Images of what is ‘beautiful’ are flung at the public from all types of media. Billboards, TV ads, pop-ups ads online, magazines at your dentist’s waiting room all carry highly artificial and unrealistic pictures of women and men. This creates a sense of inadequacy within people about their appearance, weight. It causes serious problems especially among the more young and vulnerable audiences. On a deeper level, it is a loud and often toxic voice which tries to monopolise the definition of beauty. In response, the uncritical public strives to reach these impossible standards of beauty; women spend a whopping 426 billion dollars on beauty products per year, and people in America alone spend more than 60 billion on weight loss.
Beauty and attractiveness are not absolute. There is no one type or one definition for beauty. At the physical level there are some basic features that are indicators of good genes, good health and sexual virility. For example, features such as symmetry, face shape, bodily and facial proportions etc. speak for generally good genes. Factors such as the shine of one’s hair, clarity of skin, and brightness in one’s eyes attest to one’s general health influenced by the quality of food, water and air. Other body features such as broadness of shoulders, depth of a man’s voice, facial hair may indicate strong secondary sexual characteristics and hence add to attractiveness in a man. Correspondingly, the size of women’s breasts and hips are generally seen as signals of fertility and also tend to add to attractiveness.
But these features are only at the initial, superficial, physical level. This type of beauty fades with age and often matters less and less to those who get to know you. But this is where conversation about beauty stops for many people. (For many others the discussion continues to factors that the uninitiated find bewildering such as the bounce of the arm flab, thigh gap, and the endless shades of lipstick, foundation, eyeshadow etc which go together.)
But beauty is not just physical. Attractiveness has a lot more to do with the qualities of a person than just how they look.
I once met a girl. The first time I saw her I thought to myself, ‘Wow! She’s so beautiful’. She had physical features which sang together in harmony. She had a tan from a recent vacation, bright greyish blue eyes, long light brown hair that cascaded in waves, and perfect teeth. I found her beautiful until we went for an animal experiment training presentation in which they taught us ‘humane’ ways of killing experimental animal models. After the section on extracting foetal material, I could not take any more. I walked out unable to breathe, later melting into tears as I thought about those baby animals. She sat two seats from me and seemed unphased as I passed and I caught her saying something to the effect of, ‘they are just animals, what is the big deal’. In my silent shock I noticed how quickly she became unattractive to me. Her blatant unkindness had obliterated any and all beauty created by her physical features.
A kind smile is often more beautiful than the most sculpted, tanned and ‘perfect’ features of a cold person. This is the reason that my mother is so beautiful. She is the kindest person I know. When I tell her she is beautiful she is quick to dismiss it saying did I notice how grey her hair has become. But she doesn’t know how she looks when she is smiling kindly. I have seen that beauty, unparalleled and far beyond any face on a screen.
Similar to kindness in making someone beautiful, is the role of love. My baby is the cutest baby in all of existence because I love her that much. To me, she is the very definition of beauty. All of nature’s wonders, even the beauty of the stars are nothing compared to her. Her smile is the reason flowers bloom. Her laughter is the source of all music. In her eyes are the secrets to the universe. Objectively she is beautiful and cute just like children usually are, but it is my love for her that makes her the cutest in the whole wide world. I feel similarly about my husband – no man makes me feel the way he does. He is simply the most attractive person on earth to me. Any celebrity who is named sexiest man of the year with well toned muscles and smouldering looks at a camera, are as attractive to me as metal on a train. My husband is the most attractive because I love him.
Third, is the role of familiarity. Studies have shown that a familiar face is rated as more attractive than a new face. And as the new faces get more familiar, they tend to gain in attractiveness.
Another non-physical factor that adds to beauty in a big way is the confidence, self-acceptance or self-love a person has for themselves. A person may have the physical features and kindness, but if their confidence is low, it becomes apparent pretty quickly and leads to behaviour stemming from insecurities. This usually reduces the attractiveness level. Self-acceptance allows for a sense of calm and serenity which is refreshing to be around. Even simple things like posture and manner with which one conducts themselves, which is often reflective of one’s confidence can make a world of difference to one’s beauty.
There is one final aspect that contributes to beauty: The mind of the viewer. When the mind is happy, calm, loving, you can see beauty in everything and everyone.There is beauty in the world because there is beauty inside of you. But when you are depressed, anxious or feeling negative, often even when beautiful things are right in front of you, you won’t be able to see them. There is beauty in nature, babies, stars, trees and rain, but with an unhappy mind you will just not enjoy it. When you are mentally well, beauty is in every face. The spirit of the humanity and life within shines through to you. Beauty then becomes a state of mind where when you see beauty externally, it reflects the beauty within you.