Unspent Beauty


On occasion you hear a person, particularly a young woman, described as possessing unspent beauty. The expression itself is wonderfully evocative, but not unproblematic in terms of meaning.

Beauty is a capital that like all capital has to be managed wisely. But ‘unspent beauty’ tends to refer to youthful beauty, and in truth time is the biggest spender of that beauty, even if some may resort to terrible measures like cosmetic surgery in order to stop the visible signs of time. They try to preserve their beauty in a frozen state, rather than evolve it.

Yet, evolution of beauty is far more interesting than seeking to preserve it in an artificial manner. Some older people have a remarkably youthful beauty and mental agility beneath their wrinkles. Surely, this is a much more attractive kind of beauty than the desperate attempts to halt time by artificial means. But also, of course, some have the beauty of age, and that is no mean thing to possess, despite our obsession with youthful beauty – an obsession that is evolutionarily conditioned, and is mostly about sex. The beauty of the older is less about sex – and so what?

Managing beauty, and its evolution, is worth reflecting on. Early in my career I worked on a specific file with the personal assistant of the boss of the firm. This personal assistant was respected by all, not because she was the personal assistant of the boss, but because she was so self-possessed, so in balance and control, so alert to the world around her, so open-minded, so elegant without being over-elegant. Beautiful, in short, in the way of people who have made the best out of their lives. Working for a conservative boss, she was the epitome of how liberal Danes would like to be. Whether she would have been described as having possessed unspent beauty when she was young I do not know, but she had certainly accumulated a lot during her life.

Hers was one kind of beauty, but beauty is not a concept where one size fits all. You can have impossibly edgy people possessing great beauty, you can have persons with perfect features being not beautiful at all, lifeless. Ironically, you can have indolent beauty, and you can have lively beauty.

The beauty of beauty is thus perhaps that you cannot define what it is. So please, please, do not think that it is bound to a certain age or to certain predefined features. Quasimodo was beautiful as well!

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