Have you considered how rare it is to encounter an ugly baby? Post-six months, that is. But apart from C-section arrivals, the newborn, still supine in its crib or pram, entirely exposed to the gaze of the curious, usually bears for at least several weeks the marks of its struggle out of the womb, a journey it makes provided with no experience to assure it that this, too, shall pass and no concept of future joy. The infant’s physical battle scars–perhaps its psychic ones as well–disappear with time, and time, as well as interaction with other creatures of the human species, seems to make its features harmonize just as its limbs gradually acquire coordination. By the half-year mark, most fledglings are enchanting in one way or another.
But it’s the “ugly” babies that fascinate me. Those with the ears akimbo, the eyes tiny and too close together, the eyebrows perennially in frown mode, the skin sallow, blotched, or irregularly puffy, the expression grave or worried, even in situations promising pleasure.
I have enormous affection and hope for these babies. First of all, obviously, because Hans Christian Andersen was right: Ugly ducklings, occasionally, turn into swans. But even more because, if the uncomely babies never do turn handsome or beautiful, great things may befall them, since they won’t be subject to the distractions of personal beauty. Maintaining and enhancing one’s mirror image can be a full-time job, by definition a superficial one, with a tragic ending brought about by the passage of time. Inevitably, surface beauty fades.
Think of the ostensibly ill-favored, however, who, by their deeds, have become veritable gods: Andersen himself, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, to name just three of my favorites. Variously, their faces project sensitivity, empathy, hard-earned wisdom, a quietly unshakable firmness of purpose–elements of temperament that can transform the world.
© 2007 Tobi Tobias