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A nymph with morning glory flowers by Lefebvre. The image of the young woman is a symbol of human beauty in the West, and a dominant theme in western art.
A nymph with morning glory flowers by Lefebvre. The image of the young woman is a symbol of human beauty in the West, and a dominant theme in western art.

Beauty is commonly defined as a characteristic present in a person, place, object or idea that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure, meaning or satisfaction to the mind or to the eyes, arising from sensory manifestations such as a shape, color, personality, sound, design or rhythm.[1] Beauty is studied as part of aesthetics, sociology, social psychology and culture. Beauty, as a cultural creation, is also extremely commercialized.

The subjective experience of "beauty" often involves the interpretation of some entity as being in balance and harmony with nature, which may lead to feelings of attraction and emotional well-being. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is a common phrase attributed to this concept.[2]

In its most profound sense, beauty may engender a salient experience of positive reflection about the meaning of one's own existence. An "object of beauty" is anything that reveals or resonates with personal meaning. Hence religious and moral teachings often focus on the divinity and virtue of beauty, and to assert natural beauty as an aspect of a spirituality and truth.[citation needed]


[edit] Aesthetics

Images of beauty from Hasht-Behesht palace in Iran.
Images of beauty from Hasht-Behesht palace in Iran.

Understanding the nature and meaning of beauty is one of the key themes in the philosophical discipline known as aesthetics. The composer and critic Robert Schumann distinguished between two kinds of beauty, natural and poetic. The former is found in the contemplation of nature, whereas the latter lies in man's conscious, creative intervention into nature. Schumann indicated that in music, or other art, both kinds of beauty appear, but natural beauty is merely sensual delight. Poetic beauty begins where the natural beauty leaves off.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant, whose aesthetic theory has been influential, noted that beauty seems to possess both subjective and objective qualities.[3] Arguing for the subjective nature of beauty, he wrote, "The judgment of taste, therefore, is not a cognitive judgment, and so not logical, but is aesthetic - which means that it is one whose determining ground cannot be other than subjective."[4] Kant also noted, however, that when someone calls an object beautiful, "he judges not merely for himself, but for all men, and then speaks of beauty as if it were a property of things."[4]

A common idea suggests that beauty exists in the appearance of things and people that are good. A good apple will be perceived as more beautiful than a bruised one. Also, most people judge physically attractive human beings to be good, both physically and on a deeper level. Specifically, they are believed to possess a variety of positive traits and personality characteristics.[5]

Further, people's skills can develop and change their sense of beauty. Carpenters may view an out-of-true building as ugly, and many master carpenters can see out-of-true angles as small as half a degree.[citation needed] Many musicians can likewise hear as dissonant a tone that's high or low by as little as two percent of the distance to the next note.[citation needed] Most people have similar aesthetics about the work or hobbies they have mastered.

[edit] History of beauty

A famous depiction of male beauty in Michelangelo's David.
A famous depiction of male beauty in Michelangelo's David.

The earliest theory of beauty can be found in the works of early Greek philosophers from the pre-Socratic period, such as Pythagoras. The Pythagorean school saw a strong connection between mathematics and beauty. In particular, they noted that objects proportioned according to the golden ratio seemed more attractive. Ancient Greek architecture is based on this view of symmetry and proportion. Modern research also suggests that people whose facial features are symmetric and proportioned according the golden ratio are considered more attractive than those whose faces are not.

Beauty, throughout history, generally has been associated with that which is good. Likewise, the polar opposite of beauty is generally considered to be ugly and is often associated with evil. Evil witches, for example, are often depicted with unpleasant physical features and personalities. This contrast is epitomized by classic stories such as Sleeping Beauty. Likewise, beauty according to Goethe, from his 1809 Elective Affinities, is “everywhere a welcome guest”. Goethe stated that human beauty “acts with far greater force on both inner and outer senses, so that he who beholds it is exempt from evil and feels in harmony with himself and with the world.”[citation needed]

Symmetry may be important because it is evident that the person grew up in a healthy way, without visible genetic defects. Although style and fashion vary widely, cross-cultural research has found a variety of commonalities in people's perception of beauty. Large eyes and a clear complexion, for example, are considered beautiful in both men and women in all cultures. Some researchers have suggested that neonatal features are inherently attractive and thus likely to be found beautiful. Youthfulness in general is associated with beauty.

