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Sanguine Beauty

by Featherstone


Author's note: This essay was written for a college English class. I know some of the words are a bit archaic/obscure but the target audience isn't the layman. Thus, it's meant to be a bit more intense/formal as opposed to casual or light. I've already gotten the grade back but I figure more insight never hurts! Thanks y'all!

P.S. The title refers to "sanguine" as in the color, blood red. That caught a few of my readers up in the past XD It might be changed 'cause it's a bit of an obscure usage but for now, it sticks.

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Sanguine Beauty

Purity. Beauty. Truth. Concepts so simple—so elementary—that each and every one of us believe we hold an understanding of them. Concepts that come together to create the perfect image: the innocent, flawless vision of beauty that has been present since long lost tales of metallic-maned unicorns and ivory-skinned virgins; an idea that, somehow, this “perfection” is what mankind considers beautiful and attractive, and what they should strive for, because that is beauty. Real beauty. Pure beauty. Though many cultures across the world have a version of this sort of pure, innocent character—from virgin deities to mythical creatures—America has taken its search for perfection to an entirely new level and one that’s exceedingly superficial. The image of perfect purity that represents beauty isn’t one that represents the truth, nor one that reflects the soul: it’s a spray-tan, a thigh-gap, a thin body, blonde hair, and blue eyes; a chiseled chin, muscular physique, impressive height, and a white-toothed smile; an artificial image designed to create the appearance of purity while masking the truth. Americans are enculturated to see this artificial prettiness—a mere mirage of superficial purity—as beauty, but, in focusing on this facade, we lose sight of the authentic beauty of the deepest truths in life, however twisted.

Indeed, the idea of beauty that Americans are uncultured to believe in pursues purity through a perfect, flawless, image of artificial prettiness instead of authentic beauty. This “Hallmark beauty” (Parfitt & Scorzewski 251) is evident in every beauty outlet and fashion magazine and beach bikini. In the photoshopped and airbrushed photographs that remove any blemish; the skinny jeans that are barely functional so they may hug a stick-like figure; and the tan skin, round derrières, large breasts, and long legs of the girls lounging on the southern California coastlines.* It’s an idea of prettiness mistaken for beauty that’s instilled in us at a young age. It’s around every corner, on every billboard, in every movie, in every mall. Just step outside and see the twelve-year-olds wearing makeup and sitting on their iPhones or the teenage girls in their mini shorts and crop tops. The truth is, however, this idea of beauty is fake, and therein not truly beautiful. As Eric Wilson in his essay “Terrible Beauty” puts it, “Prettiness, the manifestation of American happiness, is devoted to predictability and smoothness…[it] has no dangerous edges; the pretty face features no unexpected distortions” but beauty is “something much wilder: the violent ocean rolling under the tepidly peaceful beams or the dark and jagged peaks that bloody the hands…” (Parfitt & Scorczewski 251). In other words, prettiness is the pure, unblemished, artificial beauty that Americans are conditioned to pursue by all those magazines, photos, and outlets, where beauty—true beauty—lies in the savage, the imperfect, and, perhaps, even in death. The American ideal is “perfect.” It’s unblemished, smooth, and predictable, as Wilson so astutely points out. It says that if something is imperfect, it is therefore not beautiful. In essence, American culture conditions us to believe that beauty is artificial perfection when truly beauty really lies in darker, more twisted aspects of the world.

Because of this, America often loses sight of the beauty of pain. Take, for example, the story of Frida Kahlo, a renowned and respected artist whose self-portraits reflected her struggles both emotionally and physically and whose art was largely ignored in her time. She suffered illness and great physical injury from a bus accident (Souter 153) in addition to intense struggles with her husband, Diego Rivera, who admittedly took her for granted and only later realized the disservice he’d done to the both of them after she’d died (Souter 154). She processed this pain through her art. As Frida herself put it, “My painting contains in it the message of pain…[Yet,] few people are interested in it…[It] completed my life…I lost three children and a series of other things that would have fulfilled my horrible life. My painting took the place of all of this” (Souter 154). Her truth—her soul—came through in her work, because it was there that she placed all her grief, pain, and struggle, and that is what made it beautiful. Certainly, there was talent in the brushwork and there were hours upon hours put into each and every painting, but were it only skill and not heart it would be as artificial as the spray-tan of those beach girls. They showed soul, truth, and there’s a purity in that even if it’s shrouded in intense physical and emotional agony and torment. It’s that purity that’s so enchanting and it’s why such art is so authentically beautiful. Even so, few people recognized or respected her work in her lifetime, as her words so plainly state. This is merely one of many examples of artists whose art came from their pain but whose work was largely ignored because their enculturation didn’t allow them to see it. American society conditions its people to avoid or turn their backs on pain instead of seeing the beauty in it.

