Initially published as Beauty Defined in The Daily Journal (for the Magical Mysteries Collection), later published by the now defunct Yahoo Contributor Network, July 31, 2008, republished and then removed from Persona Paper.
How many times have you been awed by a spectacular sunset, or felt invigorated by crimson, russet, and amber autumn foliage? We love beautiful things. Our eyes widen and tend to linger on objects we find beautiful. We feel pleasure just looking at them.
For children beauty is different than it is for adults. A child may tell her parents about a beautiful friend she wants to invite to her birthday party, but after meeting the friend, mom bellows, "You think that chubby dumpy little girl is beautiful?"
The little girl begins the process of questioning her own perceptions. Is her overweight elderly aunt as beautiful as the little girl thought she was or is Auntie now the frumpy-looking hag others envision?
How unfortunate that, as we grow older, we incorporate society's vision of beauty into our own. Our aunt isn't skinny or young, so society must be right. Our idea of beauty changes over time.
The branch of philosophy that deals with our perceptions of beauty is Aesthetics. It deals specifically with our judgment of art and nature. And our judgments are made through a process of beliefs we create for ourselves through a system of acceptance and denial. We distort our own perceptions in favor of society's perceptions to "fit in" with society.
But what makes something beautiful and how do we define beauty?
We first sense beauty with our eyes and delight in our appreciation of it. Beyond outward appearances, however, at least in terms of human beings, we should probably consider another intangible component that plays an important role in how we view beauty: presence. Some indefinable and unexplainable "something" causes us to find a person attractive. Children have an innate ability to perceive an inner glow that shines through the surface, a glow that adults, blinded by what society deems acceptable, no longer see or choose to ignore.
Another intangible aspect of beauty is the emotion we attach to it. A child might find beauty in an old tattered recliner if she felt loved when she was being cuddled in daddy's chair. A father might find a ceramic bowl created by his child to be one of his most treasured and beautiful belongings.
Beauty, though, does not exist without something to compare itself. In a forest of green, splashes of color attract our attention. When, during the fall season, the magnificent evergreen stands next to the multi-colored maple, do we notice the evergreen or does it become the backdrop for the more colorful maples?
Does your elderly curly gray-haired wrinkly aunt get even a second glance when standing next to a willowy young blonde woman? Beauty should be grateful for plain, because if not for the plain or the ugly, nobody would recognize beauty.
Aesthetically, beauty is marked with symmetry, balance, texture, and color. But if you look for that inner glow, you can find beauty everywhere you look. And you can begin by looking into your mirror.
"What we see depends mainly on what we look for." (John Lubbock)