Beauty is a basic human need… so why do we treat it like a luxury?

Mikaila Poirier (she/her) // Contributor

For my sixteenth birthday, my best friend gave me a candle infused with my two favourite scents; lavender and vanilla. More than just a quick and affordable gift – it felt like a symbol of the consideration we held for each other. It came as a surprise, then, when she spotted the candle over a year later sitting on my desk, unburned.  

I had to explain to her that I really do love her gift, but I just feel this need to save nice things for the perfect moment; when everything in my life is in its place and I can breathe with ease. It wasn’t until I expressed this thought out loud that I realized how ridiculous it sounded. If in a whole year I had never experienced a single moment that was peaceful enough to justify me lighting this candle, then that moment probably wasn’t going to come. Rather, it was something I had to learn to create for myself.

Upon further exploration, I soon came to realize that this was not a unique experience. In fact, plenty of people in my life have since expressed a similar dilemma to me. My sister will only watch corny comedy films, as anything with emotional resonance feels like it has to be earned; my mother has allowed her closet full of nice clothes to collect dust until she achieves a level of beauty that, in reality, she’s surpassed since birth. So now I must ask: Where does this notion come from? Why would we willingly deprive ourselves of the few joys that this world has to offer?

Short answer: Capitalism.

Long answer: Inhabiting a society where labour is the centerpiece in every room and all other things just serve to complement it, of course we’re going to equate our value with our productivity on some level. Naturally, we’ll only reward ourselves with pleasurable activities if we feel ‘deserving’ of them. The problem is that, as we know, capitalism is an insatiable beast. If we require constant external validation for the great work that we’re doing to feel worthy of rest and relaxation, then these celebratory moments will be few and far between. Once we stop trying to meet a standard that doesn’t exist, we’ll realize that peace and pleasure have been in our hands all along.

Isn’t it ironic, too, that by continuously postponing our intake of beauty, we’re actually robbing the beautiful thing of getting to live out its purpose. For me, this manifests as some strange puritanical dance. As if an object untouched can maintain its full value; narrowly avoiding any contamination caused by my energy.  But the truth is that the beauty of an object is irrelevant until we interact with it. Allowing nice things to enhance our lives is a mutually beneficial practice, yet we’re conditioned to believe that wasted beauty is somehow better than indulgence. How boring!  Nobody should have to perform everyday to be occasionally rewarded with one of life’s simple pleasures. Beauty is your reward for simply being alive. And who are we to try and argue with that?

So, please, burn that candle, watch that movie; wear those low-rise pants, listen to that album on repeat until you’re sick of it. And do not question yourself for even a second.

If all else fails, just remember this: Doing nice things for yourself is an anti-capitalist act… and anti-capitalism is hot.

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