What is Beauty?

iVillage Member
Registered: 02-15-2007
What is Beauty?
2
Wed, 06-13-2012 - 12:42pm

     In many ways my fantasies are about beauty, but what is beauty and what makes something beautiful.  My dictionary defines “beauty” as “a quality that is present in a thing or person giving intense or aesthetic pleasure or deep satisfaction to the senses or the mind.”  “Beautiful” is defined as “having beauty; delighting the senses or mind.”  Now, I think that many people, perhaps most, define beauty and beautiful in those ways, but I have a problem with those definitions, as they seem to claim that “beauty” is present in a thing or person.  I don’t see how that can be unless one can objective measure beauty and I don’t see any way to do that.

     It seems to me that to objectively measure something one would have to be able to use some inanimate object or instrument to do the measuring.  For example one can use a ruler to objectively measure the length of a desk or one can use a spectrometer to objectively measure the wavelength of light being reflected from an object or one can use instruments to objectively determine the chemical composition of a substance, but there is no beauty meter.  There is no inanimate object or instrument that will measure beauty.  However, beauty can be detected, but it is detected by the mind.

     But the mind is not like a ruler and it seems to me that the same qualities or characteristics are experienced differently by different people, meaning that one person may experience a particular thing as beautiful and another may not, so it seems to me that beauty is not objective, but subjective to a particular person or mind.  So, to me beauty resides, not in a thing or person, but in the observer’s mind.  The saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” alludes to the idea that beauty is subjective.

     That then raises the question as to why a person experiences something as beautiful.  Is the concept of beauty something that a person is born with or is it something that a person learns.  William Shakespeare, in "Romeo and Juliet," wrote “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet.”  It is true that no matter what name is given to the flower it would still have the same physical and chemical composition and the odor given off by it will still be composed of the same chemicals, but those attributes can be objectively measured.  However, the fact that the physical and chemical composition of a rose and the odor of a rose is not changed by calling the flower by a different name that does not mean that the sweetness of the smell of a rose will not change for the sweetness of a smell (or the beauty of the smell) is subjective to the mind.

     Imagine if you were brought up in a society that considered roses to be something that were ugly and that the smell of a rose was terrible.  Then imagine that people called roses stink weeds and that every time they smelled a rose they would hold their noses and say, “what a terrible smell.”  In such a society would you still feel that a rose smelled sweet?  To what extent is our experience of what is beautiful, attractive, cute, handsome, gorgeous, charming, pleasing, lovely or just plain good looking, inborn, meaning determined by our genes or is determined by our experience.  Also, to what degree is our experience of what is ugly, unsightly or bad looking determined by genes or experience?  I would say that those feeling are determined by an interaction of genes and experience and that in different cultures the notions of beauty and ugliness could be different.

     I did a google image searches for various things.  When I searched for “Beauty” I got mostly pictures of young, light skinned women.  But then I thought beauty can mean an attractive woman, so I did a search for “Beautiful” and I got a greater variety of pictures.  I did a search for “Beautiful eyes” and “Beautiful faces.”  Again, most of the pictures were of young, light skinned women.  This link goes to a picture of a dark complexioned woman that I found on beautiful faces.  I then did a search for “Beautiful Bodies.”  Here I also found mostly light complexioned, young women, but there were three pictures I found particularly interesting and I would like to hear what people have to say about these pictures in regard to their beauty.  First, was one of a young male model dressed only in a skimpy pair of underpants (see here).  Second, was of a number of naked “plus sized” women (see here).  The third was the most interesting to me.  It was of a young woman who had had a double mastectomy (see here).  Do you believe that it is possible that the people shown in these three pictures could be considered beautiful, in the way they are shown?

     Tom,

iVillage Member
Registered: 02-15-2007
Thu, 08-16-2012 - 5:03pm

         Thank you for your comment Madmani, I agree.

         Tom,