Is physical beauty subjective?


Fact Box

  • Merriam-Webster defines beauty as “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.”
  • Researchers at the University of Toronto found that the “most attractive female face” has a “distance between the pupils of 46 percent of the entire face, and a distance between the eyes and the mouth that is 36 percent of the distance from the hairline to the chin.”
  • Naomi Wolf, author of the bestselling The Beauty Myth, argues that beauty is “the last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact” by perpetuating unattainable beauty standards hinged on commercialism. 
  • In one study, University of British Columbia sociologists discovered that “women find men less attractive when they smile compared to when they take on swaggering or brooding poses,” while “men find women more attractive when they smile, and least attractive when they look proud and confident.”

Amna (No)

'Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder' remains the most misconstrued adage to influence culture for generations. If beauty truly were subjective, there would be no Seven Wonders of the World. No two people would care for the same music, art, colors, architecture, or even natural phenomenon. Pop culture, mass fashion, or crowd-pleasing apps and games would not exist, nor would the standards of UI graphic design or Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man and Golden Ratio

Sure, everyday social prejudices influence our 'subjectiveness' in beauty, and 'pretty privilege' exists. But, with today's global dynamics, a subjective pretty privilege should only benefit an individual once or twice during their lifetime. However, studies in Pulchronomics (economy of physical attractiveness) have discovered that attractive people get better grades, are more popular, and earn more money. They are less likely to be convicted and more likely to get lighter sentences. This privilege does not exist in an isolated vacuum of subjectivity.

Further, the concept of subjective beauty is incongruent with the natural behaviors of babies and toddlers, who instantly recognize beauty. Even adults never have to think about beauty. We accept it. Hillsides and beaches are beautiful; a landfill is not. No one would replace the pyramids with a trash heap. The reason puppy-dog faces and doe-eyes melt hearts universally is precisely why 'psychology of color' is widely applicable.

Conclusively, beauty is not subjective. Even considering the differences in taste, we all still possess similar innate aesthetic sensibilities such as symmetry or complementary colors. We just need to recognize our beauty biases or privileges and learn to be objective, like beauty!

Bre (Yes)

Beauty is multi-faceted and debatable, and thus, far from objective. When qualities combine to be pleasing, especially visually, 'beautiful' is an expression of something's emotional impact--be it a person, song, painting, observation in nature, or any of the countless other examples of touching sights and experiences to be had in life.

There are some agreed-upon measures of beauty when it comes to other people, but each person's perception of attractiveness is unique and evolves over time with personal experiences. Researchers have found facial aesthetic attractiveness to be agreed upon and disagreed upon with about the same frequency, confirming there's no uniform measure of beauty. Scientists have also discovered that relative newness in relationships influences how partners overlook each other's undesirable features, indicating that a friends-first relationship lets us view partners more favorably.

Not only is our individual idea of beauty ever-changing, so is culture's, which essentially dictates broader standards of a region and era. From slender, high-waisted women of Ancient Egypt to China's small-footed, big-eyed beauties, or ample Renaissance women, and flat-chested 'flappers' of the 1920s, the popular idea of a beautiful woman is an obvious example of how cultural shifts shape the familiar concept of beauty.

Quantifying beauty with one reliable scale is impossible. What's valued aesthetically is not constant and can defy expectations. For example, some visually appalling artwork can be well-received as 'beautiful' depending on the time and place, which makes sense since studies have proven the subjectivity of painting evaluations.

Thankfully, the openness of beauty's definition allows for a noticeable recent emphasis on inclusion, with today's culture embracing humanity itself as beautiful, and therefore, applying beauty to everyone.

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