Pain, however, isn’t the only thing that is often overlooked due to American enculturation—the sanguine beauty of the savage and the cruel aspects of nature is yet another truthful beauty that’s shunned in American culture. Mankind values truth, and it always has, but in America, any truths that are shrouded beneath such bloodshed or damage is turned away and viewed in naught but a negative light. That much is made clear by the reactions of the vast majority of Americans when, for the first time, they see a dying animal or earth-shattering natural disaster. It’s a reaction of fear, and perhaps even abhorrence for the offending circumstance or being. But is there, truly, anything more pure and authentic than the primal, visceral satisfaction—and perhaps even joy—of a predator when its prey is finally grasped its talons or the churning walls of titian flame that raze a great forest without clouded intentions nor conflicts, doing only as it was designed, pure and simple? Nature is a cruel mistress, a fact that has been proven time and time again, but she is a beautiful one, especially in her power. To hail once more to Wilson’s words, “Beauty…is organic…The rough sea appears to manifest some magnificently afflicted organic principle. The intricate face in the same way probably corresponds to a nimble and flexible mind within. This ocean, this face: both are ultimately beautiful because…the turbulent sea threatens destruction as much as creation [and] the pied visage shows decay as well as growth” (252). It’s not beautiful if it’s perfect or solely pretty; it’s beautiful because of the truth, even if that natural and internal truth is savage, dangerous, or terrifying. Savagery, too, can contain authentic beauty despite how our culture has trained us to turn our backs on it.

These things are, perhaps, mere shadows of the final authentic beauty that is relevant to all of us who walk this earth yet is so avoided by American society: death. It’s a horrifying image to many of us, and one that we avoid as much as we possibly can—we tell children that the dog “went to the farm” when, in reality, he was put down, or that the roadkill is merely sleeping because death is so vast and unknown we can’t bring ourselves to tell our own offspring about it. Yet, death is, in essence, the transience that is at the core of life. It’s the commonality that all living things have, be they human or animal, animal or plant, a eukaryote or prokaryote, a single-celled organism or a fully-realized, sentient being. This, too, is something that “Terrible Beauty” refers to: “life grows from death; death gives rise to life…everything, no matter how beautiful, must die…[appreciate] things more because they die” (251). It’s a circle—an endless, beautiful, imperfect circle—of life and death, death and life, again and again and again for every living soul. But it’s this transience, this fleeting, momentary life, that makes it beautiful. It’s pure and simple and wholly genuine in all its light and its darkness. That’s why death isn’t the terror it’s made out to be. It encompasses life—all of life, in its authenticity, truth, imperfections, and savagery—and that is more beautiful and pure than any image or human construction or superficial being. Despite American culture’s inherent avoidance of the subject, it is, in truth, one of the most beautiful things in this world.

Ultimately, it isn’t the ivory-coated unicorn with a resplendent silver mane dancing in the moonlight or the Kardashian-type body that is beautiful, despite what American culture has conditioned us to think. That’s a mere facade, a mirage, a pretend prettiness that seeks to accomplish beauty through purity by creating a perfect image. Beauty lies in the purity that comes with the raw truth, no matter how bizarre or twisted that truth may be: in destruction, in pain, in melancholy, in the raging tempest and the silent serpent and, perhaps most of all, in death.

Works Cited

Wilson, Eric G. “Terrible Beauty.” Pursuing Happiness: a Bedford Spotlight Reader, edited by Matthew Parfitt & Dawn Skorczewski, Bedford St. Martin’s, 2016, 247-257.

Souter, Gerry. Frida Kahlo. Parkstone International, 2011, New York. 14 April 2019.*

*the library is through my local community college. Unfortunately, by disclosing that collection's name, it'd disclose personal information about my location. Rest assured it is reliable, however. Or don't take my word for it, I suppose, up to you ;P


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Sun May 26, 2019 10:26 pm
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Mea wrote a review...



