Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We hear that phrase a lot, but reflecting on what it means can help us uncover a lot about ourselves, and a lot about each other. What we mean when we say it is that beauty is perception, it’s subjective, and that because each person is different, what each person will find beautiful is different. The concept most worth exploring, though, is what society does to shift perceptions of beauty so that everyone’s eye begins to see beauty as the same, and the problems that social beauty entails.
The first line of this Psychology Today article is “Words cannot change reality”. I appreciate the sentiment of the author, but I must disagree with his evaluation; words can and do change reality. Some of the worst atrocities ever committed were started by words; words that dehumanize, words that other, words that make people seem less-than. Words impact our perception of reality, as the author notes, but our perception of reality directly impacts how we act out in the world, so perceived reality does indeed a new reality make. Every word that we use is a metaphor, an approximation of all the things we’ve seen sensed and associated with the word. This all might seem a bit heady, but let’s look at the word “beautiful”.
For centuries, the “ideal female form” was seen as very full-figured; this standard of beauty may well have been conceived because a full-figured form meant you were well-fed, and thus not from the poor, subsistence farming class. It was really only during the 20th century that being athletic, fit and slim became the standard of beauty, but it caught on like a whirlwind. Why, exactly? Well, it might have something to do with supermodels; designers like very tall, slim bodies because it presents them with an effective canvas on which they can drape their fashion. These supermodels appear on fashion magazines, portrayed in very flattering light; portrayed, then, in a way, that can only be described as beautiful. These images of beauty are mass-produced, seen in every supermarket by millions of people. Commentators on television describe these women as beautiful. Suddenly, we have a very narrow definition of beautiful when it comes to people; when we make a mental association with beauty, what comes up the most in our minds is the tall, slender woman, because that’s what everyone has been portraying as beautiful. This creates a feedback loop; we see these women as beautiful, so we portray them as beautiful, reinforcing the image others have of beauty.
The way to break out of narrow beauty standards is, quite simply, to call more people beautiful. By doing so, you widen what is accepted as beautiful, and thus more people literally become beautiful. By changing how beauty is perceived, you change beauty itself; you change reality. People become more confident in their bodies, and thus more confident as people. For those who don’t feel beautiful right now, there is a Beverly Hills botox procedure available to smooth wrinkles. Always remember though, that changes you make to your body should be about how you want to see yourself, and not about how you want others to see you; down with narrow beauty standards!