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What Is Beauty Essay

“She is so beautiful”, the girl said as she gazed in awe- and with a slight trace of jealousy- at the woman walking down the street. Beautiful. What does it mean? Is beauty a synonym for pretty or does it connote something else entirely? Who defines what is beautiful? The definition of beauty has been contended with for centuries and across many continents. Many have concluded that, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”. Although this saying does contain truth, the definition of beauty is more specifically influenced by history, by cultural norms, and by universal standards.

Each classification has contributed to the overall definition of beauty. The definition of “beauty” has been manipulated by history within many different countries. This definition has evolved over time. During the European Renaissance between the 14th and 17th centuries, certain traits such as high foreheads, voluptuous figures, and pale skin were considered beautiful (Sherrow). These traits were considered high class and characteristics of royalty. “Mary Queen of Scots doesn’t look beautiful to us… Beaky nose, beady eyes, small, pursed mouth.

Yet in many letter and accounts of the time, she was described as the most beautiful princess in Europe, with glowing details of her amber-colored hair, milky white complexion and so on… ” (Shulman) In distinct contrast to the descriptions defining beauty during the European Renaissance, modern day culture in America dictates beauty defined through slender bodies (Burnell and Gold), tan skin (Donohoe), and youthfulness (Newman). The definition of beauty has continuously developed, and has been directed by evolving history.

Beauty during the European Renaissance is a far from the way beauty is defined today. As times change, so does the definition of beauty. Not only has the definition of “beauty” been persuaded by evolved history, history has influenced the development of modern beauty practices that contribute to the description of beauty. Beauty products and practices have always been used; they have simply progressed in order to fulfill current standards of beauty. The article in Elle Magazine discusses L’Oreal’s new book series, which accounts the history of many beauty products and practices.

One beauty product that has been developed through the guidance of history, and has influenced the definition of beauty, is foundation. Foundation has been used for centuries. In 200 B. C. Greek and Roman women would apply a powdered white lead to their skin. Although this lead makeup was toxic, it was commonly used until the 1800s. During the Elizabethan-era (1558-1603), women used a cosmetic known as ceruse (composed of white lead and vinegar) to create the ideal of creamy-white looking skin. From the 1920’s to the present, foundation has evolved.

By 2010, makeup was often enhanced with sunscreen protection and proteins. (Long) For a long period of time, pale looking skin was considered beautiful. As modern society began to recognize the deadly toxins in the lead used in the makeup to achieve this look, new forms of foundation were developed. As history progressed, and society became more aware of health concerns, the definition of beauty was influenced as well. Another example of a beauty practice been influenced by history is hair-dye. The Greco- Roman women first introduced hair-dye in 100 B. C.

They would bleach their hair using carbonized beechwood and goat fat. Women with darker hair would use fermented wine to hide their gray hairs. During the 1500s, “a strawberry shade known as Venetian blonde” was popular in Renaissance Italy. This color was prepared by combining twigs, barley, licorice bark and lemons. In 1909, Eugene Schueller, the founder of L’Oreal, produced the first commercial synthetic hair dye. This presented a more easily accessible and practical way to dye hair. (Long) History influenced the development of modern beauty practices.

As changing historical times influenced the definition of beauty, products and practices that form beauty further developed to resolve modern ideals. The definition of beauty is also influenced by the current events of that specific era. To begin with, historical events influenced the definition of beauty. Depending on what was occurring at that particular point in history influenced the way women interpreted beauty, and functionally described beauty. For instance, during the Colonial Period late 16th century, many Europeans settled in America.

When arriving in colonial America, European settlers changed their mode of appearance due to the new way of life. To be specific, many men and women stopped wearing wigs and certain cosmetics that symbolized the despised British Monarchy. The settlers dressed in simpler styles of hair and clothing that reflected the changing attitudes towards a more democratic society (and less class-conscious based). These clothing also enabled them to work more easily. (Sherrow) As times changed, the practical (and sometimes political) definition of beauty was influenced by the events of that time period.

