What is beauty? Why is it important? I remember beauty as one of the concepts we studied in Philosophy in college. Is beauty in the mind of the beholder or are beautiful things beautiful in and of themselves?
First let’s define beauty. According to Google, “beauty is a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.”
The classical concept of beauty, according to art historian Heinrich Wölfflin, is embodied in Italian Renaissance painting and architecture. He says, “The central idea of the Italian Renaissance is that of perfect proportion.” We have all seen pictures of Michelangelo’s David, and apart from the chiseled abs and cheek bones, it is the perfect proportion that makes the sculpture beautiful.
The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli may not represent the classical concept of beauty because of the disproportionate body shape. However, it is obvious that the painting emphasizes the physical beauty of the Roman goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility.
According to art historians Beth Harris and Steven Zucker, “the painting is about beauty – that through a contemplation of the physical beauty we can arrive at divine beauty.”
The modern concept of beauty varies depending on where one comes from. For a lot of people, being beautiful means having flawless skin. But did you know that in Ethiopia there’s a tribe that is popular for body painting and scarification?
Photo credit: hercampus.com
The Karo tribe settled along the banks of the Omo River almost two centuries ago. They are an artistic tribe which practices intricate body and face painting. The designs range from simple to highly complex.
Men and women of the Karo tribe paint their bodies because they want to look more attractive. Beauty is such an integral part of the tribe culture. Women willingly subject themselves to multiple lacerations on their chests, stomachs, or backs to produce intricate patterns of scars.
Members of the tribe see a woman with scars on her torso as mature and more beautiful. The scars are no ordinary scars. The welts are achieved by cutting the skin with a knife or razor and then rubbing ash in the wound. It is, indeed, a painful process.
In Asia, women with light skin are deemed beautiful. In an article titled “Fair Factor: The Whiter the Better” by Kajalie Shehreen Islam, Hana Shams Ahmed, Elita Karim and Aasha Mehreen Amin it says, “The fascination with fair skin may be rooted in a number of things. One, dark skin is associated with labour and field work in the sun, and fair skin with wealth, aristocracy and higher education. A second theory is that light-skinned conquerors from the Aryans to the Moghuls and European colonisers set the standard for attractiveness in the poorer colonies with their dark-skinned majority.”
Asian women are obsessed with lightening their skin. In the Philippines, one only has to go to the health and beauty aisle of any supermarket to see all the whitening products available – from lotions to body wash to papaya soap. Larger than life billboards line the main thoroughfares advertising non-invasive whitening procedures available at your nearest cosmetics clinic.
Another obsession of Asian women especially the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans, is having big round eyes and a high-bridged nose, making their idea of beauty more Caucasian than Asian.
In New Zealand, the Maori women tattoo their chins and lips to accentuate their beauty. Women with chin tattoos and blue lips are considered to be the most beautiful. Tattoos originally were meant to symbolize a person’s wealth and status in society. Today, however, the tattoos are an expression of cultural pride and integrity.
Photo credit: hercampus.com
Hollywood has long perpetuated a concept of beauty deemed unattainable by many. Being thin is in. Being fat is not. Tall and slim women with perfect hair, straight teeth, and big round eyes have served as beauty role models for young girls since time immemorial.
However, in Mauritania, full-figured women are deemed the most beautiful. In fact, women are being force-fed so they would gain weight. Leblouh is the practice of force-feeding young girls in the name of beauty. A man who has a plus size wife is a rich man. Being fat has become a symbol of wealth and abundance.
Photo credit: marieclaire.com
In Myanmar, the people of the Padaung tribe, a sub-group of the Kayan, have a different idea of beauty. Their women are known for wearing brass coils around their necks to elongate them. However, according to peoplesoftheworld.org, this is simply a visual illusion. On their website it is stated that, “The weight of the rings pushes down the collar bone, as well as the upper ribs, to such an angle that the collar bone actually appears to be a part of the neck!”
Perhaps beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One cannot simply have one standard of beauty. There are many factors that affect one’s perception of beauty like media and culture. One should always keep this in mind to better appreciate all the beauty around us.
By: Katy Concepcion-Wiggins