Friday, January 21, 2011

A Unique Masterpiece of Extraordinary Beauty

In which we read more of the wisdom and uniqueness of cats, and are inspired somewhat to follow in their pawprints.

" As I contemplate cats, their ways of being, their ways of approaching life, as I ponder what things they may have to teach me, I am struck by not only their grace and their masterful savoir faire, but also by their absolute, unflinching self acceptance. I have never know a cat, from the most pampered housecat to the scruffiest alley tom, who in any way seemed to question the nobility of his own personhood.

"The smallest feline is a masterpiece." ~~Leonardo da Vinci, via

This year will see me attain my fiftieth birthday, supposing I live that long, as I hope to. For many women in our beauty and youth focused society, if forty was frightening, fifty is terrifying beyond belief.
The Miss America pageant is recently over, the seventeen year old Teresa Scanlan crowned as the epitome of American beauty and poise, the gold standard of American Womanhood. The standard model which our men are told to desire and to which our women are told to aspire. All across the country women of all ages, shapes, careers, talents, accomplishments and aspirations watched the pageant, or read the press releases, or looked at the pictures, measured themselves against the lauded gold standard, and immediately launched into their favorite coping mechanisms, whatever those might be. Myself, I gave up watching the pageant decades ago. I stopped watching in my twenties, when I realized what message I was receiving: you may have a successful career, a wonderful family, and "vital" statistics of 35-27-36, but honey, that's not good enough. Quite literally, you don't measure up.

Recently, Rush Limbaugh questioned  whether or not Hillary Clinton would make a viable presidential candidate.  Ok, that's not so suprising. The jaw-dropping bit is that he wasn't questioning her domestic policy, her foreign policy, her competence, her party affiliation, or even her morals and integrity. He questioned her physical attractiveness. Is she pretty enough for the job?

 "Men aging makes them look more authoritative, accomplished, distinguished," Limbaugh said. "Sadly, it's not that way for women....Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?"

When I read this I thought of Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth II, Golda Meir, of Indira Gandhi, and I thought, seriously? Seriously? Julie Daley of the Huffington Post responded beautifully with the post  "Old Woman, Wise Woman, Powerful Woman: The Beauty of Aging.  Whether we self-identify as liberal or conservative, pro-life or pro-choice, Catholic, Evangalical, neo-pagan, agnostic or athiest, gay or straight, whether we have given birth, adopted, or chosen not to parent, as women in America, we are judged, by ourselves and by others, on our perceived beauty. Where and how do we measure up against that gold standard, which has just been set by a seventeen year old girl.

One of the most insidious effects is that our own judgement becomes clouded, our own vision of ourselves distorted. Our self acceptance is shattered. We come, in small part or in large, to loathe our bodies, our hair, our faces. Our self esteem and our confidence falters over time, or sometimes crumbles, with results ranging from bad to disastrous. Why do we allow this? Why do we allow ourselves and our daughters, our nieces and our grand doughters, our great grand daughters, to be convinced that it is not our skills and our talents, our kindess, our competence, our courage that matters, but rather the smallness of our waistlines, the bigness of our boobs, the clarity of our skin, the whiteness of our teeth, that makes us valuable as members of the tribe?

One day last summer, after a long and luxurious afternoon of "working" in my wild wilderness of a yard, I sat on the deck, blue jeans rolled up to the knee, barefoot toes wriggling in the cool grass, drinking a tall glass of iced tea. The feral cat colony were out and about. Handsome stretched himself full length on the railing, trailing a fluffy yellow tail over the edge. Skitter and Miss Cally lounged on the glider, shady under the trees. Miss Fuzzy (who is actually Fuzzy II) rolled happily in the kitty waller, getting just the perfect coating of dirt on her thick, long haired coat. We all, the cats and I, did what we could to avoid the heat, enjoying the day, the deep, leafy shade, and each other's company.

At length Miss Cally jumped off the glider, stretching, forward and back, as cats do. She sauntered to the edge of the deck, leapt to the surface. With tail pointed in the air, rubbing along the massive half barrel where I grow nettles and tomatoes, she annouced her pleasure at meeting me. We blinked at one another in greeting. I watched as she strolled to the water dish and drank. As always, I was caught by her beauty, her grace.

Miss Cally is not the svelte juvenile she once was. She has become somewhat swaybacked, and her belly drags lower than it once did. Handsome is old and scruffy now, his once silky ginger coat is now dry and coarse; odd bunches of fur poke out at strange angles. Skitter, the un-neutered male, is scarred from his years on the streets. Miss Fuzzy was looking decidedly dorkish, laying on her back in the dirt, feet stuck straight up in the air, regarding us from upside down. And yet, they were beautiful, all; each one of them a masterpiece of extraordinary beauty, unique in creation.

"There are no ordinary cats," wrote the French writer, Colette. I pondered this, as I admired the colony taking its leisure on a summer day. I felt my own frumpiness, the weight of the years creeping inexorably nearer, thickening my waistline, drawing unwanted tracks across my face, spotting my hands with melanin, drying my skin and hair.  And yet I believe Cally didn't think me frumpy or unpleasant as she came and stretched out on the deck near me, just out of reach, flicking her tail once, companionably.

I thought: how odd, that cats accept themselves and each other, and the humans who care for them, without respect to what we think of as physical beauty. Certainly the cats are unconcerned regarding my social status, my economic demographic, my education, my age, my beauty, the size of my waistline. What they see is a fairly hairless primate who treats them with respect, offers them no harm, brings them treats, and occasionally scratches behind their ears, if they permit. I realized they judge me by my actions, and respond to me accordingly.

It was a strange and comforting thought. Each feline, as Leonardo wrote, is indeed a great masterpiece.

And so is each and every one of us.

stlcatlady is a poet, blogger, and freelance writer of shortstories, news articles, and other such oddments, many of which center around her favorite subjecs: cats and philosophy. You may contact her by sending email to stlcatlady1 at gmail dot com.

1 comment:

  1. If only we could adopt that aspect of cats!