On Beauty: The Demand and the Price Paid

Devin Papillion
Oct 7 · 5 min read
Photo by King Lip on Unsplash

She was on a recent cover of Time Magazine. In all her lucid stature and heavenly grace, on the other side of my eyes: a Godsend.

To the world she is Cicely Tyson — a living Hollywood legend, a human paradigm of what a respected and lucrative career is like in Hollywood.

The picture was striking — beautiful beyond any general idea of the word as it exists inside the optic realm. In her pose there was a deep, moralizing countenance that could knock the ego out of Narcissus.

The 94-year old powerhouse has been acting for nearly seven decades.

She’s won many prestigious awards, been married to musical phenom Miles Davis, and has earned the undying respect of her fellow black community. Not many actresses in both her time and class have done well to reach such feats.

It’s questionable whether or not a young man in his prime may find this particular picture of an older woman attractive. But when we discuss beauty on a surface level, is this not uncommon?

Beauty will always be a relative thing.

The featured theme of this magazine’s edition was based on the art of optimism as it relates to changing how we see this world.

But what about exploring change in the world through the art of beauty?

What is beauty, really? What is considered the tasteful standard? Who determines this standard?

Through personal discovery, I know this power can be grand. This power can be consuming. Debilitating. Tragic. Pleasurable.

We have been conditioned to believe that a woman’s beauty is, by default, the primary thing that will keep her at the forefront on the grenade-infested battleground that is 21st century society.

Alas, a beautiful woman — who does not use this power for evil — can hold the world inside of her hands. She can have and be anything. Depending on the way she carries said beauty, there is usually a world waiting to fall at her feet. (See Ms. Tyson’s evidence above).

But is this only true of the westernized woman?

More specifically: the American woman who is often relegated to unrealistic physical standards and cowardly representations of addict-like obsessions, that suggest an implied universal image rooted on the basis of symmetry and the human desire for things that are, well… even.

And what about the black American woman? With her natural hips and custom curves, where does she fit?

Or the Asian woman: yellow skin hues, straight black hair, small facial features.

Is the ideal standard subject to contingencies based merely upon a majority collective of societal thoughts and ideals on what it truly means to be beautiful? Is not beauty a relative thing; a sometimes frightful thing?

Further, is it an endless, yet satisfying, pursuit in the eyes of one who fantasizes over that which he or she doesn’t have?


no boasting level, as a young woman in her prime — already a racially ambiguous mystery — I can walk in to almost any bar, have a man of any creed or stature buy me a drink (or four, or five), and not expect anything more but a simple conversation about menial things.

Again, for the spectator reading, this isn’t boast. This is 28 years of experiential reality.

This can also be considered a daunting curse — unnerving in the real sense of the experience.

If there are times when I want nothing but to be ignored and appear so small that even the ants walking on the ground cannot see me, beauty — as well as youth — makes this hard to do.


When I was twelve years old I was told by doctors that I was too fat to fit into a back brace that would correct the scoliosis in my spine.

I was also told by kids in school that my hair was too thick and “poofy”, that my skin was too light — or dark, depending on where you stood on the race-color spectrum — and that my teeth were too big.

I would eventually change most of these things.

I lost weight and went through two sets of braces. I got lean and fit. I became a personal trainer. Throughout my 20s I had plenty of adventures. I went after several jobs. It took me nearly a decade to realize something a little vain, but also true. Here are three specific examples:

  1. I was once a hotel front desk agent. My merit didn’t really get me that job. Beauty — and the naivety of youth — did.
  2. I dated a successful ABC news anchor who lived and worked in Times Square, NYC. My fascination with books and current events didn’t really put me there. Beauty did.
  3. I dated a gorgeous musician who is now signed to the Berry Gordy label Motown records. My talent and love for music didn’t put me there. Beauty did.

I am in no way proclaiming that I am the fairest of them all. There are many beautiful women all over the earth. But this still doesn’t mean it’s not a relative thing.

I’ll also contradict the former argument and confess that this is still something I work very hard to maintain everyday.

I’ve developed a constant fear that if I somehow lose this thing, I would also be losing power.

Yes. In all my noble narcissism, I am afraid to lose a power that could be used to my advantage — in the prime of my youth — as I climb the existential ladder of pride and purpose; of ambition and accolade; of both time and torture.

I cannot be the voice for all, but I do know that I cannot be the only woman to juggle the daily conflict of being aesthetically appealing in a male-dominated world where our unique talents are often undermined by the expectation to be: beautiful. Whatever the fuck that really means.

And yet, we do give in.

Perhaps the true conflict lies in the natural yearning of a woman — or anyone who identifies with the feminine identity — to be desired, looked at, looked after, cherished, marveled, fancied.

We understand that these are the very things that built this ugly paradox, yet we surrender.

still wonder: in a world with no divine masculine influence, to what extreme would we still aim to reach?

Power, beauty… or both?

What’s your price?

Devin Papillion

Written by

A girl in a world. Disorganized thought in word form. Channeling truth and mercy through life experiences. @devpapillion | devpapillion.com

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