If beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, Gordon Pearson argues, why can’t we say that out loud?.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is in response to the apparent paradox posed by “anonymous male” in A Paradox about Men, Sexual Attraction, Women, Beauty.
This is something I’ve wrestled with for a few days now. In the end, my basic belief came down to: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
All of us hold our own perception of “attractive,” but most of us regard beauty in terms of societal standards. We have no problem publicly saying someone is beautiful, as compared to the cover of Glamour magazine (a societal standard). But in personal conversation about someone we feel is attractive (by our own, personal standards and not societal standards), we don’t always feel comfortable saying they are beautiful, lest we be judged for being attracted to someone who doesn’t meet the societal standard of “beauty.”
This changes as we move from adolescence to adulthood. Children are less judging of people until they encounter an adverse reaction from a peer or adult figure they respect.
An example: two children, one who’s abnormal in some way, lets say excessive freckles, who are best of friends in grade school. Suddenly, as their brains have developed to the stage that they are now concerned about what their peers think of them, the more “normal” child finds that their other friends don’t like the other child because of the freckles, saying they aren’t normal (beautiful). Then, the “normal” friend abandons the freckled friend to avoid persecution by association.
As we grow older and we develop our own sense of attraction, realizing our desires, we mold our perception of beauty. As young adults, a young male may not be willing to admit to his friends that he is attracted to women of larger scale. He resists his attraction, maybe even trying to change it to fit the more commonly accepted, 5’6″ 120-pound mold, just so he can avoid being called a “chubby chaser” or some other ignorant and harmful name. He might desire to have a relationship with his 200-lb female co-ed, but resigns to only sleeping with her at a party, so he can “blame it on the alcohol”.
Finally, we develop into the stage where we reject a societal standard and accept that we should not be ashamed of our personal desires. We know what “beauty” means to us, and we strive to attract someone who we perceive to be beautiful.
For my brother, that’s a short skinny girl with nearly unnoticeable breasts. For my friend, it’s a tall, “chunky” girl with large breasts. We all have different tastes, different ideas of beauty.
We can either reject our own feelings on beauty and accept the societal standard that wins the Miss America Pageant, or we can project them upon the people we find beautiful, and let them know how we feel. We can tell that (wo)man, “You are not beautiful to me, you’re gorgeous to me!”