Yesterday at a Café house, I met up with a group of friends whom I had not seen for a while. We caught up on each other’s personal lives and began some harmless bantering and then our conversation inexplicably steered to beauty. Here was a group of intelligent young people but no one could agree on what beauty was.
Eventually, for lack of a compromise, we moved to other topics to entertain ourselves but still, the beauty concept stuck with me. Almost everyone in the world has their own notions about what beauty is and what it is not. Due to this reason, judgements on beauty broadly vary across societies and cultures. In short, most of us can quickly say that X is beautiful but we struggle to say why we believe so in truly acceptable terms.
The belief that beauty is subjective is perhaps best exemplified in the popular phrase, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” This belief made me wonder as to whether beauty is what convention may have told us from childhood; that beauty is dependent on individual personality or whether there is a universal physical idea which determines beauty.
I would not be hypocritical and say that everyone is physically attractive, as I find some persons more aesthetically pleasing than others. What I can say however is that beauty is not wholly objective, as I have sometimes found persons attractive whom others may have believed to be plain or average; some part of their physicality or personality appealed to me.
According to Aristotle in his book, “Poetics,”, “To be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole made up of parts must present a certain order in its arrangement of parts.” Here, Aristotle equates beauty with symmetry, further suggesting that true beauty lies in one’s geometric composition. Beauty according to this theory then can be said to be composed of our values, morals and the Golden ratio.
Despite the steady changing of the beauty standard in the world, the one element which has remained intact as suggesting true beauty is the Golden ratio, also known as the “divine proportion” or more commonly, “phi.” It is stated that the more ones face adheres to phi, the more attractive that person is. This can be debated however. Actor, Denzel Washington has a near perfect facial symmetry and was once named sexiest man alive by “People Magazine.” He is without doubt a handsome man. Let us look at rapper, Jay-Z now. The rapper has a perfectly symmetrical face yet he is not considered beautiful by most in today’s society. Even with the “divine propertion” there seems room for debate.
Despite the fact however, that beauty; even objective beauty cannot accurately be defined, due to the mass media and books which sexualize the human face and body, we are in an age where beauty is normally measured solely on ones outward appearance. I suppose we come back to the premise that beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder but we can go further and say that what defines beauty is the multiple lenses through which that eye perceives that beauty- social conditioning, sexuality, cultural practices, other characteristics of the beheld and the direct preconceived prejudices of the beholder.