Can We Talk About Beauty?

Jessica Artemisia
5 min readJul 8, 2023

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How do we understand beauty in a world where women sacrifice ourselves at its alter, while in Sufism, the Divine’s feminine face is Beauty?

Most of us expect to see beauty displayed every day, or we’re expected to display it… and if we don’t, or in fact dare to show up as anything other than society’s concept of beautiful, we can expect backlash, often violent and extreme, depending on how much we are seen in the public eye.

But where are we allowed to step back and examine it? Again, we’re criticized. To discuss beauty, especially our own or our relationship to it, we’re accused of being narcissistic or navel-gazing, or even silently judged for bringing up a conversation that’s deemed frivolous.

Yet few conversations are more relevant and necessary in a world where women are cutting themselves open to attain so-called beauty and killing ourselves at its altar. The standard of beauty is increasing daily with first Photoshop and now AI, and women are expected to silently submit to its tyranny of perfection, but we’re not allowed to examine it.

So what is your relationship to Beauty?

I’m currently working on understanding that for myself. I could be at least 2 points higher on the Western female beauty scale if I “applied” myself to that goal (and increase my social value).

But do I want to? What are the costs (besides money), and what end does it serve?

Who is *my* beauty for? If for me, in what way? To “get what I want”? To attract attention to what I want to communicate? To give my partner satisfaction and status (if he values that)?

It’s super expensive and preoccupying to manage my beauty at my age, and I’ve already spent a decade trying to deprogram myself from the idea that my value in society is related to men’s sexual desire for me (even though society still sees me and all women that way and so do men — so do I choose to play the game, while trying to keep my soul separate from it?).

But I also love being beautiful. I like to be noticed and admired. I just have to ask myself why. What purpose does it serve? And what is the cost of molding my physical form to the Western concept of beauty?

Will it be easier, or harder, or have no impact, on finding a life partner? In Islam, men are instructed to marry for character and women are instructed to not flaunt or rely on their beauty for their provision. But, in my experience, the men who are interested in women based on their character don’t have the option to be with more beautiful women. And many men who believe they love a woman actually love her beauty, and they barely know who she is at all (and don’t care as long as she isn’t causing a disturbance in his life.)

I just don’t know if I want to be beautiful, but I’m grateful I get to choose. When I was younger, having a measure of beauty (such as it was) caused me more problems than anything else. I like flying under the radar now. Idk that I would choose to be seek beauty.

But is that fair or generous for someone who partners with me, if that’s what God has planned for me?

One of my goals is to have a healthy and loving relationship with myself so that even in photos without make up or filters, I like who I see.

I might not be everybody’s idea of attractive (and that number will undoubtedly lessen as I age), but I want to be my own idea of beauty.

And going beyond the idea of personal beauty, which is often synonymous with sexual or social desirability, there is a kind of transcendent Beauty, which is Divine. In Sufi Islam, God is considered to have 99 know qualities and they are divided into two categories, Beautiful and Majestic. The Beautiful qualities are considered to be all the qualities of life that humans love to experience, such as love (Ar-Rahman), truth (Al-Haqq), and generosity (Ak-Karim), and others.

God’s Majestic qualities are considered to be the ones that demonstrate Divine power, like crushing, constricting, and inspiring awe. These are God’s masculine qualities.

So let’s look at what Beauty means from this perspective — Beauty as Divine and transcendent. Most of all, it’s something we all express to a greater or lesser degree and physical appearance is only a very small portion of that.

Ar-Rahman is one of the Names or qualities of God, and considered by many Muslims to be the greatest name besides Allah, and it is the feminine aspect of love, such as the the doe’s tenderness toward her fawn or the way the womb loves the fetus — completely encompassing in nurturing and acceptance without asking anything in return. In fact, the Arabic root word for Rahman is R-H-M, which is the same root word for “womb” in Arabic, and according to some, the full meaning of the root word R-H-M includes the meaning of “womb.” (Full meaning: “to love, have mercy, forgiveness, favor, affection, and wombs.” Quran Study App)

So from this perspective, what does beauty mean to you? How can it be implemented in our lives by installing it as programming that upgrades our understanding beauty and its expression to us and through us?

Indeed, my Sufi teachers have taught that when we are feeling financially constrained or in need of more abundance of any kind, what we are in fact doing is restricting Beauty from expressing in our lives through God’s beautiful quality, Ak-Karim (The Generous).

So our relationship to Beauty takes on a much more profound meaning. When we reject Beauty, even in rejecting our own beauty, we reject the Beautiful qualities of the Divine — of life, itself — from manifesting in our lives, and when we do this, we limit our ability to experience the most beautiful aspects of life.

And that Beauty is the feminine aspect of God, so it can have consequences for women’s health when we reject our femininity. When we reject our femininity, it can cause dis-ease in our female organs. This can be the root of hormonal, reproductive, and other diseases that impact or stem from the female reproductive system.

So this conversation about Beauty is massively important and we need to discuss it more. We need to be honest about our experiences with Beauty and our relationship to it. For modern women who are forced to wear the chains of the Tyranny of a False Beauty, who end up rejecting their own beauty and natural femininity in order to strive for a false god of beauty, the health impacts can be profound, from debilitating and painful disease, to infertility, to obesity, to death.

So let’s talk about Beauty, our own beauty, each other’s Beauty, and the Beauty of Life itself. It’s our right, especially as women, to manifest Divine Beauty in this world and to be its priestesses and prophets.

So once again, I ask you,

What is your relationship to Beauty?

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Jessica Artemisia

Explorer seeking the fantastical, strange, and taboo to find treasure | Author, artist, poet, and educator helping people find freedom | MSc. NYU | ex-Muslim