Seven Questions on Beauty : Suzanne from Perfume Journal

I am kicking off the conversation on beauty with the responses of dear friend and perfume blogger, Suzanne Keller who blogs at Suzanne’s Perfume Journal. I ‘met’ Suzanne in the comments section of Birgit’s Olfactoria’s Travels. We seemed to have so much in common that we had to move our incessant chatter to email.

Here’s how Suzanne defines and perceives somethings beautiful:

1) What do you mean when you call something beautiful? Do you have different definitions when you talk of different things like faces, art, landscape? Or is everything you find beautiful characterized by something similar?

Wow, one would think this would be an easy question to answer, and yet it’s not!  When I call something beautiful, it’s because that something goes beyond being merely pleasing to the senses: it is riveting, it strikes a deep emotional chord in me and I find myself not wanting to pull away from it.  For instance, a beautiful face for me is usually about symmetrical features and all of the signs of health being present (clear and even skin, whether it be fair, olive or dark; bright eyes; white teeth, etc.)but in addition to that, there must also be something that takes those features to the next level of being memorable.  And that can either be some kind of fullness or intensity — like full lips or a wide, Julia Roberts kind of smile; or maybe a lush cascade of hair, long eyelashes or a deep and unusual eye color — or, quite interestingly, that memorable quality can actually be something oddly “imperfect” within that otherwise perfect face.  To me, the most beautiful face has all of those things: symmetry, health, something eye-catchingly full or intense, and then some little eccentricity that others might consider a flaw, but which somehow makes that face more unique and memorable to me … so that it’s not the cookie cutter ideal of beauty, but something more.  And I almost forgot, but this is also very important to me: for a face to be beautiful to me, there has to be kindness and an element of humor or playfulness within the expression.  I don’t care for haughtiness.

Now, when I’m talking about a landscape being beautiful, or an artwork, there doesn’t have to be symmetry, but the other definitions still apply.  Not always, but in general, I find beautiful landscapes show a state of health (you know, either land that shows fertility and lushness … or, in  the case of a desert environment, to be healthy in the sense that it’s clean and unpolluted and not carrying graffiti etc).  And then those other things I mentioned previously need to be there too, to take it from merely pleasing to mesmerizing.  An intensity of some kind, an interesting flaw, or both. I once took a photo of a bunch of trees in a park where all the trees were straight and healthy except for one, which had a Z-shaped trunk and was scrawny and stunted, but still growing.  And I often take that photo out and look at it, because that little tree looked like a Japanese bonsai tree compared to the others, and it made me love it for uniqueness and its will to live.  I know that probably sounds ridiculous, but that’s how I felt about it.

2) Is there something that you find beautiful that is an exception to the above definition or which lacks the above characteristic/s?

Lyle_Lovett

Yes, I can think of exceptions in terms of faces.  There really is not much that is symmetrical about singer Lyle Lovett’s face, and yet I find it so charismatic, charming and sexy.  Why is that?  My husband, sisters, nieces … they all think I’m crazy to think that Lyle Lovett is attractive.  And I would have to admit, he’s quite odd looking.  But there is something so intelligent and flirty about the way he uses his eyes, his crooked grin, and event that crazy hair of his.  And then there is the rest of him — the intelligence that comes through in his songwriting, and that voice!. I can’t separate those things out and say, “Well, he’s not attractive but he’s talented,” the way other people can.  No, to me his whole package is beautiful. And I have feelings along the same lines when it comes to the actor Paul Giamatti.  I can’t ever look away from him, because there is that intelligence that I see in his eyes, and with him, there is also this sense of vulnerability.  It pulls at my heart!  But I suppose the question is, are we now talking about personality?  I suppose we are.  Personality, intelligence and charisma can bring great beauty to someone who isn’t all that attractive.  And by the same token, a dull or flat personality is not attractive to me, no matter how pretty the person might be. And a cruel or egotistic personality is a real turn-off.

3) Do you make a distinction between aesthetically pleasing (or appealing to the senses) and beautiful? Can you call something one without it being the other? Is something that is aesthetically pleasing to you also defined by the characteristics described above?

