In the eye of the beholder…

What is beauty? How do we qualify the ethereal and intangible qualities inherent to this concept?

Picture of beautiful modelThese were the questions that sprang to mind as I sat mystified, watching ‘America’s Next Top Model’ on the telly – but the questions didn’t stop there.

Is natural beauty the perfectly apportioned distribution of symmetrical features or the way those features are animated? Do we have to possess model-type looks to be considered beautiful or is true beauty really only skin deep?

I needed a male perspective to unscramble my addled brain.

‘Do you think they’re beautiful?’ I asked my partner as he slouched, deeply engrossed in the evening newspaper.

‘Who?’

‘This lot on the telly.’

‘What an odd question?’

Was it really that odd?  I didn’t think so.

‘I’ve never really thought about it,’ he replied, dreamily.

‘Well think about it now.’

‘Okay… Jeremy Clarkson and James May? No! I wouldn’t say so. I mean they’re all right, but not beautiful. The Hamster’s not bad though.’

A couple of seconds elapsed before I found my voice.

‘Ey? What you on about?’

He chose this point to look up from his newspaper.

‘What happened to “Top Gear”?’

It was surprising how indignant he’d managed to sound, considering the channel had been switched twenty minutes earlier.

‘Well, what do you think?’ I prodded, indicating the wanna-be models.

He appraised the screen like a connoisseur reviewing a fine wine, then after a short interval delivered his verdict.

‘Too thin. I like a bit more body on the frame.’

I must have looked quite smug before he weighed me up and down, deciding whether to deliver his parting shot.

‘You can overdo it, though.’

Compliment retracted; ego deflated. Mission accomplished!

What does he know? He’s only a man. In these circumstances, you should only ask people who are going to give a response that will make you feel better…in other words, lie.

I don’t wish to sound like a jealous harpy because if I’m honest, like most people, I would like to be considered more beautiful. But would it necessarily follow that even if others found you fair of face, you would consider this so of yourself?

And when an individual’s self-worth is judged purely on their physical appearance, irrespective of any other qualities they may possess, then doesn’t society have a serious problem with its ideologies?

A beautiful man or woman may be admired like a work of art or a stylish piece of furniture, but just because you can appreciate it doesn’t mean it will fit in with the decor of your home.

Most men would react impulsively to the rumblings in their underpants, and pick a stunner over the likes of Kathy Burke or Jo Brand if given the choice of a companion on a desert island. But I wonder how soon it would be before the novelty started to wear off if there was nothing more substantial to support their looks?

Of course, there are some with beauty, brains, charm and wit; these are the ones to be envied.

But are we in danger of confusing beauty with attractiveness? If attractiveness equalled the consensus interpretation of beauty, then there’d only be a handful of couples in existence. The rest of us would be scouting around the perimeter, jealously dreaming of a relationship.

Constructs of beauty change according to cultural perspective and time period you are born in to. What was considered voluptuous, womanly and curvaceous in western society just a few decades ago, is now regarded as fat and unhealthy. After two world wars, people were sick of seeing their fellow human beings emaciated and sick; so weight was a sign of health and affluence.

A few generations on and these images have been consigned to history. However, it would only take a shift in the economic climate and food resources to be either no longer affordable or readily available, for fat to again become the new thin.

As we become more image conscious with each passing generation, beauty seems to be valued, above all else, as the ‘must-have’ attribute. But if this means existing on a diet of raisins, salad leaves and water, deprived of any of life’s culinary luxuries, then count me out. And if I have to abide by a rigorous regime of exercise and spend my days fretting over my next frown line or grey hair, then I’ll choose to stay in the bracket of mediocrity to which a certain misguided section of society has assigned me.

But don’t you ever wish that you could wake up one day to find yourself living in a world where beauty has its place, but is recognised for what it is? A transient, subjective feature which on its own, does not a whole make.

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