Another point in history that had a tremendous influence on the definition of beauty was the 1920s to the early 1930s in Harlem, NY. The Harlem Renaissance celebrated African American beauty in comparison to the constricted European standards. During this movement in the 1920’s, black authors praised the African American beauty “by comparing their skin colors to cinnamon, honey, ginger and other appealing things” (Sherrow). The Black Pride of the 1960’s reinforced these ideals in contrast to European ideals that segregated beauty from others cultures. Sherrow)

This time period introduced the beauty of other ethnicities and influenced society by widening the definition of beauty. The history of the fashion industry also influences the definition of beauty. Throughout the decades, the fashion industry has had a strong opinion that has impacted societies definition of beauty. As the outlook of the fashion industry transforms, the attitude of society fluctuates as well. To illustrate, Marilyn Monroe famously became the “sex symbol” of the 1950s. She was a singer, model and dancer who epitomized the definition of beauty at the time (Sherrow).

It is amusing that “if Marilyn Monroe would walk into Weight Watchers today, no one would bat an eye- they’d sign her up” (Newman). During this period in time, an hourglass figure was admired. Later, the 1990s “ushered in a whole new beauty aesthetic”. Kate Moss was “a rule breaking waif” and “the face of a new age of fashion”(Shulman). She was famous for her size zero- an influence to the rest of society. This contrasted to the 1980’s when supermodels like Naomi Campbell “had the bodies and polished stance that had been so fashionable” (Shulman). The change in fashion forcefully influenced the definition of beauty.

Each decade had been assigned a unique personality by the fashion world. The standards the fashion world set throughout history have had a tremendous influence on the definition of beauty. In addition to history, another classification that plays an immense role in defining beauty is cultural norms. What is considered beautiful is partly unique to specific cultures. On the reality TV show, The Price of Beauty, Jessica Simpson travels to different countries around the globe to investigate the definition of beauty defined by each culture (Albers). In these cultures there are specific standards of beauty.

While in Paris, France, she spoke to women struggling with anorexia. She also interviewed women within the fashion industry about the pressures to maintain a thin silhouette (Albers). The culture pressure in Paris, one of the worldwide capitals of fashion, is one that influences beauty to be defined and dictated by the fashion community. On the other hand, while traveling in Uganda, Simpson noticed that women face a complete opposite issue. In Uganda, not only is a fuller figure more beautiful, it is a “symbol of status and a source of pride for men”(Albers).

Before women get married there are sent to the “fattening hut” where they are required to consume large quantitates of food in order to gain a sufficient amount of weight. The bride they interviewed drank several jugs of milk (around 5,000 calories) a day, which led who to gain 80 pounds over the course of a couple months. (Albers) The juxtaposition between the culture in France and the culture in Uganda serves as clear evidence that cultural standards have a significant impact on the definition of beauty. What is categorized as beautiful is also defined through specific practices within individual culture.

For instance, the Surma and Mursi women of Ethiopia wear large lip plates in order to stretch out their lips (Saad). The size of the plates indicates levels of status. Another example is the Kareni and Padaung women of Myanmar who use metal rings to elongate their neck and raise their chin. The elongated neck resulting of this practice is viewed as the ideal beauty. (Saad) While each one of these practices would be considered foreign and outlandish to many societies, they are a precise definition of what is considered beautiful in these unique cultures.

Cultural practices clearly contribute to the overall definition of beauty. Furthermore, within a specific culture, there are distinctive descriptions of beauty. The fashion industry and the media promote very definite standards of beauty. “For me, beauty demands a kind of originality that makes you stop and look again. Francis Bacon, the 16th century philosopher, put it this way: ‘There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion. ‘” (Shulman) This quote describes the basic philosophy of the high fashion industry.