I think I more or less answered this above, in response to your first question, but to reiterate: Yes, there’s a big distinction.  For me, something that is beautiful goes beyond being aesthetically pleasing to possessing a trait (or traits) that makes it memorable. Something intense, something slightly imperfect that makes it both unique and also makes me feel like the object of that beauty is accessible to me.  Thinking of an example, I might see two cute little redheaded girls together.  They are both darling, but the girl who has an abundance of freckles will probably be beautiful to me.  Those freckles will make me remember her, make me want to count them. Make me say, ahh, both girls are lovely, but look at the one that the fairies kissed with so much pixie dust!

 4) Do you have physical reactions to beauty? (e.g. eyes opening wide, tears etc)

I get a feeling in my solar plexus that shoots up through my head.  A whooshy feeling that reminds me of champagne bubbles.  I don’t know if my eyes get bigger, but usually I can’t look away.  Can’t stop returning to look some more, even when it leaves me bashful (here I am thinking of seeing a person that is beautiful, and I’ll get bashful and look away, but keep stealing looks out of the corner of my eye).

 5) Could you list examples of ‘things’ you find beautiful under the following categories

 a) Painting/Sculpture 

I recently talked about this on my blog: the fairytale illustrations of Kay Nielsen leave me smitten. Michelangelo’s David will always slay me. Van Gogh’s Starry Night, too.

kayneilson

b) Perfume

Oh, there are too many olfactory beauties to count, but at the moment I’m largely smitten with Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles and Amouage Epic Woman.

c) Smell

The smell of certain vegetation always gets to me: tomato vines and the memory of peas in their pods (which I used to shell on the porch with my mother … such a gentle, beautiful smell).  And lamb with rosemary … I’m a fool for that smell.

d) Male Face

George Harrison’s face is one of the most beautiful male faces I’ve ever seen.  At every age, he was beautiful.  Viggo Mortensen, too.  Also, Edward Norton and Stanley Tucci are both yum!  And though he’s an old man now, I have always loved Peter O’Toole’s face (and voice).

e) Female Face

Minka Kelly … I’m not a lesbian, but to look at her is to want to go to bed with her.  There is the lushness of her lips, the glossiness of her hair, and then there is this playful element to her expressions that I find really attractive.  Playfulness is a big thing in my book.  One of the most beautiful women on the perfume blogosphere is Victoria Jent of EauMG.  She’s classically beautiful, but also punkish and fun.  And she has the most phenomenal lips.

f) Music from your own country

My tastes are so eclectic that we could be here all day.  But probably the most beautiful voice to me is Allison Krauss’s voice. I was quite lucky to see her in concert in a small venue, and it was like being in the presence of an angel.

g) Music from a foreign country

British pop, and so much of Corrine Bailey Rae’s stuff.  Some opera arias, particularly the Flower Duet from Léo Delibes’ opera Lakmé.  I also love Indian music, but can’t say that I particularly identify pieces by name. My husband once gave me this tape that was ayurvedic in the sense that it featured different sitar arrangements that were each geared to a particular body type/humor.  So there was an arrangement for people with a strong vata, pitta or kapha temperament – and I don’t remember which one I was, but I loved all three pieces and used to use this tape as a method of going to sleep.  It was a music that unraveled like lace, and trying to follow each strand really relaxed my mind.

h) Landscape

 The Teton mountains in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; the ocean, just about anywhere; and certain desert rock formations.  I love the Grand Canyon: to me, it truly is majestic, and if I could live near it and hike it on a regular basis, I don’t think I’d ever tire of it.

Grand_Teton_in_Winter-NPS

The following question was suggested by Suzanne.

6) Is there a piece of art (or ‘thing’ or face) that you find particularly beautiful even though you are in the clear minority in that opinion? If so, could you discuss it and explain why it appeals to you?

Oh gosh, I did suggest this question and that was rather dumb of me, because I think I answered it in your question number two.  Lyle Lovett’s face would probably be it! 😀

7) Is there something that is renowned to be beautiful that either doesn’t appeal to you or that you don’t find beautiful? Could you explain why?

Most of the leading male actors … they all look the same to me.  So much so, that I can’t even sort them out by name. 😀

Is your definition of beauty similar? What do you call beautiful? Please feel free to share responses to some or all questions in the comments. 


