What does beautiful mean? Is there such a thing? Many people would say that a standard definition would be to have a symmetrical face and stature. Another may argue that it is the degree of deviance from symmetry. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. I argue that there is no such thing.
One of Oxford Dictionary’s definitions of beautiful is “pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically” (“Beautiful”). This definition is pretty convincing. That being said, their definition of aesthetically is “in a way that gives pleasure to beauty” (“Aesthetically”). Hmm… So beautiful means “pleasing the senses or mind in a way that gives pleasure to beauty”. So, what is beauty? The first definition led into the continuous look between beauty and aesthetic. The next definition is “a combination of qualities that pleases the intellect or moral sense” (“Beauty”). Now we have “pleasing the senses or mind in a way that gives pleasure to a combination of qualities that pleases the intellect or moral sense”. I’m noticing a trend. First, Oxford Dictionary doesn’t seem to be able to come up with a very solid definition. Second, the main focus is rather what is means to be pleasing that it does beautiful. Maybe pleasing and beautiful are synonymous. How, then, can one be jealous of someone who is beautiful?
Heading over to Urban Dictionary, there are 28 pages describing beautiful. “Beautiful describes a woman” is a little narrow-minded (Your Forever Friend). There is a definition in poetry form. As creative as that is, it just makes finding a definition more difficult. Beautiful is the “description of anyone who is true to themselves” (Brodie). This makes a valid point, but narcissists and psychopaths would be beautiful and that idea is a little far-fetched. My conclusion: Urban Dictionary is worse off than Oxford Dictionary.
What exactly is beauty? We need to start by discovering what beauty is not. Although everyone wants to associate beauty with physical measurement and characteristics, that definition defines physical attraction, not beauty. Someone who is perfectly symmetrical and another who is far from can both be simultaneously beautiful. Contrary to popular belief, that perfectly symmetrical person can be beautiful to some, but not others. So what exactly are the guidelines for being beautiful? There are none.
Being beautiful and being ugly are complete opposites. In elementary school, everyone always notices the ugly ducklings. Those kids are the ones with braces, glasses, weird haircuts given by their mom, an awkward smile, or strange outfits. Once we reach adulthood, those kids magically turn into the most beautiful ones. Our instinct is reward puberty for doing such a wonderful job, but cursing it for harming others. Puberty may play a role, yes, but it is still the same ugly duckling as before who is now so gorgeous. So how does ugly turn into beautiful if the two words are opposites? Do our standards of beauty change as we age or are the different features kids have morphed into what makes them beautiful later on?
Maybe beauty is somewhere on a continuum of physical appearance. If one is too symmetrical, they look fake and are criticized. Is one is too asymmetrical, they are considered repulsive and are criticized. What if beauty is really a happy medium between the two? On a scale of zero to one hundred, from asymmetrical to symmetrical, a fifty would be the perfect physical appearance. Although it is easy to put into numbers, there are multiple types of people that would fit into this numerical value. First would be the person that comes off as simple and camouflaged. This type of person is so typical that they are considered pretty, but no one really pays much attention to them. They blend in too much. When you’re asked about the appearance of this type of person, all you can think of is pretty, maybe, but very average. There’s probably not much to tell besides they’re one of those faces that seems to be everywhere. This person may be the perfect medium, but are they beautiful? The next type would be the person we find to be oddly beautiful. Chantelle Brown-Young, a newly admired model with vitiligo, fits in this category. She is young and has a beautiful body, but she has skin that is so abnormal. Her vitiligo, a skin disease that creates white patches of skin, dominates her appearance. People may find her beautiful because she has equal parts of symmetry and difference. The last type of person to fit into the happy median would be the one that is below average in appearance, but has one special thing that makes them beautiful. Within the last decade, there has been more awareness given to African children with ocular albinism, a genetic condition that affects pigmentation of the eyes. Often, the children are in a state of starvation or extremely poor health. Physically, these children are not beautiful. The only reason they are not considered ugly by most is due to emotional connections with children and those who are less fortunate. Physically speaking, these people would fall on the low end of the spectrum. They are asymmetrical due to health problems, often do not show positive expressions due to sadness or anger, and are definitely not made up like the publicized icons of modern beauty. Those bright blue eyes, almost clear, turn them into something spectacular. With this view of there being two extremes of physical appearance, the people that are beautiful are balanced into a median.
Some people define beautiful as a description of an emotional connection to someone or something. A place could be beautiful because of the positive memories that are associated with it. A person could be beautiful because of their personality. The person could be kind-hearted and happy. An abstract idea can be considered beautiful because it is a revelation that you’re looking forward to making in your life. In this sense, anything and everything can be beautiful, but it is based on how you perceive it. There are two problems with this view. One, not everyone has the same views in life. And two, it is impossible for someone to be positively inclined about every aspect of life. It’s not humanly possible. An emotional perspective makes a tremendous impact on whether something is considered beautiful in your eyes, but there is no way to measure that effect.
Imagine this. It is the first day of senior year in high school. Everyone is dressed to impress. You look around, as everyone does, admiring the other students around you. Across the hall is the most popular girl in school. She has long, blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes, and has the perfect “girl next door” appearance. Structurally, she is tall and symmetrical. Everyone thinks she is the prettiest girl. You break your stare and continue scanning the halls. You come across a shy girl who you shared a class with junior year. She is far from popular, and actually quite secluded from the rest of the grade. There doesn’t seem to be anything noticeable about her at first glance. She is average height, but still has a child’s body. She wears glasses which are purely for functionality. She is wearing jeans and a tank top, nothing significant for the first day, unlike all of the other girls. She closes her locker and turns around and you notice scars on her opposite arm, covering her wrist and upper arm. There are healed, but still very prevalent. You had begin realizing her unique attractiveness, but the scars threw you off. Is she still beautiful?
One’s behavior can help define if they are, or to whom they are, beautiful. That popular, symmetrical girl from the first day of school can become the most unattractive by the end of the year. This girl started chewing with her mouth open during lunch, sleeping with the dirtiest guys and advertising her activities, and saying the most annoying things in class. She became a different person.
Now let’s look back at the girl who had scars on her arm. Throughout the year, you begin to notice her more and more- not for her scars, but for her smile. It’s not a stunning one, but it caught your eye. You hear rumors about the scars on her arm. She battles with an eating disorder and self harmed in the past. Her scars are now healed and she has started embracing her body. It is not her appearance that has struck you. It’s her story. It’s her transition. It’s her happiness with life. It’s her spirit. You now find her beautiful.
Beautiful is not synonymous with pleasing. It is not descriptive of women because it can be descriptive of men. Being beautiful is not justified by physical appearance, nor emotional connection. Beauty cannot be measured. Everything cannot be beautiful, but nothing cannot be beautiful either. I argue that there is no such thing as being beautiful.
“Beautiful.” Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 23 February 2016.<http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/beautiful>.
“Aesthetically.” Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 23 February 2016.<http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/aethetically>.
“Beauty.” Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 23 February 2016.<http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/beauty>.
Your Forever Friend. “Beautiful.” Urban Dictionary. Urban Dictionary, 1 July 2005. Web. 23 February 2016.
Brodie. “Beautiful.” Urban Dictionary. Urban Dictionary, 12 February 2004. Web. 23 February 2016.