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What is Beauty?

Tulika Nair
How do you define beauty? Is there an objective way to define attractiveness? We try and determine what beauty really is and how it is determined and perceived.
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever; Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness." - John Keats
Quotes about beauty, and not just the physical looks, but also inner beauty, are abound. There are sayings about how beauty fades, how it lies in the eyes of the beholder, about how what matters is what's on the inside. But none of these quotes answer the question, what is beauty? Any answer to it makes it impossible to determine the definition of beauty.
Despite the varying ideas about true beauty that we have, studies have shown that across cultures the perception of beauty has many similarities.
The protagonist Irene Van De Kamp of the comic strip Good Girls, with her lip plate adornment, may not fit the general idea of beauty where people find same things beautiful. This is evident by the hysteria that surrounds stars like Robert Pattinson, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie who regularly are on the lists of most beautiful people in the world.

Beauty: What it Means

What makes a beautiful face? Defining beauty can be traced back to the theories put forward by thinkers and philosophers like Pythagoras who put forward a connection between mathematics and beauty.
According these theories, faces (and objects) that were proportioned in accordance to the golden ratio were more appealing and beautiful than others. Symmetry has always been an important consideration while defining beauty.
A face with symmetry is always more attractive than faces that are lopsided or have imperfections. Another factor that plays a part while defining beauty is a concept known as averageness put forward by Francis Galton. He observed that overlapping images of people to form composite images results in a more attractive image than individuals.
Is beauty really skin deep? According to many researchers, physical beauty is always enhanced by a measure of inner beauty. A person may have all the necessary features to be physically beautiful but without inner warmth, the person will be perceived as cold.
While outer beauty and appearance is made up of factors like health, youth, symmetry, averageness, skin, complexion, etc., defining inner beauty depends on features like politeness, intelligence, charisma, elegance, personality, etc. Women who are considered to fit the ideal of beauty are also considered due to an ideal waist to hip ratio which is about 0.7.
The reason to determine beauty is difficult because the factors that determine it are always evolving. This is caused by an influence of the media and what it determines as beautiful. So you see people aping unhealthy trends like being extremely skinny.
The opposite is true for the country Mauritania where fatness is considered an asset for marriage and women are force-fed to make them obese. Such exceptions are why beauty cannot be defined objectively.
For many years beauty was also defined as being predominantly Caucasian. This led to the cultural movement black is beautiful. With models like Naomi Campbell taking center stage, beauty (or the perception of it) became more all-encompassing. Today children from mixed marriages are generally perceived to be more attractive due to their diverse gene pool.
The comparisons caused due to standards of beauty have often led to resentment among people. Research has found that people who are beautiful tend to more successful at their work place. They also tend to be better equipped at mate selection. There is a tendency among people to view individuals who are beautiful as more honest, nice, and approachable.
People who do not fit into the society's compartments of beauty tend to be ostracized. These are traits that have been showcased in shows like Ugly Betty. But this same trend also works the other way round. Beautiful people are harassed for looking the way they do as people tend to believe that they get everything they want on the basis of their appearance.
So, beauty is cumulative of inner strength and physical appearance. D.H. Lawrence once said, "Beauty is an experience, nothing else. It is not a fixed pattern or an arrangement of features. It is something felt, a glow or a communicated sense of fineness." Maybe we should just agree with him.