Beauty is a word we often use to describe things that we find pleasing and attractive, whether it be an image of a celebrity or something in nature. Beauty is subjective to individual opinions, but can also be objective – it would be hard to deny the magnificence of a bold sunset or a rainbow.
But what does beauty really mean? Are we just talking about a symmetrical face, great hair and a good figure? Or does it mean having confidence, kindness and a strong personality? Or is it about being healthy and able to do all the activities you enjoy?
Some philosophers have taken a more natural approach to beauty, identifying it with suitedness to use. The ancient hedonist Aristippus of Cyrene wrote that a thing is beautiful if it provides pleasure in its proper function. Applied to people, this means that someone who is healthy, happy and able to meet the challenges of life has a greater sense of well-being than someone who is sick or unhappy, and therefore has more beauty.
It has also been argued that beauty is a combination of both objective and subjective elements. The objective side refers to the inherent qualities of a person or object, while the subjective aspect relates to the emotions generated by these objects. A person’s ability to judge what is beautiful is often referred to as a ‘sense of taste’. It is thought that this can be trained and the verdicts of respected experts tend to coincide, suggesting that beauty has some degree of objectiveness.
Moreover, it is argued that beauty can be experienced through art or other experiences. This experience can be both aesthetic and psychological, and it can provide a deep satisfaction in the soul. The Ceylonese-British scholar of Indian and European medieval arts, Ananda Coomaraswamy argues that beauty in the world of art is not just an expression of beauty, but it can express the artist’s intention and meaning.
In modern times, the concept of beauty has been redefined by embracing diversity and a focus on inner peace and wellbeing. People with disabilities are now being seen as beautiful and we see more advertising campaigns featuring models in wheelchairs or with Down syndrome. This change in thinking is due to the fact that true beauty lies within and reflects who you are as a person.
However, the classic adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder can be deceiving. When it comes to the characteristics that we consider beautiful in others, strength, confidence and a sense of dignity ranked higher than facial appearance and sexiness in a recent global survey of what makes people attractive. These are the qualities that we can all aspire to and that will ultimately make us all feel more beautiful.