As an Irish Polytheist, I follow the Irish Spiritual / Cultural Virtues as I interpret them– which includes Beauty. However, in a modern context, I interpret beauty in two main ways.
Above all, I interpret it as “preserving your health and the health of those around you”.
This one is pretty self explanatory, but it ultimately means participating in as many of our known and encouraged Hygiene rituals as possible whenever they are relevant; this means washing my hands after using the toilet, cleaning my house regularly, not letting trash pile up, getting rid of or reducing the chance of rodents in my yard and house which are known to spread disease, using appropriate medical procedure (including proper sterilization) when dealing with wounds, and a thousand other things.
The second interpretation is “taking care of your personal appearance in a manner that reduces offence to others”.
This ties quite heavily into the above definition in that it involves hygiene practices as well. But in essence, this means abiding by the base Cultural Standards of Appearance- or the standards we must abide by in order to be accepted into and participate in general society. Ergo, practicing it under this definition means bathing regularly, being cleanly and hygienic, making sure I smell pleasant, and dressing appropriately for the circumstance- among many other things. It does not, however, inherently include abiding by the actual cultural standards of “conventional beauty / attractiveness”.
Lastly and finally, is the interpretation of “taking care of the inherent Beauty that I already naturally possess simply by existing as a Human Being”.
Again, tying into the first interpretation, this means that I inherently view all people- myself included- as being beautiful by default of existing. And since the most common belief is that we are all Divine creations, I should respect myself and treat myself as such. Such a belief therefore means practicing beauty under this definition through staying healthy; regular Exercise, a healthy diet, yearly wellness exams, and even taking care of my Mental Health. However, this also includes flat out ignoring and not participating in certain cultural or social standards of Hygiene and Appearance- particularly when that standard is unhealthy or otherwise detrimental to my physical or mental health.
Shaving is one such example of this; personally, I don’t like the way not shaving makes me feel physically; even when going without shaving for months at a time, I find that my skin gets irritated more easily, I break out more often, and I feel dirty. Therefore I choose to participate in it on my own volition because I physically feel better whenever I do.
However, shaving isn’t something that actually holds significant health benefits; there’s no purpose to shaving other than aesthetics- and providing product income in a capitalistic, consumer based economy. For some people (and I am not one of these people) it can even impact their physical health negatively to shave certain areas of their body. As a result? When I don’t always have the mental and emotional, or even physical health to shave, I tend not to care about it. I don’t feel as if I am neglecting my health by ignoring it- nor is it significant enough to actually offend those around me when I haven’t. Likewise, I don’t consider it a violation of Beauty to skip it.
Bathing is another good example of ignoring social standards when it comes to the customs having a negative impact on your health; socially we’re expected to either bathe daily, or bathe every other day. And on the surface, bathing is important for personal Hygiene and health on a number of levels… However, bathing too frequently can actually cause more problems with physical health than it solves. This is especially true in regards to the premature aging of your skin and loss of your hair hair- which are two of the most obvious and visual identifiers of one’s overall level of health.
Ergo, the sociocultural expectations surrounding the frequency of bathing are actually detrimental to my health- which ultimately goes against the virtue of Beauty. As a result, the need to maintain my own health and wellness the most optimally supersedes the sociocultural expectations surrounding how frequently I shower; instead of showering daily, I shower every 2nd or 3rd day because that is what is healthier for my skin- and instead of washing my hair daily, I wash it maybe once or twice a week because that is what is healthier for my hair.
Dieting, too, is another example; again, socially we are also expected to be thin- and socially that thinness for Women is expected to come from low caloric intakes and poor diets. Yet most of these diets negatively impact one’s health instead of preserving or increasing it. So like with Showering too frequently, participating in Crash Diets, low Calorie diets, and the like would actually be going against the Virtue of Beauty, and so I ignore them.
However, it’s also going against Beauty not to participate in some sort of wellness program at all. But instead of dieting, I choose to eat the full amount of calories appropriate for my body, and workout several times a week- with critical attention paid to ensuring I get the appropriate number of rest days to recuperate and prevent injury. Furthermore, attention is paid to my health as opposed to my size. If I stop feeling healthy once I drop below a certain weight? Then I work to regain weight and then maintain it at an optimal level regardless of whether or not that level is considered socio-culturally “acceptable”.
The reason for this “loophole” that allows for the ability to ignore certain sociocultural standards, for me, is because sociocultural standards of appearance for participation in polite society- and sociocultural beauty standards to a small extent- do serve a purpose. And I do believe that the purpose they serve is an important one… But Beauty, to me, is a lot more than being aesthetically pleasing and unoffensive to others… It’s also about fostering the beauty that we all inherently possess by default of existing, and it’s also about preserving your health and the health of those around you.
You can’t do that by blindly following the sociocultural standards without consideration towards how they impact your health emotionally / mentally or physically; if you let those and only those standards dictate exactly how you take care of yourself in all cases, then you’d likely wind up unhealthy- which ultimately defeats half the purpose of maintaining Beauty as a spiritual Virtue.
As a result, sometimes maintaining that Virtue absolutely means giving the sociocultural standards a big middle finger- and doing things a different way, or not at all.
This is the last and final part of a multi-part series detailing the reasons behind my decision to include “Beauty” as a Spiritual Virtue in my own Historically Oriented Polytheistic Religion and Faith (Irish Polytheism). To read the series in full from the beginning, please go here.
For a list of IriPol resources, including those I used to inform the opinions mentioned in this article, please view this page here.