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Dressing Room Body Image Does objective beauty exist?
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Does objective beauty exist?
I often think that good and bad looks, beauty in general, is such a relative concept.

Some cultures seem to appreciate rounder people. In some other cultures, women want to starve themselves to look like models.
Other ones, propose impossible and frankly quite ridicoulous body shapes, like tiny legs and hips and huge breasts.
And, besides weight and body shapes, different cultures and historical periods have appreciated different facial features.

But what would our eyes actually perceive as "nice to look at", if not influenced by cultural heritage?

Is there such a thing as objective beauty?

There must be, in a way, as otherwise we would not all appreciate a beautiful city as Rome, or a breathtaking landscape as the Grand Canyon. But what about when it comes to people? I don't really think there is.

But again, I am curious to see what others think about this.

Thanks!
Hi Blanca,
Accompanied you around today. Great posts!

2 points.
First point, that I mention simply FYI as I find it silly, but there were many psychological experiments to test beauty. For instance they show babies a picture of someone and measure how many seconds (milliseconds) they look at the picture before moving their eyes. Supposedly the prettier they find the person the more they look. Anyway, in these test I think they tried to prove that certain symmetries are considered objectively beautiful. That a symmetric face is better and so on. Whatever.

Second point is a bit more complicated. I will try to describe it in a short manner, but that will mean it will not be very precise. I would like to distinguish between beauty as an image, as in a picture, and beauty in movement and in life. The first is what some might call physical but I would say it is mostly symbolic beauty, while the second is effected a lot by character.

For example, I think a happy person will be beautiful in all cultures. I think very quickly being around them they would take the place of the beautiful no matter what culture they are from and have arrived to. On the other hand, simply as an image, the usual image of a beautiful woman is actually a sad one. 
Of course, what I'm saying is somewhat superficial. I mean a deeply happy person, not simply someone very cheerful, seemingly happy. I think these people would also look beautiful as an image in their own culture, as I think they would naturally, unconsciously, gravitate to take that role. They would radiate it in some way.

But then, also, it is a 2-way street. If someone for some reasons would not be good looking in their own culture (genetics/accident), it changes the character.
There is here some confusion between attractiveness and beauty, but both I don't know to exactly say the difference and in any case it would be too long. Also, the effect is from the entire character together, as an atom, and not simply this trait or another.

Characters are what is attractive, and though it is true that it won't be immediate, it won't be from an image, I do think that is what passes and is objective in a way. It might take a bit though. While beauty as an image is more immediate,and is very culture dependent as it is mostly symbolic. (By symbolic I mean that something symbolizes something else, like kings used to wear crowns to represent that they are the king, or some today walk with long elaborate canes to symbolize they are pimps. It is the same way with people's body, such as blond hair etc.)  Like muscular men represent strong ones in a very specific context (for instance the American one) while not necessarily elsewhere, or some people can claim evolutionary ground, whatever.


Now it definitely doesn't work the other direction. That is, beautiful people do not necessarily, ahem, ahem, have great characters. And then would they be beautiful in a different culture - not at all. They can build themselves as a picture, go to plastic surgeons, and they will definitely be beautiful in their own culture, but not more. (though well, that is enough no. I have nothing against that.) Their beauty is not objective.

The post is a bit confused but I think it's point is rather simple.
Very interesting question, Blanca, thanks.

This reminds me of Musil’s essay on the “Modern Woman” where he describes women’s clothing of the nineteenth century: the frills, the lace, the petticoats, “the infinite multiplication of the erotic surface.” With the change in clothing styles, he says (paraphrasing here), these moments which so thrilled people of a previous generation – the glimpse of an ankle, the brush of a dropped handkerchief – are completely lost to us.

I would say that maybe this is an interesting way into thinking about beauty.  I would distinguish the attraction (the “erotic surface”) of a person, object, place, which can really only be accessed from inside a certain culture and a certain alphabet of gestures, from what I would call their beauty, which is universal insofar as it has to do with feeling a real force of life.

One sees this sort of distinction not just in people, but in Rome and the Grand Canyon, for instance. A devout Catholic who sees Rome as a sacred landscape will find it lovely for perhaps very different reasons than a classicist, and from an American visitor for whom this is the first experience of Europe. Someone for whom the Grand Canyon represents the immense freedom of space on the Tuesday they happen across it will feel differently from someone who has grown up there and who, looking at the same clouds, remembers that they have not looked this way for twenty years.  These moments of literacy, where you experience yourself and another person, city, work of art as existing in something of the same immense fabric, participating in the same kind of experiment, are extremely personal, and almost impossible to transfer.

But at the same time there is a commonality to these sorts of encounters, when they are true. Rome is not simply a place where people can hang their dreams, where people wander about and encounter their own thoughts and feelings coming back to them in the image of art and other people. Rather I would say the city has an enormous force of life, and it is the encounter with this that perhaps brings things inside you to the surface, heightens a certain experience, sets things on edge.

Likewise encountering  a beautiful person. It’s true that in order to understand the rich fabric of that person’s expression – why they chose this color lipstick or did that with their hair, why they allow themselves to exaggerate this posture or gesture, what possibilities they circumscribe for themselves – it’s necessary to have a common culture. Nonetheless there is something unmistakeable about what seems to me to be most beautiful in people: an aliveness, a presence, a force of life that has the effect of making one feel that one had been living in a two-dimensional world and suddenly discovered it had three.  Perhaps this is what Art means that it can’t be captured in an image.

It’s so rare in the world that one encounters people who one feels are truly alive.
Hi Blanca, I think that beauty is subjective and I agree with you in that our taste is directly influenced by our culture, history and so on. Actually I’d like to react to your mentioning universal appreciation of some cities and landscapes. I have lived for some time near Lake Lemans, with the beautiful mountains in the background, and for some strange reason I was never much moved by it. It might be that while I lived there I did not very much enjoy the society around me and that could have affected my judgment. I could recognize it as beautiful but could not be touched by its beauty personally. I know that other people that lived there with me had some real problems in concentrating on their work as they were tempted to spend the whole day looking on the landscape. On the other hand, I remember being very moved by the beauty of Venice even though I was there for just a few hours. I wonder if that was also a reason, did I get so used to the other place that I was living in, up to the point of not being moved by its beauty, (it was clear to me that I did not want to live there for a very long time). And would my love at first sight for Venice have faded had I stayed there longer?
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