“Love not me for comely grace”
LOVE not me for comely grace,
For my pleasing eye or face,
Nor for any outward part,
No, nor for my constant heart,—
For those may fail, or turn to ill,
So thou and I shall sever:
Keep therefore a true woman’s eye,
And love me still, but know not why—
So hast thou the same reason still
To doat upon me ever!
Attributed to an anonymous author, from Francis T. Palgrave, ed. (1824–1897). The Golden Treasury. 1875.
This poem sums up how I feel about “truth, beauty, love”. Culture shock has several stages and I have just been through the difficult bit (hopefully over now). But one of the things I have found that has impacted upon me emotionally is the prospect of being alone (in a romantic sense) here. Whilst I came here with no romantic expectations (in fact the opposite); I’ll admit to giving consideration to romantic loneliness more than I expected. I am rather determined to stay single. However the fact is that I can see myself here for several years and that point of view might change in that time. So it’s no lie that it has crossed my mind.
It’s no secret that China, for western women, is a lonely place. This article sums up the many I have read and the stories of other female ex-pats I have met. For me, I have done the marriage and children and post-divorce flings and it’s all a bit dull anyway. So I am not in the category of this lady as she is much younger than me. I’m also okay with the issues that Nikki raises and it is written rather negatively – which are views that I will reject because of that negativity. But Nikki’s story has helped me make the decision to stay regardless of what might or might not happen in terms of companionship. This is, in part, because I am not afraid to be alone and I enjoy being on my own, but also because I am in a different phase of my life now. *2022 edit – folks who’ve read this post lately will notice that at this point in my life I was discussing male companionship. The closet is like that. You go in and out of it until you are ready or feel safe to be yourself. At this point in my life, I was still reacting to negatively to the idea that the women I have loved in my life, were my true loves. I am also grey-asexual, I experience very little sexual attraction.
But what I really want to talk about is perceptions of beauty. Because Nikki’s experience here is going to be much different to mine for another reason; she’s blonde and represents the epitome of western beauty as far as Chinese thinking is concerned.
I have been told by many people here that the model of western beauty here is the Scarlett Johansen or Gwyneth Paltrow version. Tall, leggy, lean and blonde and blue-eyed. I’m short, athletic (read chunky), brunette and green-eyed.
That’s okay and its okay that I don’t meet that model. I have no confidence issues with my appearance (normal niggles like anyone) and I’m beyond being worried about what other people think of my appearance.
I have been told I am beautiful here more in four weeks than I have in many years. That I am largely unaffected or somewhat embarrassed by that is found unusual. I am happy with who I am – I don’t need someone to tell me I’m beautiful. I always say thank you – but I am quick to offer them the same compliment and I mean it – we are all beautiful.
But what has struck me is how beauty is defined here. Many young Chinese women have commented to me that they don’t think Chinese women are beautiful.
I think all people are beautiful. But also in terms of beauty “proper” for want of a better description – they are simply magnificent to my eyes, the diversity of human appearance is beauty.
I sometimes feel, in all honesty, like an ugly duckling here in some senses. But the feelings are fleeting and more related to the many looks and stares I get just by being different. Doesn’t bother me per se, but it’s noticeable and coupled with recent changes in my emotions has felt unusual. But I am more surprised by the attitudes of the Chinese women I have met towards their own cultural self-image than how I am perceived.
What I want to say to every woman reading this is really quite simple.
“Beauty” (as defined as its outward manifestation and how it’s perceived), should be classified like an emotional state:
- It is dependent on so many things other than any real measurable factor.
- It will pass. I don’t mean that you will age and lose your beauty; I mean that depending on where you are, what the culture is and what the expectations are – you will be beautiful one moment and not the next.
So…honour your own integral internal and external beauty that is not dependent on the views of any given society, culture or context.
You are beautiful.