The fashion industry does not define beauty through proportional, standard features- this world is interested in different, exotic and unique features that stand out. Along with the trends in the fashion industry, the media also tends to promote a specific definition of beauty. The media tends to focus on defining beauty as thin and “fat free”, leading to many problems revolving around negative body image. “The National Eating Disorders Association states that 81% of 10-yr-olds are afraid of being fat” (Brunell and Gold). The fashion industry and the media represent one portion of a culture.

They are businesses and industries that dictate very specific opinions that will benefit their purpose. In comparison to the fashion industry and media, the definition of beauty amongst the average population within America differs. Contrary to the fashion world’s opinion, the average American public has an entirely different approach to beauty. Judith Langlois, professor of psychology at the University of Texas composed a study to determine facial attractiveness. College students rated a collection of photographs of faces that would be used in this study as attractive or unattractive.

The factor that determined attractiveness was the symmetry and proportions of the face. The more average and positional the facial features were, the more attractive the photo was rated. (Newman) In comparison to the criteria of beauty in the high fashion industry, this is completely hypocritical. Within the population of a culture, the definition of beauty may vary. Similarly, the image the media projects are not considered beautiful across the board. “The average American women is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds, according to the National eating Disorders Association.

That adds to a body mass index (BMI), the standard measurement of doctors and nutritionists or assessing healthy body size, of approximately 24 when calculated using CDC standards. A normal BMI falls between 18. 5 and 24. 9, according to the CDC. ” (Brunell and Gold) At 5 foot 4 inches, weighing 140 pounds, many women would consider themselves beautiful. Compared to Angelina Jolie- the epitome what the media presents as beautiful- these numbers are very high. She measures at 5 feet inches tall and weighs approximately 105 pounds: Jolie’s BMI would be at about 16, and she would be considered underweight.

Michael Cunningham, a professor and psychologist at the University of Louisville comments: “Now the average voluptuous five-foot-four women may feel inadequate, especially when she compares herself to the celebrities on screen and in beauty magazines. ” (Brunell and Gold) What is considered average, and no less beautiful, in one part of America’s culture is vastly incongruent with another percentage of the society. Not only is the definition of beauty influenced by history, and by cultural norms, it is also influenced by universal standards.

One of the universal standards is the biological influence that serves as contribution to the definition of beauty. To be specific, in all cultures, symmetric faces are interpreted as more beautiful than asymmetric faces. “You can visit the Bedouins in the Middle East, the Yanomamo in the Amazon, and the Inuits in the Canadian north, and the will all agree who is beautiful based on facial features”(Saad). In Langlois’ study, she tested babies by showing them the photos selected by college students, and then timed how long the baby would gaze at each picture.

At the end of the study, she concluded that the baby was more likely to stare longer at the attractive people in the photos. “What is attractive? It is a symmetrical face. ” People with symmetrical and averaged proportions are more pleasant to look at (Newman). Gad Saad, an evolutionary behavioral scientist, explains that due to the insufficient cognitive development of the baby, and therefore the inability to be socially influenced, this reaction is biologically programmed. People are universally, biologically inclined towards symmetrical faces.

Don Symons, an anthropologist at University of California at Santa Barbara concurs: “Beauty is not whimsical. Beauty has meaning. Beauty is functional. ” He argues that beauty is not only in the eyes of the beholder, but also in “the brain circuitry of the beholder. ” (Newman) The definition of beauty is universally distinguished through biological instinct. Studies by psychologists Victor Johnson of New Mexico State University, and David Perrett of St. Andrews University in Scotland, show “that men consistently show preference for women with larger eyes, fuller lips and a smaller nose and chin”.

Symons explains that all these traits symbolize youth, fertility and good health. (Newman) This form of beauty is universal due to the biological implications. Across the globe, men will biologically gravitate towards specific traits that symbolize the ability to reproduce. “Beauty is health. It’s a buildboard saying: I am healthy and I can pass on your genes”, a psychologist says (Newman). Although biology is not everything, it does play a significant role in determining what is categorized as universally beautiful. There are also non-physical definitions of beauty that are universal throughout.

