Philosophy of Beauty
Beauty is all around us. In everything we see and everyone we meet. What is it about these things that makes them beautiful? What is beauty? To answer this question, we must first define beauty. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines beauty as, “the quality in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses, mind, or spirit.” In this definition, beauty is subjective, or “in the eye of the beholder” as the saying goes. I disagree.
Beauty is not subjective. We as humans agree on what is beautiful. Whether it be the stars, flowers, sunrise, or fresh snow. All these things are beautiful to everyone. The moment we begin to disagree about what is beautiful is when we look at other people. Why is this? Why can we all agree that nature and the world around us is beautiful, but never that others have this quality? I believe this is a societal problem as well as an individual one.
Society teaches us we need to look a certain way to be beautiful; that we need to, as Merriam-Webster said, give pleasure to others’ senses. We internalize this until we fully believe this and equate beauty to other people’s opinion. This makes us self-conscious and gives other people the power to control how we feel about ourselves. The moment we attach beauty to a physical characteristic, whether that is curves or a flat belly or flawless skin, we support and perpetuate society’s flawed views.
This is a huge problem for many reasons. We no longer see anything wrong with comments like, “she could lose a little weight,” or, “she’s too skinny.” We make others feel badly about their bodies because we think they should give us more pleasure, be more beautiful. Because we equate beauty to a specific body type or other physical aspect of a person, we start to think we should change so that we can be more like what others want, because that is beautiful. We change ourselves so we can be beautiful too.
Sometimes this leads to good things like living healthier lifestyles, but more commonly it leads to harmful, even fatal in worst cases, coping mechanisms.
I have experienced this firsthand. The downward spiral that starts with a flawed definition of beauty and giving others the power to define your beauty for you and ends with eating disorders and depression. Sometimes, this starts with social media’s photoshopped beauties or comments about your weight, but it didn’t for me. My experience began with internalizing that definition of subjective beauty that I was all too willing to believe. Once I believed that other people’s opinions defined my own beauty, I did everything I could to cut down my weight, flatten my belly, pronounce my hip and collar bones, and curve my body shape.
I have been in recovery for a while now, but it is a process. I have had months in which I am steadily improving and months where I relapsed back into restrictive eating habits and harmful ways of thinking. During these times, I have turned to a lot of different things for help including music, art, religion, and my friends and family, but nothing was as powerful as the ideas and understanding I’m expressing in this essay. That beauty is objective and unchangeable. Beauty is not subjective or in the eye of the beholder, it is a basic part of everything in existence.
Instead of turning to a dictionary to define beauty for yourself, try using this definition from Alice Trent, the author of The Feminine Universe. She says, “Beauty is a cosmic reality, not merely a human perception. That beauty is as objectively real as heat or light or weight. If, even for a moment, even partially, you can let this truth take hold of you, you will have broken one of the chains that bind you, and will have seen a glimpse of the cosmos as it really is.”
Beauty is a cosmic reality. We can no more define or pinpoint the idea of beauty than we can conjure a color into the mind of someone who has never seen it or understand the vastness of creation. Beauty cannot be defined or quantified, beauty simply is.