In the recent past, the definition of beauty has changed, from being a means of reproduction to a source of power. Beauty products are advertised as a means of power over self-image, a tactic that appeals to the insecurities of the consumer base. While some scientists hold that beauty standards have evolved over time, the problem is that the current definition of beauty is toxic for women. This article explores some of the problems with the modern beauty ideal.
Before the eighteenth century, most philosophical accounts of beauty considered beauty to be an objective quality, located in an object’s qualities and form. Augustine explicitly asks whether things are beautiful because they give one delight or because they provoke other reactions. He chooses the second option. Other philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato attempted to define beauty in terms of its response to love or desire, placing it in the realm of the Forms and recognizing that we experience it.
Many ancient treatments of beauty pay tribute to the pleasures of beauty, describing it in ecstatic terms. For instance, Plotinus described the pleasure of beauty as trembling, wonderment, delicious trouble, longing, and love. He even described the sensation of trembling, which he called the “most delightful pleasure.”
Changing standards of beauty has implications for social relations and class. Even though the majority of us may agree that some women are beautiful, there are many complexities involved in the definition of beauty. Aside from the obvious racial and sex biases, standards of beauty also reflect our own societal class. Cosmetic surgery can cost far more than a simple facial or brace. Moreover, it’s not always the most affordable way to improve a woman’s appearance.
Aristotle and Plato argued on the definition of beauty, with each saying that it is a composite of integral parts arranged into a cohesive whole. This conception is reflected in classical and neo-classical architecture, sculpture, literature, and music. These classical conceptions of beauty have been rooted in Western culture, and are still popular today. This concept of beauty is best illustrated by Polykleitos’ ‘The Canon’ sculpture, which is the most famous example of this kind.
Various philosophers have made their own claims about what constitutes beauty. The eighteenth-century philosophers Hume and Kant both argued that beauty is a subjective experience. In their view, beauty is a form of pleasure that cannot be measured against truth or justice, but rather as a source of pleasure. A more subjective and utilitarian approach to beauty places beauty in the realm of value, and aims of enjoyment. However, aesthetic judgments do not entail the concept of value.