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Beauty: A perception, understanding, or standard?

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Representational image

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Beauty has fascinated humans for centuries through design, pattern and even colour. But what is beauty? Is it merely a perception, an understanding, or a rigid standard?

Socrates viewed beauty as intrinsically linked to moral goodness and intellectual virtues. He believed that true beauty emanates from a virtuous soul, suggesting that a person who seeks truth and goodness embodies a profound beauty that transcends physical appearance.

Aristotle offered a different yet complementary perspective. He emphasized the importance of symmetry, proportion, and harmony, considering these elements as crucial to beauty.

Aristotle believed that beauty is found in the balance and functionality of an object or being. He argued that something is beautiful if it fulfils its purpose well and exhibits order and symmetry, reflecting nature's inherent order.

The beauty industry

Today, beauty is often seen through the lens of societal and cultural standards, heavily influenced by the beauty industry. This industry projects an ideal image characterized by flawless skin, symmetrical features, and a specific body type, creating a high standard many strive to meet.

Beauty products play a crucial role in setting these standards. From skincare products promising youthful, blemish-free skin to makeup designed to enhance features, the beauty industry continually promotes the idea that beauty can be achieved through its products.

The influence of beauty products extends beyond mere physical enhancement; it taps into deeper psychological desires and societal pressures.

For instance, advertisements for anti-ageing creams often feature models with perfect, wrinkle-free skin, suggesting that ageing should be combated rather than embraced.

This creates a sense of urgency and necessity among consumers to purchase these products to achieve similar results. This not only shapes public perception but also reinforces a standard of beauty often unattainable for many.

Dr Linda Parker, a sociologist and cultural studies expert, notes in one of her research journals titled 'The Impact of Beauty Standards on Cultural Perception and Self-Esteem' that 'The beauty industry thrives on creating insecurities and then offering solutions to those insecurities through products. This cycle perpetuates a narrow standard of beauty that many feel pressured to conform to."

The psychological factors of beauty

Recent studies indicate that both evolutionary and psychological factors influence beauty standards. Professor Richard Prum, an evolutionary biologist, suggests that while cultural influences play a significant role, there are inherent preferences for features that signal health and fertility.

However, beauty is not entirely objective.

In her book 'Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal,' Dr Heather Widdows argues that beauty standards are deeply embedded in cultural and societal norms. She writes, "Beauty ideals are not static; they evolve with societal changes and technological advancements. What is considered beautiful in one era or culture may differ vastly in another."

Understanding the beauty

A growing movement advocates for embracing imperfections and recognizing diverse definitions of beauty. This perspective challenges the narrow standards perpetuated by the beauty industry and aligns with the philosophical insights of Socrates and Aristotle.

Lisa Eldridge, a renowned makeup artist, emphasizes the beauty in imperfections. In her book 'Face Paint: The Story of Makeup,' she states, "True beauty lies in the features that make us unique. Imperfections tell a story and add character, making each person distinctively beautiful."

Integrating philosophical insights with contemporary perspectives can foster a more inclusive and holistic appreciation of beauty that transcends mere perception or standard and embraces the richness of human diversity.

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