Saturday, February 11, 2012

11. Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder

A week has passed and I can’t help noticing that the questions in the previous two posts have been left unanswered. Surely it can’t be because there are few good dictionaries around?

The questions were meant to open a new topic, since we all know and comment on the obsession with physical beauty. Marilyn was far from being obsessed with it in the same sense as we use the term today, for she was endowed naturally with beauty by even the most rigorous standards. 
What was a case in point in the previous post had to do with language. Use late in the structure I’m sorry (no comma, no pause!) I’m late and everybody will understand that you apologize for not being punctual, or for not arriving on time.  People who are latecomers arrive late for their appointments, and it seems they can’t help it – that is, latecomers suffer from lateness by definition.
But use the same word (as an adjective) before a noun – or a name (as in the case of Marilyn to refer to the actress’s renowned lateness) and the only meaning you will get is that the person has passed away. Needless to say, we could do better than to associate the presenter’s cruel joke with the fact that Marilyn had at the time some eighty days left to live; we might assume instead that he insisted on being “witty” in front of the 15,000 people in the hall, at the same time doing his best to cheer up the president (his brother-in-law) celebrated on the occasion.

Which sends us back in time to where we left the “thread”: dictionary work. Without this invaluable tool, I’m afraid the next two posts will seem a bit obscure. In fact, they are the facets of one of the most highly topical subjects these days: physical perfection.

So, what is your idea of physical beauty?
Is it true that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ as a former post was trying to prompt you to answer, and has now become the title of the present post?
Do we have a uniform concept of physical perfection?

Few people are born with a ‘perfect’ body. But what does ‘perfect’ mean? Should we take it to mean the Golden Myth of Perfect Proportions in Leonardo da Vinci’s  sketch of the Vitruvian Man?

What happens when people are dissatisfied with their physiques?
You will find out in the article below.

Cosmetic surgery gives people the chance to improve on nature, and in the United States teenagers and men are becoming the latest patients to seek medical ‘remodelling’.

The article contains some nine chunks in italics for as many words (or short phrases) that have been typed below the text, plus three extra words which you do not need to use. A dictionary will do the trick!


Conan the Barbarian
The Californian obsession with physical perfection is no longer confined to middle-aged women. Across the United States teenagers are going under the knife, financed and encouraged by parents who, while being extremely fond of their children, believe bodily perfection to be a more desirable birthday present than a stereo or a car. And in Beverley Hills surgeons have developed a technique by which men no longer have to spend hours in gyms to achieve lumpy muscles.

Tiffany White, a schoolgirl aged seventeen from suburban Los Angeles, never liked her ' chubby cheeks. ‘A lot of people said I looked like Bette Midler and that really bothered me,’ she said. In the old days she would have had to accept a disagreeable situation. But this year she joined thousands of other American teenagers in opting for surgery and had the fat vacuumed out and her nose remodelled while she was at it. Once the domain of the rich and vain, aesthetic surgery, as the practitioners prefer to call it, is doing wonders for adolescent self-esteem and making millions for doctors, at the same time causing uneasy feelings of doubt among professional bodies.

The Goddess Venus
Teenagers have become a big market for plastic surgery,’ said Dr Martin Sullivan, an Illinois surgeon who says between eight and ten teenagers consult him every month. Some surgeons calculate roughly that teenagers account for 25 per cent of their business. According to the latest figures, last year 117,000 teenagers under eighteen had rhinoplasty (or ‘nose-jobs’). Almost as many had ear-pinning, followed by chin augmentation and then dermabrasion - a sort of sandpapering technique which removes acne scars from the skin. A small but increasing number of Asian teenagers are having blepharoplasty, an eyelid operation which produces a more rounded Caucasian look. The use of silicone muscle to correct misshapen parts of the body has been widespread for some time, but plastic surgeons now report that 20 per cent of their clients are males seeking decorative muscles. In Beverley Hills Dr Mel Bircoll has turned more than fifty weak, flat thoraxes into brawny specimens using a technique which inserts two or three lumps of silicone into the chest through a small nick in the armpit. Aside from chest muscles, surgeons report that the next most popular operation is to the cheeks and jaw. ‘People want the square-featured Schwarzenegger look,’ said Dr Darryl Hodgkinson. While many surgeons do not believe artificial muscles for males will ever become really popular, they are optimistic about the growth prospects for teenage cosmetic surgery. They argue that surgery can help cure the insecurity and the feeling of undue awareness of oneself that comes from a lack of self-esteem.
bulging - catch on in a big way - cherished - deformity - doting -estimate - lump it - protruding - prompting qualms - puny - self-consciousness - swollen


