internet to see what beautiful people thought the advantages of their condition were.  High on their list of advantages were the following:  people are quick to judge them as intelligent; it’s easy for them to make friends; people take them more seriously; they have no problem having confidence, and they are more valued in general.  Now, handsome and pretty folks listed disadvantages also.  Please, Ken and Barbie.  I don’t want to hear it.

I have the same request of people who are unusually handsome or beautiful as I do for superheroes: please use your powers for good, not evil.  That goes for the LSUA beauty queen also.


After writing this essay, I was feeling pretty good about myself and assured of the validity of the premise of my essay. I confidently sent a copy to my old LSU buddy who had mentioned the LSUA beauty queen to me in the first place. His response left me a little nonplussed: the beauty queen graduated from LSU with nearly a 4.0 GPA, became a licensed CPA and worked for years for a major accounting firm. A damned genius beauty queen: life really isn’t fair.


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