There is good evidence that a preference for beautiful faces emerges early in child development, and that the standards of attractiveness are similar across different cultures. Meta-analyses of the empirical research indicate that all three are attractive in both male and female faces and across a variety of cultures.[6] Facial attractiveness may be an adaptation for mate choice because symmetry and the absence of blemishes signal important aspects of mate quality, such as health. It is also possible that these preferences are simply by-products of the way our brains process information.[citation needed]

The foundations laid by Greek and Roman artists have also supplied the standard for male beauty in western civilization. The ideal Roman was defined as tall, muscular, long-legged, with a full head of thick hair, a high and wide forehead – a sign of intelligence – wide-set eyes, a strong browline, a strong perfect nose and profile, a smaller mouth, and a strong jaw line. This combination of factors would, as it does today, produce an impressive "grand" look of handsome masculinity.

Beauty ideals may contribute to racial oppression. For example, the prevailing idea in American culture, perpetuated by the media, has been that that black features are less attractive or desirable than white features. The idea that blackness was ugly was highly damaging to the psyche of African Americans, manifesting itself as internalized racism.[7] The Black is beautiful cultural movement sought to dispel this notion.[8]

In her novel The Bluest Eye (1981), Toni Morrison depicts the effects of the legacy of 19th century racism for poor black people in the United States. The novel tells of how the daughter of a poor black family, Pecola Breedlove, internalizes white standards of beauty to the point where she goes mad. Her fervent wish for blue eyes comes to stand for her wish to escape the poor, unloving, racist environment in which she lives.[9]

[edit] Human beauty

Brazilian Gisele Bündchen, the richest model of world according The Guinness Book of World Records, is an example of the western world's idea of beauty.
Brazilian Gisele Bündchen, the richest model of world according The Guinness Book of World Records, is an example of the western world's idea of beauty.

The characterization of a person as “beautiful”, whether on an individual basis or by community consensus, is often based on some combination of inner beauty, which includes psychological factors such as personality, intelligence, grace, charm and elegance, and outer beauty, which includes physical factors, such as health, youthfulness, symmetry, averageness, and complexion.

A common way to measure outer beauty, as based on community consensus, or general opinion, is to stage a beauty pageant, such as Miss Universe. Inner beauty, however, is more difficult to quantify, though beauty pageants often claim to take this into consideration as well.

A strong indicator of physical beauty is "averageness", or "koinophilia". When images of human faces are averaged together to form a composite image, they become progressively closer to the "ideal" image and are perceived as more attractive. This was first noticed in 1883, when Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, overlayed photographic composite images of the faces of vegetarians and criminals to see if there was a typical facial appearance for each. When doing this, he noticed that the composite images were more attractive compared to any of the individual images. Researchers have replicated the result under more controlled conditions and found that the computer generated, mathematical average of a series of faces is rated more favorably than individual faces.[10] Evolutionarily it makes sense that sexual creatures should be attracted to mates sporting predominantly common or average features.[11] Natural selection results, over the course of generations, in beneficial (or "fit") features replacing their disadvantageous counterparts. This is the fundamental force which drives evolution, and is the major insight into Biology which immortalized Charles Darwin. Thus, natural selection causes beneficial features to become increasingly more common with each generation, while the disadvantageous features become increasingly rare. A sexual creature, therefore, wishing to mate with a fit partner, would be expected to avoid individuals sporting unusual features, while being especially attracted to those individuals displaying a predominance of common or average features. This is termed "koinophilia".

Another feature of beautiful women that has been explored by researchers is a waist-to-hip ratio of approximately 0.70 for women. The concept of waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) was developed by psychologist Devendra Singh of the University of Texas at Austin. Physiologists have shown that this ratio accurately indicates most women's fertility. Traditionally, in premodern ages when food was more scarce, overweight people were judged more attractive than slender. Beauty is not solely limited to the female gender. More often defined as 'bishounen,' the concept of beauty in men has been particularly established throughout history in East Asia, and most notably, in Japan. This is distinct from the idea of being metrosexual, which focuses mainly on the behavior of men in traditionally feminine ways. Bishounen refers to males with distinctly feminine features, physical characteristics establishing the standard of beauty in Japan and typically exhibited in their pop culture idols. The origin of such a preference is uncertain but it clearly exists even today.

[edit] Inner beauty

Inner beauty is a concept used to describe the positive aspects of something that is not physically observable.

