When I was eighteen, I first stepped on the red carpet. I wasn’t the object of the incessantly flashing paparazzi cameras, but I stood to the side and watched as unbelievably beautiful, famous people passed slowly by me, close enough for me to touch. They smiled and the flashing lightbulbs exploded from every angle. Simon Baker, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore. There they were, these monuments of film, dripping with wealth and charm, effortlessly causing everyone to fall in love with their beauty and charisma. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. They were magnetic, drawing people’s gazes towards them like flies to light.
It was the premiere of Margin Call, a star-studded political thriller. My uncle played one of the main characters, and he had invited me, my mom, and my grandfather to his movie premiere. After he arrived and posed for the cameras, we followed him into the colossal theatre, marveling at the massive quantities of jewel-studded people who milled about in a careless, confident manner, all appearing to have just nonchalantly stepped out of a Gucci advertisement. Everyone shone, everyone sparkled, everyone was enthusiastic and fascinating.
After the movie, we were swept through the streets of New York City in a black sedan to a gigantic hotel, where we proceeded to the top floor. Upon entering the room, I found myself in a party suite, with a full bar, glass walls overlooking the aerial night view of the bustling city, and a stair leading to the roof. There were more celebrities, friends of friends. Zoe Kravitz, brilliant in red, approached our group and my uncle introduced her.
“So you sing?” I asked her.
“Yes I do—kind of an alternative soft rock. We play Thursday,” she replied, and went on to invite us if we were “still around”. We’d be gone, but we thanked her anyway.
I met a Disney channel actor about my age, an unassuming, open, friendly young man named Brandon, the protégé of my uncle’s mother, who was an acting coach. Since we were the only people under 25, we went to the roof and he furtively indicated to me the important “who-was-who” amongst the groups of people smoking weed, drinking, and engaging in amicable banter.
“That one—by Zachary Quinto—he’s the director.”
From that height, the lights of the city could be seen for miles beneath us. It was the most impeccably beautiful view I’d ever seen. The flawless persons by whom I was surrounded, the bubbling laughter, the city lights mirroring the stars above in the black night, the aura of wealth, comfort, and excitement. And yet, as Brandon and I leaned on the rail and surveyed the city hundreds of feet below, I was struck by how terribly, awfully superficial all of this beauty was. I realized the beauty of the city paled in comparison to the beauty of real, hard life. The city was a soap bubble. Its shape, its color, its flirtatious movement and airy loveliness were, in a word, perfect—but as the wind blows the bubble away, its fragility is the only thing that actually matters. It bursts, and disappears, and no one remembers it.
I remember that night among the stars for its beauty but also for its sadness. These people, searching for fulfillment, accepting gratification so far below the fullness of real hope that they could obtain—these splendid people, blinding themselves in magnificence to escape the harsh reality of beauty’s temporality. Praise be to God who offers us substantive, simple, unmasked truth. We no longer need strive to be beautiful.