The emphasis on specific forms of beauty transcends acquiring a “certain look”. Cleise Gomes is a native of Brazil and founder and owner of Cleise Brazilian Day Spa in Chicago. Gomes remarks, “In Brazil our concept of beauty is relative to the whole body and mind. There need to be a balance. We all see people who are striking on the outside, but as they reveal themselves, our perception changes. In the long run, the inner beauty wins out since outer beauty will fade. ” (Brunell and Gold) Jaclyn Siegel, a girl who struggles with body image agrees: “Beauty is not a surface thing. It’s not physical.

It is definitely more inside than out. A beautiful person is someone who is caring, kind, thinks of others and has a positive outlook on life” (Brunell and Gold). Through her individual struggle with body image, and her road to recovery from bulimia, she was able to come to the conclusion that beauty is more than skin deep. Personality traits affect the way one is perceived. “A perfect physiognomy can be ugly if a person exhibits arrogance… Conversely, physically unattractive individuals with warm and outgoing personalities can appear beautiful” (Donohoe). Gomes and Seigel both describe the importance of this form of beauty.

Just as the definition of beauty is influenced by universal standards, the quest to obtain beauty is universal. The amount of money spent on beauty, beauty products and more serves as indisputable proof that the pursuit to attain beauty is universal. “In the United States last year, people spent six billion on fragrances and another six billion on make-up. Hair and skin-care products drew eight million dollars each, which fingernail items alone accounted for a billion. In the mania to loose weight 20 billion was spent on diet products and services- in addition to the billions that were spent on health clubs and plastic surgery. (Newman)

Around the globe, a tremendous amount of time and money is spent to achieve the desired form of beauty. Throughout the world, women search to obtain beauty. Depending on the specific culture, there might be a different focus of what is considered worthy of achieving, but the quest to obtain that beauty is universal. A world famous plastic surgeon, Dr. Ivo Pitanguy says that in Brazil, women get liposuction at 18 and breast reduction at 16-22 years old. Brazilian women prefer smaller breasts and bigger “derrieres”, whereas in America a breast augmentation in more common (Newman).

Though the specific standard of what is considered beautiful is different between the two countries, the demand to attain the desired beauty is universal. Not only will people around the world do almost anything to obtain beauty, the cost of obtaining beauty globally has gone far beyond financial concerns. One specific example is the rise in eating disorders worldwide. Because societies around the world today, mostly influenced by the media and the fashion industry, have promoted “thin” as beautiful, many women feel a pressure reach a certain number on the scale in order to be classified as beautiful. In Japan anorexia was first documented in the 1960’s. It now affects an estimated one in one hundred Japanese women and has spread to parts of Asia including Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong. In the U. S. , according to Menniger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, the proportion of females affected by eating disorders is around 5 to 10 percent. ” (Newman) People will harm their bodies and themselves in order to achieve the “ideal” form of beauty. Another example of the acts that are committed to obtain beauty is the use of hazardous beauty products. “The search for beauty could be deadly.

Vermilion rouge used in the 18th century was made of a sulfur and mercury compound. Men and women used at the peril of lost teeth and inflamed gums. They sickened, sometimes died, from the lead in the white powder they dusted on their faces. In the 19th century women wore whalebone and steel corsets that made it difficult to breathe, a precursor of the stomach-smooshing Playtex Living Girdle. ” (Newman) Throughout history, people took part in beauty practices that would cause disease, illness and suffering in order to conform to a desired fashion of beauty.

Throughout history, and across the world, there is an intense desire to be beautiful. The ultimate description of beauty is highly intricate and immensely complicated to describe. This definition has been in the making for hundreds of years and is influenced by history, by cultural norms and by universal standards that each has a unique affect on the definition. One person, one thing, or one place does not define beauty. As she watched the women disappear around the corner, she realized that she too was beautiful.


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