The iconic Helen of Troy, a woman blessed with such beauty that mercilessly started a war and drove grown men to the ends of the earth in order to possess it.
Why did I choose Helen?
Years ago while researching women in classical mythology, I happened to take a look at all the Helen entries. It filled two pages. Each entry attributed Helen as the cause for something or other. Helen did this, Helen did that. Helen made men go into some kind of Bacchic frenzy that caused them to pursue her everywhere in order to possess her. She was so pretty that a war was waged over her. All because she was ‘beautiful’. And each entry seemed to be dead set on one-upping the other. So much blame put on one woman.
In those legends of Helen, they never saw her as anything other than a commodity. They never looked past her surface to her heart.
Needless to say, it really, really irked me. The idea of ‘beauty’ is still a mantle forced upon society today. Both men and women obsessed with being ‘so beautiful’ in order to illicit a chorus of astonished gasps when they step outside their door. I understand the need to feel confident about one’s appearance, but the monetary, physical, and emotional backlash it has on our bodies and minds is disheartening.
‘Beauty’ is still used an excuse to commit sexual attacks. The way we ‘look’ is used as ammunition. Some get bullied for being beautiful, and others get bullied for not being the ideal representation of beauty. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, many say. Beauty comes from within, others insist. But we know the media feels the need to tell us what we should and shouldn’t find beautiful. And sadly millions listen. That’s just the way it is, many say. Because we let it. We enjoy it. We can’t help ourselves.
However, ‘beautiful’ people are punished for being ‘beautiful’. And for what reason? Do we not punish each other and ourselves enough? What is with all the beautiful shaming and blaming?
I continually hear people wish they were prettier, skinnier, fitter, and richer – where does it end? Consider the cost of those wishes and what we put ourselves through in order to achieve it or something close to it. Are we not enough for each other or ourselves? When will we be?
As I churned these thoughts over and over, the need to give Helen a chance to contest her ill-fated, ill-fitting legend was clear. But so was my need to make it a universal approach. Helen never had her moment. She was oppressed, hounded, blamed, cursed, and hated. And seeing how ‘beauty’ is still oppressed, hounded, blamed and cursed today I believed it fitting that Helen be the one to speak out about it in order to take back her power and her legend, and hopefully empower others to do the same.
Persephone Vandegrift is the playwright of Letter From Helen, a part of MythFest, which debuts as a part of Seattle Fringe Fest 2014. Tickets available here.