Hey Feather! I'm finally here for the review you asked for - sorry this wasn't more prompt. I'm still trying to get back into the swing of reviewing. :)

This essay went in a direction I didn't expect. After your first two paragraphs focused so much on American physical beauty standards, I was expecting you to analyze how that attitude is toxic or something, rather than moving on to make a case about much more abstract ideas of beauty. I found that portion of the essay very compelling, but the beginning just didn't seem to fit with it for me. I think that's because I have never really fallen victim to the American idea of "perfect" beauty. I've never genuinely seen any of that as beautiful - it's always felt wrong to me, and so every time you mention purity in the same sentence as the thigh gap, the tan, etc., I'm actually slightly repulsed because every part of me just goes "that's not what purity/beauty is."

So I'm not quite the audience of your persuasive essay, I guess. :P (Though I'm well aware that this is what the media tries to tell people is beauty.) I really do think the beginning could use a bit more of a gesture toward the overall direction of your essay. Looking back at the last sentence of your first paragraph, I can see your thesis statement, but when I first read it, I didn't realize at all that you were going to be talking about what kinds of twisted beauty exist- I thought you were going to talk about the ways we focus on the facade.

A small thing:

The American ideal is “perfect.” It’s unblemished, smooth, and predictable, as Wilson so astutely points out.

This felt pretty redundant as I was reading. I noticed this a few times - overall, I think you could go through and do a lot to tighten up your language. Voice-wise, it reads exactly like a standard, well-written college essay, but the unfortunate thing about academic writing is that the default voice for an essay is overly wordy and pretentious in its sentence structures. You have a lot of strong images and adjectives here to capture the wonder and power of the sanguine beauty you're talking about, but they're lost in the passive, polished, academic voice. If you wanted to make this more powerful, I would lean into how sanguine beauty feels. Strip away a lot of the sentence framing around the images and let them stand on their own. Bring them to life with verbs stronger than "is" and "are."

Again, your tone is more than fine for the purpose of writing a college essay. I just feel like this topic has a lot of potential to viscerally move people, and that's hard to do with the typical academic, objective tone, because it makes it feel a layer removed from reality.

On Frida Kahlo:
About halfway through the section on her I was shocked to realize I actually knew who you were talking about, as I had been exposed to her art through the Music/Art class I took last semester. Once I connected the artwork to the name, your point about her became a lot more powerful to me. Before, because I had no idea about her art, it felt like a generic 'random person expressed pain through art' story. So I don't think the example will work well for readers who don't know who she is. It's hard to really understand how her works are beautiful, but only unconventionally, without actually having seen them (though I think they are a great example of the other kinds of beauty you're talking about, people just won't know that without the visuals). The example feels like it needs a visual aid to be most effective.

And I think that's about all I've got for you! I really enjoyed this essay and found it well-written and thought-provoking, though there were times where the academic style obscured your point rather than highlighted it. I hope you got a good grade on this, and if you have any questions or thoughts on what I wrote here, let me know! Good luck with this, and keep writing!




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Fri May 24, 2019 10:53 pm
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nogutsnoglory wrote a review...



Alright, pretty straightforward, textbook essay. Good argument, with a prime example to back up your claim (Frida Kahlo). I do kind of wish you had brought up a more nuanced view of why America sees beauty the way it does - misogyny, patriarchy, sexism, racism, etc.. The whole essay just seems very implistic and in a way, kind of condescending; just because it seems to me that you're kind of implying that Americans are choosing to partake in this "shallow" definition of beauty. Moreso, I think that superficial things can be just as beautiful as these authentic things you're pointing out; one doesn't negate the other, but that's beside the point.

Overall, I think this is a pretty solid essay. I love the sentence fragments as an opener, and I especially love that you used Frida Kahlo as an example of authenticity/truth/beauty in pain. She was a disabled, queer, badass woman of color and I love seeing her anywhere and everywhere she can be in.

The title is fine and the language style is also fine. I'm not at all academic and I understood everything fine, so I think this essay is readable as it is no matter who the reader is.

Good job. I hope you got a high grade on this :)




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Sun May 19, 2019 9:57 pm
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Jaybird wrote a review...



Hey there, @Featherstone! I'm here to review your work, just as promised. <3

Small Comments


Purity. Beauty. Truth.


You have no idea how much I love sentence fragments as an opener.

