An Argument for the True Definition of Beauty
The Definition of Beauty
Human beings define the concept of "beauty" in many different ways. In the Mursi culture of Ethiopia, beauty is the size of the disc inserted inside of a woman's bottom lip. In ancient Egyptian culture, beauty was regarded as a form of holiness, a perception which has been carried into the modern age. Bound feet, referred to as "lotus feet", were once considered symbols of great beauty and wealth in China. In our most ideal America, all women are considered "beautiful", but the question remains as to whether or not the individual female feels anything akin to that in today's demanding society.
It is difficult to find a place that is unreachable to the glamorous celebrities of Hollywood or the famously thin models of the catwalk. It is nearly impossible for many of us to gaze into the mirror and smile at ourselves while we remain content to pick apart our bodies. Our thighs are too big, our faces not pretty enough, our legs are too short.
Is this an underside of the human condition, or is this a side effect of the over-consumption of media? In order to battle these emotions- these self-deprecating attitudes that are so easy to assume under the guise of simply wanting to look better- must we battle these idealistic perceptions, or ourselves?
There are few historical records that remain to tell the tale of Queen Cleopatra and the life she led. However, there was minor details suggesting that at some point during her reign, Cleopatra came to be acquainted with female ruler of the distant lands of Nubia. This ruler- the great Queen Amanishakhete- was revered by her people not only for her power, but for her immense size.
The ancient Nubians were once rumored to be a race of people that produced competent, strong female warriors who regularly participated in battle and were considered equals of their male counterparts. The Kandake Amanishakhete was no different and equated her power with her size, eating rich foods native to her lands throughout the day. According to legend, Cleopatra once commented on the Kandake's voracious appetite and was told that she needed to maintain her weight lest her people lose respectful for her.
In this sense, size equals neither beauty nor ugliness. It once represented power, displayed for all to see in the Kandake's long muscles and breathtaking height. She cut a fearsome figure, capable of intimidating male warriors and inspiring her people in times of tension, and she was devoid of the shame that more modern day women often feel in regards to their appearance whether or not it is representative of the ancient blood that runs in their veins. This example demonstrates how far we've come in terms of defining beauty, theoretically-speaking.
Helen of Troy
Originally from Sparta, Helen of Troy was an infamous beauty and supposedly in possession of the face that "launched a thousand ships", causing the Trojan War after being taken from her husband by Paris, her lover. So beautiful was Helen that she was granted to Paris as a gift by the goddess of love and beauty herself, Aphrodite, who granted Paris's wish to have the love of the most beautiful woman in the world over victory in battle or conquests of land.
By today's standards, Helen would most likely be considered handsome at best. Her long and vibrant hair was frequently commented on as well as her eyes and full lips, but in comparison to our modern perceptions of beauty and the women that we find beautiful, Helen would be overlooked. What was it about her that caused a war, and where can we find that in ourselves?
Finding the Strength
There is a dire need for a bit of a revolution to be fulfilled in today's society, and one that involves the perception of beauty. Why must beauty be constricted to one type of woman with one type of body? We are struggling with the reality that there is no universal truth to what is beautiful, and strong, and everything that a woman was made existent to represent.
When we as a society began to embrace bigger women, we started to frown upon the smaller women. Those individuals who are born thing and who do not struggle with weight but perhaps with inner beauty because they are now the "new" enemy of our feminist culture. But despite our best efforts, society continues to perpetuate the cycle of viciousness and shame. We refuse to look at one another and acknowledge the beauty that rests there. Instead, we examine the flaws and mistakes of our sister sitting next to us, seeking only to make ourselves feel more beautiful.
Overcoming Our Negative Selves
This argument is about happiness- experiencing happiness with yourself, your own internal and external beauty, and the fact that you are alive with breath in your lungs. This is remembering what it feels to live, and forgetting what it feels like to cry over appearances.
"Beautiful" has no size. It is not fat, thin, nor a combination of the two. It does not wear skin. It is completely unbridled and limited at the same time. It is no one else's business but ours. We as people have quietly relinquished control over the definition of beauty to others who would prefer to define it for us and then hold us to their limitations. We mourn our "baby fat", our stomachs that have failed to recover after the birth of a child. We compare ourselves to others, measuring the look of our faces or the the sheen of our hair to pictures from a magazine. The true concept of beauty- what truly makes a person beautiful- has been lost, doomed to the fate of other "has beens".
A More Personal Approach
As is the case with every story that drives the possibility for hope and change, there is a personal attachment to the issue of beauty versus ugliness. Discussing the world's misconception of beauty and what is considered beautiful revives memories of a childhood spent crying and recovering from the latest barb thrown by classmates. But it also brings to mind a journey to find strength and acceptance, a trial that every human being must venture on and survive at some point during their lifetime.
The victim of excessive bullying and mocking during both elementary and middle school, I have refused to wear a swimsuit in public since I was fourteen years old. I do not wear shorts. I do not wear sleeveless tops or skirts. In fact, I am one of the only people I know who will tough it out in jeans during the summertime. And why? What is the reason for this?
It is because I have yet to complete my journey to self-acceptance. It wasn't until a year ago that I began to realize that despite my depraved opinion of myself, I was capable of achieving great things. I began to feel the inevitable pull towards my ancestral origins, one of which is represented by the voluptuous women of the Susquehannock Tribe. Marked with wide hips and large breasts, full lips and high cheekbones, these women were beautiful, tied to the land through their fingertips and toes. They would be considered large by today's standards- perhaps even obese- but the afterthought remains: despite the reality that society would judge these women harshly, I find them beautiful. And then I began to realize that it wasn't society, but my own perceptions of beauty that were harming myself.
So I began this journey of self-acceptance and love, and it is a path that surprises me every day. Join me, and let's redefine beauty together.
Note: The "comments" section below is an open forum. Want to share your story about finding beauty within yourself? Tell it below.
For Further Reading
- What Is Beauty? : TED Radio Hour
Beauty surrounds us, draws us in, gives joy and creates conflict. In this hour, TED speakers conjure up beauty both ancient and modern, and suggest reasons why humans are hardwired to crave and respond to beauty.
- Enigma of Beauty Article, Definition of Beauty
Read a National Geographic magazine article about the Enigma of Beauty and get information, facts, and more about beauty.
- 8 Different Ideas of Beauty Around the World
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