While most species use physical traits and pheromones to attract mates, humans claim to rely on the inner beauty of their choices. Qualities including kindness, sensitivity, tenderness or compassion, creativity and intelligence have been said to be desirable since antiquity. However new research comparing what humans claim to find attractive to their actual mating habits underlines the superficiality of "inner beauty," underlining the fact that the human animal relies on physical traits and pheromones just like every other animal to find a mate. That said, whether "inner beauty" does or does not measurably affect humans' mating habits, some traits classified as "inner beauty" do give an evolutionary survival advantage to either the individual or mating couple or group or all three.

[edit] Effects on society

Chinese Jade ornament with flower design, Jin Dynasty (1115-1234 AD), Shanghai Museum.
Chinese Jade ornament with flower design, Jin Dynasty (1115-1234 AD), Shanghai Museum.

Beauty presents a standard of comparison, and it can cause resentment and dissatisfaction when not achieved. People who do not fit the "beauty ideal" may be ostracized within their communities. The television sitcom Ugly Betty documents the life of a girl faced with hardships due to society's unwelcoming attitudes toward those they deem unattractive. However, a person may also be targeted for harassment because of their beauty. In Malèna, a strikingly beautiful Italian woman is forced into poverty by the women of the community who refuse to give her work in fear that she may "woo" their husbands.

Nevertheless, beauty has inspired humans throughout history, but the quest for beauty via thinness has also led to eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia. Too much emphasis on superficial beauty can undermine the importance of the inner person. It can become an arbitrary value that leads to social inequity.

Researchers have found that good looking students get higher grades from their teachers than students with an ordinary appearance. Furthermore, attractive patients receive more personalized care from their doctors. Studies have even shown that handsome criminals receive lighter sentences than less attractive convicts. How much money a person earns may also be influenced by physical beauty. One study found that people low in physical attractiveness earn 5 to 10 percent less than ordinary looking people, who in turn earn 3 to 8 percent less than those who are considered good looking.[12] Discrimination against others based on their appearance is known as lookism.[citation needed]

In a different context, the term "beautiful people" is used to refer to those who closely follow trends in fashion, physical appearance, food, wine, automobiles, and real estate, often at a considerable financial cost. Such people often mirror in appearance and consumer choices the characteristics and purchases of wealthy actors and actresses, models, or other celebrities. The term "beautiful people" originally referred to the musicians, actors and celebrities of the California "Flower Power" generation of the 1960s. The Beatles reference the original "beautiful people" in their 1967 song "Baby You're a Rich Man" on the Magical Mystery Tour album. With the close of the 1960s, the concept of beautiful people gradually came to encompass fashionistas and the "hip" people of New York City, expanding to its modern definition. Beautiful people usually enjoy an image-based and/or financially-based prestige which enhances their aura of success, power, and beauty.[citation needed]

[edit] See also

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

[edit] References

  1. ^ Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
  2. ^ Gary Martin (2007). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The Phrase Finder. Retrieved on December 4, 2007.
  3. ^ Neill, Alex; Aaron Ridley (1995). The Philosphy of Art: Readings Ancient and Modern. McGraw Hill, 269 pages. 
  4. ^ a b Kant, Immanuel (1963). Analytic of the Beautiful, from the Critique of Judgment. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 141 pages. 
  5. ^ Dion, K. K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285-290.
  6. ^ Rhodes, G. (2006). The evolutionary psychology of facial beauty. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 199-226.
  7. ^ Chris Weedon, Cardiff University. Key Issues in Postcolonial Feminism: A Western Perspective. Gender Forum Electronic Journal. Retrieved on December 4, 2007.
  8. ^ Dr. DoCarmo (2007). Dr. DoCarmo's Notes on the Black Cultural Movement. Bucks County Community College. Retrieved on December 4, 2007.
  9. ^ Dreifus, Claudia. "Chloe Wofford Talks about Toni Morrison", The New York Times, September 11, 1994. Retrieved on 2007-06-11. 
  10. ^ Langlois, J. H., Roggman, L. A., & Musselman, L. (1994). What is average and what is not average about attractive faces? Psychological Science, 5, 214-220.
  11. ^ KOESLAG, J.H. (1990). Koinophilia groups sexual creatures into species, promotes stasis, and stabilizes social behaviour. J. theor. Biol. 144, 15-35
  12. ^ Lorenz, K. (2005). "Do pretty people earn more?" CNN News, Time Warner.

[edit] External links

Look up beauty, pretty in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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