Concepts that come together to create the perfect image: the innocent, flawless vision of beauty that has been present since long lost tales of metallic-maned unicorns and ivory-skinned virgins; an idea that, somehow, this “perfection” is what mankind considers beautiful and attractive, and what they should strive for, because that is beauty.


I absolutely adore the imagery here. This is already a great start to the essay!

America has taken its search for perfection to an entirely new level and one that’s exceedingly superficial.


A critique on American beauty standards? I'm game for that.

This “Hallmark beauty” (Parfitt & Scorzewski 251) is evident in every beauty outlet and fashion magazine and beach bikini. In the photoshopped and airbrushed photographs that remove any blemish; the skinny jeans that are barely functional so they may hug a stick-like figure; and the tan skin, round derrières, large breasts, and long legs of the girls lounging on the southern California coastlines.*


Yes, yes, yes. You continue with the amazing imagery and give some great examples of what "Hallmark" beauty is.

Just step outside and see the twelve-year-olds wearing makeup and sitting on their iPhones or the teenage girls in their mini shorts and crop tops.


It's definitely disturbing to see how many tweens are wearing makeup these days.

Her truth—her soul—came through in her work, because it was there that she placed all her grief, pain, and struggle, and that is what made it beautiful.


I haven't ever really looked at Frida Kahlo's works, but I wholeheartedly agree.

But is there, truly, anything more pure and authentic than the primal, visceral satisfaction—and perhaps even joy—of a predator when its prey is finally grasped its talons or the churning walls of titian flame that raze a great forest without clouded intentions nor conflicts, doing only as it was designed, pure and simple?


Viper is that you

Yet, death is, in essence, the transience that is at the core of life. It’s the commonality that all living things have, be they human or animal, animal or plant, a eukaryote or prokaryote, a single-celled organism or a fully-realized, sentient being.


It's a hard truth to swallow, but it's definitely a beautiful sentiment. <3

Beauty lies in the purity that comes with the raw truth, no matter how bizarre or twisted that truth may be: in destruction, in pain, in melancholy, in the raging tempest and the silent serpent and, perhaps most of all, in death.


silent serpent


Fea I think Viper stole your keyboard

Overall Comments


Viper jokes aside, I absolutely loved this essay! I know you were considering changing it, but I think the title did a great job of setting me up for what the piece was going to be about - it gave me a vibe that matched your conclusion. Your imagery was incredible, and I was astonished by your choice in diction. And, most importantly of all, you made a stellar argument.

I don't think I have anything negative to say about this - just let me know when you post another essay, because you certainly have a knack for writing them!




Featherstone says...


Thank you! Maybe Viper was writing it from my subconscious. Then again, she's anything but eloquent, so maybe it was a joint effort, lmao!

I'll be sure to ping you next time ^^ I'm so glad you liked it. Thank you for your time!!



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Sun May 12, 2019 5:17 am
Toboldlygo wrote a review...



Hey there! Toboldlygo here for a review!

I would actually recommend taking out the disclaimer that you wrote it for English. It's a good story and it's enjoyable and being a school assignment doesn't really enhance anything for us. It also makes us except something rather dry and bland.

I would also recommend breaking up some of those huge paragraphs. While they are correct for an English assignment, on Young Writers' Society, they're a bit hard to follow. Breaking them up will make it easier for your audience on an online platform to follow what you're reading.

I would recommend changing things like the name of the community college and giving them fictional names. It would be more engaging for the reader and will eliminate the need for your disclaimer.

Overall, a very pretty piece! I hope you do well in English!

Happy Writing!

Toboldlygo




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Fri May 03, 2019 9:04 am
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Leviari wrote a review...



Please do not change the title! It's very evocative and I think it works perfectly with the tone of this essay.
Also, the incipit is amazing: 3 words and you've already clarified what you are going to say and how you are going word it.

"Americans are enculturated to see this artificial prettiness—a mere mirage of superficial purity—as beauty, but, in focusing on this facade, we lose sight of the authentic beauty of the deepest truths in life, however twisted."
This passage it perfectly written and in my opinion the most powerful section of this excellent work.

Also the last paragraph:
"Ultimately, it isn’t the ivory-coated unicorn with a resplendent silver mane dancing in the moonlight or the Kardashian-type body that is beautiful, despite what American culture has conditioned us to think."
is very ironic and witty, quite a drastic change of tone but I didn't mind it.

This is a terrific piece and a very interesting read.




Featherstone says...


Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it :D




"Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it."
— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein