What is beauty?
Beauty, by Giacomo Carena. Used under a Creative Commons license, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

What is beauty?

Human beings universally seek beauty in others, but a misrepresented version plagues our society. In 2007, the US ranked first in the amount spent on beauty products. The average American is exposed to 1,500 advertisements a day, and almost half of those are beauty-related. We’re a culture obsessed with how we look, but the image many women strive for is an illusion. Some companies, notably Dove, have started unveiling how advertisements falsely portray body image and the effects this has on our health and self esteem.

But when Esther Honig turned to the internet and asked artists around the world to “make her beautiful,” the diversity of resulting illustrations reflects a bigger truth. By putting glamor on a global scale, Honig’s project reinforces the fact that there is no perfect ideal of attractiveness. Each culture gravitates toward different aesthetic standards. Beauty is subjective.

So if it isn’t a ridiculous waistline and perfect mascara, what is it? And why are we so obsessed with it? From a scientific standpoint, beauty is “a language that conveys information about health and fertility” and our preoccupation with it is based in survival instincts. Certain universal traits, as well as pheromones, indicate good genes and a healthy provider.

But that’s just one facet of our fascination. Aesthetics, especially in art, also activates parts of the brain, from the motor cortex to the reward centers. A lovely environment influences our health and our stress tolerance profoundly at a genetic level. What we find beautiful is an expression of our experience, emotion, and consciousness and it shapes the lens through which we view our lives. And that’s why a well-developed culture of art indicates a flourishing society. Beauty is powerful, feeding or starving the soul.

You can find your prettiness in makeup and clothing, but look beyond. We’ve created a distorted perception of beauty. Surrounding and finding art in the everyday, however, opens the self to a richer life. Anyone can do it, for it lies in the eye of the beholder, and in the beholders themselves.

Posted by A. Z. Lee

MORE: How to incorporate more beauty into your daily life

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