I have an obsession with beautiful things. Beautiful furnishings, beautiful food, beautiful dresses, beautiful music, beautiful photographs and definitely beautiful shoes.
And from a very early age I have been passionate about making the world a better place, somehow. That may sound kind of self-important or naïve, but for as long as I can remember social justice has been a driving force in my life. Whether it was collecting coins for charity when I was six, reading books for the MS Read-a-thon, volunteering at Amnesty International and refugee organisations, or working to prevent violence against women. It is all I have ever wanted to do.
These two parts of myself have always seemed dichotomous and contradictory. I have often felt that my love of aesthetics was something I should suppress, because it was frivolous and consumerist. Working to address women's issues in developing countries seemed more worthy, but I assumed I had to do it from a place of self-imposed lack for it to be authentic.
Then a few months ago when I was at a yoga class in South Africa I saw a tomb of a book sitting in the waiting area. It presented star-sign-like character descriptions of people by the date they were born. Apparently people born on the 31st of December (my birthday) are very focused on beauty and are often artists. However, many people born on this date, according to the book, are also involved in philanthropic, charity or humanitarian work. The author suggested that likewise, this was driven by an interest in beauty; a desire to reduce ugliness and injustice in the world. For me, this was a revelation. Perhaps these two elements of myself were not oppositional at all.
Why do we enjoy looking at a sunset or a flower, or an exceptional painting? I have come to believe that connection to beauty is an innate human desire. There is something universally human about wanting to be surrounded by nature and art; to create. I think perhaps we are drawn to beautiful things because they reflect back to us the beauty of our true selves. Beautiful spaces make us feel at home. We see our own divinity in the stars. We see our own spaciousness in the sky. We see our own fragility in a flower.
And the more you focus on beauty in the world, the more you notice the beauty in the everyday and in the people around you. It connects us with the present moment, it reminds us to be still, it makes us grateful, and makes us smile. It may even make us wise. Robert Bridges writes in Testament of Beauty, Book IV, I.1305.
"Verily by beauty it is that we come at wisdom".
So, I no longer resist my love of beautiful things. That doesn't mean I will go out and buy 100 pairs of shoes (maybe just one pair). But it does mean I will embrace creating a beautiful home for my family. I will host beautiful dinner parties for my friends, wear a dress that makes me feel divine, at the same time as I continue to try to reduce the ugliness of violence, abuse and inequality in the world.
Who says I can't save the world in Jimmy Choos?