Picture Credits: 
Suzanne's picture via Suzanne's Perfume Journal
Lyle Lovett's picture via Fox Hanford
Kay Nielsen's illustration via Artists and Art
Mount Teton via  Wikipedia
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15 comments

  1. I enjoyed reading Suzanne’s answers very much, which chime very much with my own take on beauty – the lack of haughtiness, the quirk factor. The healthy aspect is a good one, as exemplified by glowing skin – that is interesting. And also applied to a landscape. Thought provoking stuff – it was fun learning more about your tastes from this semi-philosophical question! 🙂

    • I know- it was interesting the way Suzanne extended the ‘healthy aspect’ of beauty to landscape too. And you know, i found much more overlap, in the way all of us define beauty, than I expected.

  2. Tara

    This was so good! I loved Suzanne’s answers and having done my own and read V’s comment above, I suspect we are all on a similar wavelength which is nice.
    I can totally understand her answers about people’s faces in particular. A certain look in the eyes and a crooked smile count for a lot in a man!

    • Hi Tara- yes, as I mentioned to V, all our definitions especially as they pertain to beauty of faces do seem to have a lot more overlap than I expected. Hopefully, I am not giving too much away by saying that..lol
      ” A certain look in the eyes and a crooked smile count for a lot in a man”- oh yes they do..:)

  3. I feel honored to be in your survey, Lavanya – and answering your questions was both fun and challenging (made me think hard, particularly in regard to your very first question).

    Vanessa and Tara – thank you, I’ll definitely be looking forward to reading your answers. It does indeed sound like we are on a similar wavelength, by what you said in your comments. (That makes me happy!) But of course, I’ll be looking forward to finding out the specifics in terms of your tastes, and everyone else’s who participates, including Lavanya! 🙂

  4. Pingback: Checking in, and some links of interest | Perfume in Progress

  5. Natalie

    Such thought-provoking answers to these (tough) questions, Suzanne (and Lavanya). 😉 I completely agree about Lyle Lovett’s charm. He’s a peach, for sure.

  6. I also enjoyed reading Suzannes answers about beauty, and the paragraph about aesthetically pleasing vs. beautiful had me thinking. I remember reading about an experiment when psychologists asked subjects about what faces they thought were beautiful and the test subjects got to see both pictures of real people and pictures where faces had been double exposed one or many times (I suppose they used some kind of computer program to get credible pictures of faces so they wouldn’t look blurred). The result was basically that the more faces were mixed up (thus creating a true average face between sexes and races) the more beautiful the person was considered to be. Now, it’s one thing sitting in a room, looking at pictures, getting asked “Is this person beautiful?” but in real life, will the result be the same? I completely agree with Suzannes take here that a face has to have something characteristic about it in order for me to notice it. Would I ever notice a super average person like that (we’re assuming that the person in question didn’t have anything else but looks going for him/her)? Just as “If a tree falls in the forest when no one hears, does it make a sound?” – “Can a person you don’t notice be beautiful?”. To me, no, there would have to be some kind of focal point before I’d consider anyone beautiful.

    • That is interesting, and a bit surprising, that they found the ‘averaged’ faces more beautiful. And I think you are right in supposing that it might be different in real life. I think in a laboratory setting, they are probably more likely to use parameters of conventional beauty/looks – I am sure any quirks in the faces will be averaged out in those ‘programmed’ faces. Do you have a link to the study?
      I like the tree falling in the forest analogy – It reminds me of Schroedinger’s Cat..:)

  7. I read Suzanne’s answers several times after I was done with my answers but I couldn’t think of anything to add to them by my comments. Today I finally figured out what I wanted to say: I want to answer Suzanne’s question.
    Last year of my high school I dated a guy who was really unattractive but when he would start to play guitar and sing he would be the most attractive person I’ve known. We both were in the same “guitar club” (something similar to a book club but instead of reading and discussing books we would be discussingpoetry and singing songs) and I know that I wasn’t the only one who saw that change in him when he sang, he was our club’s favorite. After we stopped dating my mother confessed that she was scared it would become serious, I’ll merry him and have very unattractive kids. Looking back and remembering his face at those moments I still think he was the closest to what I could call beautiful while talking about a man.

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