Sunday, June 26, 2016

Beauty Is Not Solely In The Eye

One of the cheesiest sayings of all time – and one especially popular in recent decades - is “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

That's like saying that it doesn't exist.

I have known no beholders who did not regard Sistine Chapel as beautiful. True beauty takes talent and effort to create. And denigrating it by claiming it to be in the eye of the beholder is an insult to people who actually produce beauty.

Beauty is not limited to people's physical appearance, nor is it solely visual. There is such a thing as a beautiful poem or a beautiful song. There is beauty in nature; there is beauty in art. All of these things are real and are not limited to Western culture.

A long-term trend has been to claim beauty to be solely culturally relative. This has been proven false. According to a study done by Judith Langlois, a face with a particular set of proportions will be regarded as beautiful everywhere. Which means that in beauty there is a universal truth that transcends culture and taste.

Feminism has identified beauty with its abuses by nasty school cultures and unethical plastic surgeons; but beauty has existed for a long time before these things existed and will continue to exist long after they are gone. Equating beauty with these abuses insults beauty. Unscrupulous people will always exploit anything that has any kind of attraction to people. That some people use money for unethical purposes does not mean that money is evil. And that some people use patriotism for demagoguery and war-mongering does not mean that patriotism is bad.

What if you are not seen as attractive in your hometown? Well there is a hope for you as well. In another study, 500 faces were shown to 20,000 people, and each face got picked as the most beautiful at least once. In addition to absolute beauty such as demonstrated by Judith Langlois, there is relative beauty that is in fact taste-dependent or culture-dependent.

What are the implications of this? The first one is that beauty is a real thing and one that should be respected, valued and cultivated. The other is that there is someone for everyone. That stupid kids misuse beauty to bully other kids does not implicate beauty any more than that unethical people misuse money or intelligence implicate money or intelligence. Anything that has attraction to people can be exploited; and that is as much the case for beauty as it is for money and intelligence.

So no, beauty is not solely in the eye of the beholder. There should be respect for beauty that gets cultivated in art, as much as there should be respect for beauty in nature. The more people see beauty as a value, the more beauty gets produced. The better the civilization; the better the world.  


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