I’m loathe to admit this, but until I was 11 or so, I was a bit of a brat. Ok, a big brat. I was spoiled and quite particular about clothing, about stationary (it was a thing), about anything, really. I was keenly aware of what I found beautiful. And I made it my focus. Looking back, I now know this was a way to avoid deeper feelings and hurt, but I also don’t think I was alone in this tendency towards superficiality.
In college, my roommate called this the “font test.” She was certain she could sense whether or not I would enter a restaurant or store, based on the font on the menu or awning. Now a world traveler, she returns from her trips, mocking me, triumphant in knowing that her hotel stays and café-goings passed my absurd tests. I never stated this aloud, I’m not even sure I was even consciously aware of it, but as ridiculous as it may sound, it is true: I do notice font. I notice everything. (I’m a Virgo).
And while it’s gifted me an ability to express myself, it also limited me. There is a point, after all, at which our tastes can wall us off, can separate us. We make snap judgments, we get caught in the superficial.
Aesthetics are tribal and primal. Our likes and dislikes, our tastes and style choices are so often influenced by those with whom we identify, look up to, and admire.
It’s part of being human—to seek out community. And part of that is a shared sensibility, or aesthetic. But it’s also part of the human experience to transcend it, to seek commonality beyond the visual, to find a deeper connection among one another.
As I matured, what I noticed softened, gained depth. I became less interested in what was appealing on the surface and more interested in discovering and unraveling the thing or person or place underneath. I pivoted my attention and, lo and behold, the world opened up. I discovered people and places previously unavailable to me.
This may seem obvious, but it isn’t always. We’re visual creatures and we respond out of habit. I’ve noticed, for example, in parts of LA an almost suffocating snobbishness that hangs over each neighborhood (like in most cities). Each seems to have its own barrier to entry, its own creative milieu. And while there is a kind of delight to be found in such enclaves, there is also an air of elitism and separation.
It seems something is lost in all of this, some non-negotiable truth. I remember the way it felt when I dropped into my heart, when I let go of the judgments, how it humbled and grounded me. It terrified me, to feel so open and exposed, but it also liberated me. Because what it brought me, first and foremost, was a kind of surrendered self-acceptance, a recognition of my own worth underneath the veneer. It was only from this place that I could begin to truly connect.
What is it that Antoine de Saint-Exupery so poignantly wrote in The Little Prince?
…and now here is my secret, a very simple secret: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Maybe that’s just it. And maybe the beauty we seek is simply a mirror of the beauty already within us—a kind of reflection, an outpouring. And so, like with everything else, it becomes about the intention behind it, where it’s coming from, what’s guiding it, that matters most.
And at the end of the day, what could possibly be more beautiful than the human heart?
Artwork by Michelle Favin of Whys LA for Poppy & Seed. Connect with her @whyslosangeles.