Invisible Beauty

There’s a compelling argument that fame was Hedy Lamarr’s biggest curse. Hedy’s fame corrupted, compromised, and downright stunted her essential self-development. Fame transformed her from an assertive and determined person into a tortured soul whose essence was ignored and sacrificed by both the self-interest of others and the seduction inherent to commercial stardom. Ironically, Hedy spent most of her life feeling alone and invisible. To paraphrase Hedy: ” I feel all alone on a small boat in the middle of the ocean.” She suffered intensely from anomie, isolation, and frustrated self-expression. So, a plot-driven movie that recapitulates astonishing facts about her life would be typical of Hollywood seduction.  It is problematic if the film projects the familiar, bombshell persona while excluding any meaningful understanding of her brilliant mind. More importantly, her inner world lacked loving and sustaining experiences— the intangible and imprisoning void. Hedy’s life was complex and multifaceted–so beautiful, glamorous, and seemingly desirable that it could be challenging to create a psychological perspective that focuses the camera on her tortured internal process. The worst outcome is to create something of superficial interest that lacks poignancy: A plot-driven film would mimic her seemingly ungratified empty life and could leave viewers feeling deeply dissatisfied.

Furthermore, the thrust of culture(s) and history foreclosed upon her the preconditions to living an authentic life. Since Europe was on the brink of war, alienation, anomie, fractured communities, and displacement became commonplace. Hedy’s hidden Jewish identity and eventual escape from extermination was a matter of actual survival. Hedy’s flight (her experience, not just the fact) and the resultant fear and probable terror she endured must have been a salient and traumatic period in her life that culminated in her fleeing her homeland. The cumulative trauma undoubtedly had an enduring impact. Knowing of Nazi eugenics and the extermination of Jews must have been a frightening paradox, considering she was reported to be the most beautiful woman alive.   Such experiences can lead to chronic anxiety, depression, low self-worth, and full-blown Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Notwithstanding a sumptuous feast of eye candy, dramatic depictions of the mundane details of marriages, movies, and inventions are disheartening. The best possible film provides the viewer with a personal glimpse of her ever-present struggle within herself and how she experienced the world’s tunnel vision. Nothing short of a dynamic and precise portrayal of the debate between her troubled psyche and her manifestly stunning life of glitz and stardom is, in order, will create the most successful outcome.

As a microcosm of society, Hollywood has focused a moral compass on the ugly underdog’s perspective, “beautiful” on the inside, an intuitive stance that resonates since most of us have some insecurity about our perceived imperfections.  We are all undoubtedly familiar with rejected people because of their physical differences.; there is no shortage of bathos and pathos for the “ugly ducklings” of the world.

There are many books and movies about actual and fictitious characters who are marginalized because of their physical differences. Examples abound; we have capitalized on the misfortunes of Joseph Merrick, the “Elephant Man,” “Mask,” Quasi Moto in The “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Shrek,” or the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast,” “Cyrano de Bergerac,” all kinds of witches, mermaids, animals, ET’s, aliens, freaks… These gentle, “humanoid” animals, monsters, creatures, and extraterrestrials are suitable mediums for dramatizing actual human discomfort and distaste with unappealing or sensational physical traits—the list of these types of books and films is exhaustive. The standard message and moral to these stories is that people who are disregarded, taunted, or victimized because of their physical differences may harbor magnificent inner beauty that must be unharnessed, appreciated, embraced, and loved.

People are fascinated by physical strangeness and by ugliness. It is hard for the ” I” (and eye) to get past extreme physical differences. In contradistinction to homely appearances, we know that physical beauty has value as a coveted asset or a gift. Smashing people are admired and envied, considered fortunate, and have tremendous success because of their social advantage over ordinary-looking folks. The “Cinderella” fairy tales of the world are plentiful. Aah- if only we weren’t so superficial and shallow–then we could see past the skin to our inner essence, which, once revealed, renders the physical self as unimportant, or ideally, hidden; conjures up the adage- ” beauty is only skin deep.” In its worst form, intolerance becomes hatred of otherness leading to racism, social oppression, displacement of people, and genocides.

Humans are blinded by ugliness and beauty. Hedy Lamarr was the pinnacle of knockout stardom. Hedy’s beauty was virtually physically incapacitating to the beholder: Consider the ordinary metaphors used to describe such a captivating person; ” blinding,” “disarming,” and “took one’s breath away” come to mind. It is hard for the observer to recover from the experience, let alone want to depart from enjoying such a sensual feast. A nearly intoxicating experience like this makes it difficult for the observer to shift their concentrated focus from this compelling vision. This is the kind of experience that Hedy was subject to daily. People couldn’t yank themselves away. What must it have been like to be Hedy- the object whose beauty was too much to digest for most people, so there was no mental space or interest to look beyond her visage?

We don’t naturally or intuitively feel sympathetic to the tribulations of gorgeous people. There is considerable cognitive dissonance to this concept, which in our society borders on oxymoronic. It’s a challenge to wrap one’s mind around the fact that at once, Hedy Lamarr, the world’s most desirable, ogled woman, was abandoned as a human being. She was a lost soul because she was lauded for her persona and physical beauty while her essence was squashed and disregarded. Her magnificent face unwittingly masked her brilliance and thwarted the development of her assertive, proactive, and mindful side. She was keenly aware of this fact throughout her lifetime, and as much as it caused her great psychic pain, she was helpless and ill-equipped to change. Indeed, her gorgeous self was her biggest curse.  Compounding the insult were pre-feminist social and cultural stereotypes.

Lamarr’s brilliant idea of frequency hopping, a stealthy way of moving around radio frequencies, was a communication system secretly implemented by the Allied forces and kept the enemy from interfering with torpedoes and missiles.  She would’ve fared much better had she been just pretty enough, and she said so herself.

Our Western culture has focused on yanking empathy chains by portraying the physically unattractive underdog whose kind soul and essence are on the inside. It is high time we take a complete look at the same coin’s flip-side: It’s not always the “luckiest blessing”; Outer beauty is not infrequently a destructive interference to living an authentic and meaningful life.