February 18, 2014 in Anna's Journey to Life
In this blog-post I am working with redefining the word ‘beauty’. I am doing this a part of the process of changing my relationship with my physical body. The specific point that I am looking at here is the question of whether beauty is in the eye of the beholder?
Redefining the word ‘Beauty’
Current allocation of how I’ve lived/defined the word:
I see that I have definitely given tremendous value to beauty and have even accepted a hierarchy of valuing people (including myself) according to how beautiful they are, where the most beautiful are the most desirable (to have and to be). This is thus a definition of beauty specifically in context to competition between women for example as well as in the general world-system. But then I also see a definition of beauty within myself that is more directed towards the physical, towards objects, colors and nature. Here there isn’t the same element of competition, it has more to do with aestheticism and very subjective preferences where I like to look at certain colors and lines and for example see beauty in buildings whereas others might not.
n. pl. beau·ties
1. The quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality.
2. One that is beautiful, especially a beautiful woman.
3. A quality or feature that is most effective, gratifying, or telling: The beauty of the venture is that we stand to lose nothing.
4. An outstanding or conspicuous example: “Hammett’s gun went off. The shot was a beauty, just slightly behind the eyes” (Lillian Hellman).
early 14c., “physical attractiveness,” also “goodness, courtesy,” from Anglo-French beute, Old French biauté “beauty, seductiveness, beautiful person” (12c., Modern French beauté), earlier beltet, from Vulgar Latin bellitatem (nominative bellitas) “state of being handsome,” from Latin bellus “pretty, handsome, charming,” in classical Latin used especially of women and children, or ironically or insultingly of men, perhaps from PIE *dw-en-elo-, diminutive of root *deu- “to do, perform, show favor, revere” (see bene-). Famously defined by Stendhal as la promesse de bonheur “the promise of happiness.”
The word beauty has an explicit positive energy connotation as beauty is seen as something good
It is interesting that there within the definition of beauty is a ‘promise of happiness’ because in the definition that has to do with being physically attractive that is basically what we believe isn’t it? For women, being beautiful can be a source of happiness because it can secure them a safe life. For men, women’s beauty can be a source of happiness because of their desire to have sex with a beautiful woman. Nature’s beauty can be a source of happiness when we look at a sunset or a flock of birds. It can be so beautiful to our eyes that it makes us want to weep by the mere sight. We know from psychological research that beauty is subjective to some degree, but also that we for example tend to favor symmetry in body shapes and face structure. And certain body types are typically considered more beautiful than others though these standards vary from culture to culture and from era to era. Something else that is interesting is how arbitrary beauty is. While we perceive certain body forms as having an ‘absolute’ beauty now, such as a slender tall woman with symmetrical figures and blond hair, this woman might have been considered ugly 1000 years ago or in in a different country an ‘overweight’ woman would be considered beautiful as opposed to ugly by today’s Western standards. Within art there are often hefty discussions because people disagree on what is beautiful. I would have thought that beauty specifically relates to ‘what is seen through the eyes’, like ‘the eye of the beholder’ but I realize that sounds can be beautiful too, like beautiful music or the sound of birds chirping. I’ve never heard of beautiful tastes or smells or touches then. So I suppose beauty is limited to sight primarily and sound vaguely. But if beauty is so subjective or arbitrary, how can it be a real word that can be understood equally by all? I am not sure. I do see that beauty within the standards of competition in the world-system is an entirely illusory concept that is used to create conflict between people, give some privileges while making others pariahs in society. It is also a way to ‘justifiably’ divide people into social classes, where beauty can be the value that makes a difference as to whether a person (in particular women) survive or not. I suppose that beauty in a basic sense could be the equivalent of ‘delicious’ when it comes to smell and taste only for seeing and hearing, where it simply refers to the subjective experience of pleasure gained when seeing or hearing something that to self is considered pleasurable.
We cannot speak about beauty in absolute or ’objective’ terms even though that is what we often do, because beauty surely IS in the eye of the beholder and as such it is not a value someone can give to another and then that person’s value or worth changes – because beauty is about what the person seeing or hearing is experiencing. As such it shouldn’t matter to us whether others see us as beautiful or not, because it is about them, not about us. So this is a pretty cool point that at least theoretically can relieve the pressure to be beautiful in the eyes of others. Obviously then beauty is also something that can be shared between several people but that doesn’t make it anymore objective. So the problem with beauty comes in when we start limiting it, boxing it in and defining it within certain standards – because it loses it’s basic definition and becomes something else, something that is used to create conflict and competition, inner as well as outer. Another question is whether the subjective experience of beauty is a valid experience, if it is mental, exclusive and arbitrary. Is a sunset for example always beautiful all the time? Perhaps. But what IS beauty if it is only an individual (or sometimes mutual) experience that doesn’t in fact defined, affect or influence that which we’re looking at? When looking at the equivalent in taste of smell of foods tasting and flowers smelling ‘delicious’ it is a lot more practical. We clearly accept that something can be delicious to us without being delicious to others; we understand that it is a matter of preference. So perhaps that is the same way we should define beauty, not making the word being about something more or less than what it is.
Here’s my redefinition:
‘Beauty’: Beauty is an individual or mutually shared experience of pleasure gained when seeing or hearing something that to self is considered pleasurable.