Zachary Welsh’s Thoughts on Beauty and Variations by Kenny Fries

Usually when it comes to our biweekly discussions, I tend to try to talk about at least two of the assigned readings for whatever day it is. However, this week for Tuesday, one of the readings we were asked to check out was Beauty and Variations by Kenny Fries, and quite frankly, it stood out to me so much that I actually just wanted to share my thoughts on this reading alone today.

With the poem Beauty and Variations, author Kenny Fries portrays to readers how the societal standards for beauty can affect someone with a disability. Specifically, we as readers are introduced to a speaker that has an unspecified physical disability that is struggling with recognizing their own self beauty. This is realized in the very first line of the poem, when the speaker asks “what is it like to be so beautiful?” The speaker is admiring their lover and recognizing their physical beauty but through this, failing to see how their own body can match that of their significant others and be considered beautiful. This is echoed by the way the speaker describes their lover’s body as having “sculpted thighs” and “smooth skin” but then aggressively contrasts this to his or her own body by describing it as “twisted,” “deformed,” and filled with “wounds” and “scars.” This ferocious comparison highlights how disabled individuals, while being beautiful people, oftentimes fail to see that due to the negative connotations that society associates with disabled individuals.

What perhaps pushes the poem to an even more emotional level, is the fact that in an attempt to simply get someone to understand how they are feeling in the present moment, the speaker actually wishes harm against their significant other. While it is not out of ill intent, the speaker tells their lover that they want to “break your bones.” However, the speaker immediately follows this up by saying that they wish to do this so that their legs “look like mine.” The choice to follow up an aggressive thought with one of innocence not only parallels the message of the poem, but also shows, on a deeper, more intimate level, how an individual with a disability might be feeling in these situations. We as readers must assume that societal beauty expectations are made to feel so important in our lives that the speaker wants to do harm on their lover only to make them understand how they feel.

While this is barely scratching the surface of the poem by Fries, it is also a glimpse at the depth and layers that included within it and i would love to hear what other readers thought of the reading and how they perceived the poem and what they got form it.

One thought on “Zachary Welsh’s Thoughts on Beauty and Variations by Kenny Fries”

  1. This poem literally made me cry. The amount of raw emotion and the way Fries uses poetic strategies to map out this struggle with what really defines beauty is one of the best pieces I have ever read. The half-lines carry so much emotion, “inside me, scrape inside my heart. Look,” is the one that I find particularly impactful. The aching to be seen on the inside to see what’s truly beautiful, to truly be seen- actually seen, and loved from within.
    Actual tears, It’s just so beautiful.

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