Beauty and Love?

A fairly recent episode of This American Life (1) detailed the outlandish ways that people expressed love towards their desired partners. It included the basics, such as overdone promposals and Disney-esque stories of love at first sight (not all of it is as starry eyed as it sounds–you’ll have to listen to the whole podcast), but there was one love story–from the 1940s–that stood out from the rest. Essentially, an older, white German man fell hopelessly in love with a beautiful, young Latino woman who was terminally ill with tuberculosis. He, being a doctor of sorts, did everything within his reach to save her, but ultimately failed. Despite her passing, this man was convinced he had found his soul mate. He could not fathom not being with this woman, so he resorted to the only thing he thought was logical: he undermined her funeral, and took her body to make his bride. It’s also important to note that the woman–while not repulsed by his behavior–did not feel nearly as strongly about their relationship.

Now, under normal circumstances, this story has all sorts of red flags. However, it is often told as a story of love and perseverance, and it reminded me of Pecola and Maureen from The Bluest Eye (2). To put it simply, it seems as if love is seen as the ultimate free pass in term of acceptable social behavior in society–even when it is often borderline mental illness. And the understated hard truth associated with love is that beautiful people deserve it and ugly people do not. The behavior of the man was deemed acceptable (by 1940s standards) enough for it to become a tale of love rather than extreme violation of another’s body.

What sticks with me the most is how the doctor directly associated his love for the woman to her body, and therefore–beauty. The understated, damned truth about love is that beauty is often a part of it. And that, for me, is uncomfortable to think about. For the doctor to be so infatuated with a woman for really nothing more than her body bothers me greatly. We talk about how this course is all about “The gaze”. But does that mean love is really only about beauty (which means bodies, and sex)?

References

(1) This American Life. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/610/grand-gesture.

(2) Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. London: Vintage, 2016.

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2 thoughts on “Beauty and Love?

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  1. CW: murder, fairly graphic violence
    I actually /also/ just heard about this guy the other day, but not from This American Life – here is his Wikipedia page if anyone is interested, although definitely read at your own risk because it is fairly graphic, and includes an image of the woman’s corpse (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Tanzler). It led me to thinking a lot about how beauty plays into these sort of infamous, Wikipedia-fodder crimes. I was one of those people that was really interested in serial killers when I was younger (this phenomenon is an entire other can of worms that I’m just not going to open right now), so I know a fair amount about some of the US’s most famous serial killers and there is definitely a ton to unpack from the beauty angle. Just because he’s one of the US’s most famous serial killers and I happened to research him when I started to think about this, I’ll use Ted Bundy as an example, but intersections between these sorts of “famous” violent crimes and beauty are not difficult to find. “Youth and beauty were ‘absolutely indispensable criteria'” (from his Wikipedia page) for Bundy’s victims, and he would apparently also often posthumously dress them in clothes that were not their own, paint their nails, and take polaroids of them. This is obviously a removal of the victim’s agency in about a hundred different ways (as is, arguably, my reading about it and then talking about it), but is also undeniably related to some desire of Bundy’s to be associated with beauty in some way. (It is also worth noting that Bundy is notorious for being seen as trustworthy by his victims because they saw him as more handsome and charismatic than they would imagine a serial killer to be, as well as the fact that it is possible that Bundy is one of the more famous serial killers precisely because his victims were all white and conventionally attractive – but both of those could probably be their own blog posts). There is definitely something interesting about the relationship between this very particular type of violence and the desire for beauty.

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  2. whoevenknows stated that the truth associated with love is that beautiful people deserve it and ugly people do not. I wonder what is considered “beautiful” then? In the case of Carl Tanzler, his obsession was with a Cuban-American woman. I wonder how her race played with his perceptions of her beauty, if he was captured by the exoticism that she held because of her racial identity? I looked up pictures of her though and despite her dark hair, she had white features that may dictate what is considered “beautiful.” It is chilling to think of who is deserving of love because it guides our understanding of which girls are targeted when it comes to crimes like these. Girls who are conventionally beautiful tend to be targeted, because their bodies and their beauty is desired by these men who develop an obsession with their appearances of those girls. But these men twist obsession with love and claim to give these girls “love.”

    When I was younger, I told my mom that I’m glad I am not conventionally beautiful because then perverted men will not want to come for me. Now that I’m older, I know that is not true. I feel like this idea that beautiful people deserve love and ugly people do not glosses over the violence and the crimes that persist among everyone in society, regardless of their beauty. For example, when children are abducted, there are many news and warnings about missing white children but the news of missing black children (or even other children of color) are silenced and ignored, put down. So the real question is, how do beauty and race coalesce in these violent crimes? How are these violent crimes on racialized bodies understood and perceived by others?

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