  1. I have the opinion that nobody is perfect, I think that the perfection doesn´t exist. Some people can be more beautiful than the others or more ugly, but this is only an opinion for another people, not a reality.

    I don´t have a defined concept of beauty, for me is indifferent that one person has dark hair or light hair, a tall or low stature, with or without glasses… I like light eyes but this doesn´t mean that a person with light eyes is more beautiful than other with dark eyes.

    Maybe we have a uniform concept of physical perfection, for example, a tall, thin and athletic person…but…Who has decided that the perfect measurements in a woman are 90-60-90? I think that this is an invention of somebody that the society has believed. It´s similar than Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch of the Vitruvian Man, he has an opinion and a theory and we can believe him or not.

    A lot of people are dissatisfied with their physiques and they look for the perfect body in the cosmetic surgery but sometimes "the cure is worse than the disease" and they are finally more disappointed than before surgery. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger, I found his body the ugliest body I´ve ever seen…It´s terrible! He looked better before of his operations…

    In conclusion, I think that the society should apply the philosophy of “The beauty and the beast”…you know what I mean?

  2. I´m going to contribute with some controversial thing, but it´s only with the purpose of creating debate: There is a genetic basis of the physical attraction and hence for the perception of beauty. In this way, in general, everybody likes people with a symmetrical face (a high correlation between symmetry and health has been found).
    But, gratefully, our behavior not only depends on biology, but also depends on culture, society and psychological aspects.
    If you love you, and you can appreciate your positive aspects, surely others will love and appreciate you¡¡

    1. Well, at long last I read the magic word "debate"...

  3. The genetic and cultural aspects are not the only factors which determine if someone is attractive or not. To be attracted to certain stereotypes unfortunately also depends on aspects like fashion. Everybody knows, that many teenagers and in some cases many adults often trys to look like certain top fashion models or like actors. you can see an example in the Text ‘People want the square-featured Schwarzenegger look,’.

  4. Hi Everybody,
    I agree with most of you relating to the beauty is in the eye of the beholder and attractiveness is subjective. As BB has said beauty seems to be a sort of symmetry and that is what Da Vinci’s wanted to represent with his Vitruvian man.
    Have you ever heard about halo effect? It’s unbelievable but it makes sense: many researchers proved that in our society the perfection is associated with angels. So that attractive people are supposed to be more intelligent, better adjusted, and more popular. This is described as the halo effect. One theory behind this halo effect is that it is accurate attractive people are indeed more successful. As I see it that is an incomplete explanation, what happen with our intelligence?. For me men/women are more attractive and beauties if they use their mind and make me think. So beauty is not only in our bodies; more important than shapes and recipients are the material that are inside.

  5. I think that not only have different people different ideas about what is beautiful, but people change also their minds throughout their lives about what are good looks. In my case, I used to like thin women when I was a teenager. Now I prefer curvy bodies, so I had a different standard of beauty. Nevertheless, a general idea o concept is not based in any particular real person or thing. Let’s say that the concept of physical perfection is a kind of summary of people with good looks.

    1. You've got a point there! It's no easy business to define a concept which is apparently so simple: I think that what makes us all still call a cat "cat" is the sum total of the essences that make it the thing it is, the generic cat...

      Then there's this other interpretation: it's a fact that men's opinions about feminine beauty have been the core of aesthetics for centuries, as if women's opinions about male beauty didn't even exist. But something is changing, and the consequences are yet to be assessed.

  6. I agree with "Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder" but I think beauty has to do with being successful in life too.

