What Is Beauty?


Beauty is more than a pleasant or agreeable appearance. It is a quality that affects the whole person and can include intellectual or moral characteristics. For example, a person’s generosity, compassion, or sense of humor may make them beautiful to those around them. People use specific cues to judge a person’s beauty, including the color and whiteness of the sclera (white part of the eye). The whiter the sclera, the healthier the person. Similarly, a person’s kindness is often considered beautiful, as it helps build a more harmonious society.

Beauty standards can be oppressive, leading to eating disorders and insecurities. They can also cause women to seek out plastic surgery or photoshop. Beauty standards are especially damaging for young girls, who are bombarded with images of unrealistic bodies and are told that they are “ugly” if they don’t conform to these expectations.

While it’s important to be healthy and active, the label of beauty does not determine success. Many successful people—including Bill Gates, Jack Welch, and Martha Stewart—don’t fit the attractive mold, yet they have accomplished incredible things. Instead of focusing on your looks, work on your inner qualities and strive to achieve your goals. The beauty that lies within you will attract others to you and help you succeed at whatever you do.

According to Aristotle, beauty is defined by proportion and harmony. He believes that the ideal human form is the perfect combination of these qualities and states that “the beautiful is the proportion which is most in accord with nature, that is, nature in its virtuous development.” Aristotle’s concept of beauty is complex, and he makes several distinctions between what is beautiful and what is ugly.

By the eighteenth century, empiricist philosophers such as Hume and Kant began to argue that beauty is a subjective state of experience. They saw that, for example, people who are color-blind perceive colors differently from those who can see them clearly. Furthermore, a particular object can be beautiful to one person but not another.

Although it is possible to view beauty as a subjective experience, Kant and other eighteenth-century philosophers believed that if the criteria for beauty is completely relative to individual experiencers, it ceases to be a universal value. This is similar to the argument that we sometimes ascribe intentions to balky devices—such as a broken computer—even though it is unlikely that such intentions would explain their frustrating effects. The same applies to beauty: if it is a subjective experience, it cannot be objectively evaluated or compared.