Whether it is related to living in a society obsessed with the idea of the perfect body and sex or being a woman nearing 30, the concept of beauty has been on my conscience a great deal lately. There are ten questions that I often find my mind mulling over in one form or another:
- What is beauty?
- Is beauty universal?
- Is beauty culturally indoctrinated?
- What does unbiased beauty look like?
- How can I develop my beauty?
- Is there beauty in imperfection?
- Does beauty exist in the world or in us?
- Does the beauty of the soul even matter to others?
- Why has humanity become so obsessed with the perfect body?
- What does our society tell us about ourselves when it comes to how we perceive and judge other’s appearances?
I don’t know that I have a definitive answer to any of these questions, but I wanted to share my thoughts on beauty with those who may be struggling to accept and love themselves as beautiful and strong individuals. Self worth can easily be threatened and shaken when we internalize other’s thoughts, words, and actions. Slowly our own thoughts, words, and actions about ourselves start to mirror what we believe others see when they look at us. As such our self image of our personality and body can easily become distorted and a sense of inadequacy sets in. You are your worst critic. Instead of seeing our strengths and beauties we focus on our weaknesses and imperfections.
WARNING: Reflections in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of “beauty”
What is beauty? This may be one of the most complex riddles of human inquiry. In a traditional sense, beauty is a combination of attributes and qualities that are aesthetically pleasing to look at that give one a euphoric sense of appreciation. This idea of beauty leads into the next question of how are beautiful attributes and qualities quantified.
Is beauty universal? There are obviously varying degrees of how beauty is perceived. As philosophy expert Andrea Borghini stated, “Beauty is a label we attach to different sorts of experiences.” For example, a beautiful person is observed and experienced differently than how a beautiful melody is observed and experienced. If beauty is universal then it must transcend the senses. It appears there is no single common element between how we experience beauty. The feelings and ideas from one individual to the next also vary substantially when observing the same person or sunset. Beauty is a personal interpretation of an experience whether it be visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or gustatory.
How can I develop my beauty? In my view, there are two parts to developing beauty. There is an outward and inner reflection of beauty. Your inner self is reflected in your outward countenance. The outward steps to develop your beauty are the ones we are all familiar with: keep yourself properly groomed (wash your face, style your hair, complement yourself with make up, wear clothes that are flattering to your figure, eat healthy, exercise and stretch your muscles, etc). These outward steps however are only one part of developing beauty. Your inner beauty shines through your eyes. The inward steps to develop your beauty are the ones we are all less familiar and comfortable with (mediate, be kind to others, think positively of yourself, cultivate talents, build relationships with supportive friends and family, express confidence, take time for yourself each day, etc).
Is there beauty in imperfection? Beauty is relative and subjective to who one is being compare to. Everyone is simultaneously has varying degrees of beauty. In this sense, there is beauty in imperfection. As Swiss-German painter Paul Klee stated, “Beauty is as relative as light and dark.” By excepting our imperfections we transcend past them. This is known in the Japanese world view as Wabi-sabi (meaning flawed beauty) which was derived from the Buddhist teachings of the three marks of existence (impermanence, suffering, and emptiness or absence of self-nature). Author Richard R. Powell states there are three simple realities based on this Buddhist teaching: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. The challenge in our society, is to accept this and find the beauty within these truths.
Does beauty exist in the world or in us? As the saying goes, “beauty is the the eye of the beholder.” There is beauty in the world but our senses are the receivers of that beauty and our minds decide how we interpret it.
Does the beauty of the soul even matter to others? Beauty should not be solely limited to what is visually pleasing. Beauty should also include the mind behind the face. Would you not agree that you find certain ideas, thoughts, and personality traits as beautiful and attractive? Would you not agree that the beauty of a person’s mind or soul goes deeper than the beauty of the flesh? The beauty of a thought can be immortal and expand over time. The beauty of the flesh withers and decays over time.
Why has humanity become so obsessed with the perfect body? The western world has become sickly infatuated with unattainable perfection: no flaws, no obstacles, no problems. The idea of perfection seems to infiltrate our lives on a daily basis through the endless bombardment of photoshopped beauty and ease in the media. Reality however, is not something that can be photoshopped into perfection. In the real world, the flaws and inadequacies of even the most picturesque person begin to show over time. The image of perfection inevitably breaks down and shatters. Yet notwithstanding its intangibility, humanity remains obsessed with perfection. It is an obsession that can only be overcome through personal discovery and development of acceptance. We need to accept our inevitable physical flaws and develop a desire to succeed and be happy in spite of them.
What does our society tell us about ourselves when it comes to how we perceive and judge the appearances of others? Trying to live up to the expectations of advanced achievements and beauty has made us all critics of not only ourselves but others as well. We see our own shortcomings when we look at others and are predisposed to viciously judge based on our own insecurities. We live in a society where we are encouraged to hide our own vulnerabilities and to judge the imperfections in others instead of encouraging transparency and forgiveness. We have confused perfection for beauty. Society tells us we should feel ashamed and humiliated by our flaws which causes us to have a negative imprint on our thought patterns. Even the way we view body size is seen with a negative imprint. Instead of saying, “I need to gain health” we say, “I need to lose weight.” We all have negative imprints of perspective that need to be recalibrated into positive thoughts of growth.
I leave you with a question from Boonaa Mohammed: If the world was blind, how many people would you impress?
Related Post: Aesthetics: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Diets