what is her name? : aurora
‘What is Her Name?’ is a series of short essays that explore the reality of what it means to be a woman living in a patriarchal world. Each essay takes the name of a woman whose place in history or in culture serves as a platform for examining different female experiences. The accumulative aim of this work is for women to be able to name our struggles, our achievements and our hopes. The work asks society to listen, to question and finally, to change.
‘Words haven’t failed us, we have failed them.’
The word “beauty” has, for my generation of women and the generations of women around mine, become a concept synonymous with industry. The word now comes with an entirely new and altogether ugly etymology. An etymology constructed in photographs, social media and big business. The notion of beauty has taken the inevitable course alongside neo-liberalism and capitalism. The word “beauty” has lost all meaning. Rather, its meaning has been mutilated. Beauty is sold to a consumer as something entirely aesthetic and external, as if it is only something to be viewed, not experienced. Beauty has become object, not subject. The immediacy of the visual has won out over the personal and infinitely more complex state of being. Neo-liberalism, as I see it, has simplified beauty in order for it to be marketable and in doing so has reduced it to such an extreme that understanding its meaning is impossible. And attaining its image, as so many women are expected to do, is inhuman.
You. Are. Beautiful.
Three words in the English language that should hold an astounding amount of power have been rendered powerless in a society where beauty is an inconstant, industry-defined term. In our aspiration to capture beauty and prescribe it a name, a race, an age and a gender, we have lost it entirely.
Beauty, we are told as women, can be captured in a camera lens, or in the eye of the other. To capture, ‘to take by force or stratagem’, to ensure something is no longer wild, it is no longer free. It is no longer ours.
And now because society tells us we must still aspire to it, we desperately grope towards an ideal that is unachievable and a concept we have rendered extinct.
Beauty, the real meaning of it, is something rare. True to the character of the western world, it has been hunted down and captured, for economic gain and for power. Like King Kong with a nose job it has been paraded, worshiped, sold to the highest bidder and then to any bidder…and finally… left to rot. When the trend circus moves out of town it is left behind to starve in the cold.
‘You look a million bucks.’
What is this language? It is the vocabulary of a society where beauty has become a form of currency. We have come to understand our looks as part of a market structure. From the outdated arrangement of marriage for economic purposes (out of date but not yet discarded, like the off milk it is) to the very much alive ideals of a “working woman” and how she must look in order to climb the career ladder (propped up precariously against the side of a patriarchal high rise), female beauty has become currency. Women have become both the product and the consumer of this damaging economy.
What hurts us is when we place all value and focus, money, time, worry and effort on the visual and physical concept of beauty. We are then distracted away from the many other elements of life that we need in order to live full (wonderful and powerful) lives. We deny ourselves the experience of feeling beautiful in an effort to simply look the part; to look ‘a million bucks’.
We cannot buy our own beauty. It cannot be captured. It cannot be sold and it will not be defined for us.
This is not my call to arms to reject all aesthetic forms of beauty and farewell my large collection of underwired bras. I do not wish to deny the visual wonders of both people and things. I want to offer an expansion of language, in order to re-evaluate the way we use the word “beauty” or “beautiful”. I want to try and give value back to a human experience that has no price tag, brand or poster girl.
Let us every time we say ‘you are beautiful’ to a friend, a lover, to a stranger, to our reflections or our mothers, mean it in a way that is completely separate to what we have come to accept as the meaning of “beautiful”. Let it transcend the solitary aesthetic. Let us mean it in a way that describes the experience of the person we are speaking to. Let us give “beauty” real meaning once again, and give language back its power. Let beauty mean power for us and not over us.
In AURORA I name all of us who feel a compulsion and an overwhelming pressure to appear a certain way in order to feel accepted, tolerated, rewarded or just visible in mainstream culture. I’m naming all of us who post pictures of ourselves, begging the world to acknowledge that we want to have value, because we have bought into the idea that value lies somewhere other than the self. We are all AURORA and I can’t wait until we discover just how beautiful we are.
Anna is an actor and emerging freelance writer based in Melbourne. She has written one play for The Q Theatre in Sydney, a smattering of short stories, and many love letters for her fiancé.