    I mean,...someone can have good boody-shape, pretty eyes, beautiful smile, know!!, but when we speak about beauty, I think we´re referring to the fact that beauty is much more than that and we tend to take in account more items to get the conclusion about what is beauty o not.
    Most times this society where we´re living has too "many faces".
    If you don´t have success in your job, if you don´t have nice friends, if your standard or living is low,....I´m sure that we wouldn´t consider that person as a beautiful person. The reason is that nobody wouldn´t notice him/her!!!

    1. This is getting more and more interesting; I promise to be back soon with another post: this time about genes, the halo, and inner harmony!

  7. In my last post I wanted to highlight the radical difference between describing the fact that someone has a mere bunch of impressions, as I did when I mention that I liked curvy bodies, and trying to define a concept. Each to his own taste, but the problem comes, as you said in your reply to my last comment, when you try to formulate a theory based on biased opinions and not in principles properly established.

    I don’t mean to sound abstruse but real beauty is not in the eye of the beholder but in a world of ideas or forms as Plato establish a long time ago. Without ideas or concepts is not possible to speak about anything, and the more clear the concept is, the more accurate you are. Some people overlook this basic principle and unfortunately don’t try to clarify what is meant by whatever the concept before expressing themselves. I am thinking in gatherings on television or on the radio where arguments sometimes are a mess of frivolous comments due to this lack of accuracy. If I ask for example: do you believe in God? You have to answer: it depends on what is meat by God. In this case God is impossible to define so you’d better be quiet.

    So, let’s widen our vocabulary. In the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary beauty is defined as follows: the quality of being pleasing to the senses or to the mind. As you know it is on the internet for free. Here is the link in case someone is still reading this part of the blog:

    1. The title of the post is an English proverb; proverbs are compressed chunks of language which contain a people's world-view as it came into being after millennia of existence. In this respect, the proverb's words should not be taken literally; in fact it means "that which one person finds beautiful or admirable may not appeal to another".

      As for (lack of) accuracy, I do agree with everything you say. And with Plato, too!

    2. You are right I took it literally and not only did I take the proverb literally but I took Plato’s Theory of Forms literally as well. Plato never said that ideas were in a world spatially apart from things. What I meant was to put forward a different point of view.

      According to the proverb which one person finds beautiful or admirable may not appeal to another, as you said in your reply to my last comment. Something is beautiful or not depending on the people involved. In any case they are expressing a particular opinion about the reality perceived through their senses. According to Plato’s Theory of Forms what is asserted or justified by true knowledge cannot be question for anybody, and the object of the science is not the reality as it is perceived through our senses but ideas. Plato thought that the majority of people have only opinions based on a minor understanding of the reality. Only those who establish something with a formal set of ideas know about it.

      I not going to go so far as to say, as Plato seemed to imply in some parts of his works, that ideas exist apart from things and are more real than things. Nevertheless, if we theorise about beauty, as Leonardo did in the Vitrubian Man drawing, we try to be right at all times and in all places, highlighting universal facts about beauty. Let’s say that each one feels beauty differently but when we reason about it we tend to universality. As soon as we start discussing it seems like we overcome the domain of sensations and the essential things are the concepts or ideas. This way of interpreting the contents of Plato’s dialogues is the one I like the most and dialoguing is what we do in this blog.

  8. I believe the "physical" beauty can´t be complete if the person in question is not able to provide you something more...I mean aspects related to his/her intelectual capacities. I read recently something so terrible that should oblige us to stop and think whether we are really aware about this matter. It was a such extreme case: "‘Human Barbie’ Gives 7-Year-Old Daughter Liposuction Voucher"

    The UK’s self-proclaimed “Human Barbie” gave her 7-year-old daughter an unusual stocking stuffer this Christmas: a £7,000 voucher for liposuction. The holiday gift was a follow-up to Poppy’s most recent birthday present from her mum: A £6,000 voucher for breast augmentation.

    ‘She asks for surgery all the time. She wants to look good and lipo is one of those procedures that will always come in handy,” 51-year-old Sarah Burge told the UK’s Daily Mail. “I see these vouchers as investing in her future, like saving money for her education.”


    I consider this (dangerous¡¡¡) practice may extend in the next future in people who take this case as example, losing the control about what should be important (do you think this unconscious mother would invest the same quantity to enhance her daughter education? I believe not).

    You can see the full article at:

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