What is beauty? Is it a quality of humans or objects? Beauty is commonly defined as a subjective quality of objects which makes these objects aesthetically pleasing to see. These objects could be works of art, sunsets, beautiful landscapes and humans. Beauty, along with individual taste and aesthetics, is the most important theme of aesthetic science, one of the most important branches of philosophy.
For an aesthetical psychologist, beauty involves an internalized judgment of how beautiful a situation or object is, based on a person’s own judgment of beauty. Beauty is not only about the eyes of the beholder, but also about what the beholder wants to see. This then becomes an act of subjectivation, as well as an objectification of beauty.
In the twentieth century, however, the term beauty has taken on a more cultural meaning, most often associated with beauty found in nature. The term beauty in this sense is not used to refer to anything particular to any particular culture, and beauty is not tied to any particular gender or age. Thus, while the term beauty has become more inclusive, its cultural definition is no less. While some people believe that beauty is determined by the physical attributes of anything and everything, other people believe that beauty is a subjective ideal.
According to one definition, beauty is “a mental or emotional state that makes the object appropriate and useful.” By this definition, beauty is something that all people share; it does not require gender, race, or age. Someone who considers themselves beautiful may feel that they are unattractive or even ugly, but others will consider someone beautiful if they share the same ideals or beliefs they do. The belief that all people share the same ideal of beauty is called the “hierarchy of beauty.”
The Hierarchy of Beauty There are four categories of beauty, and each one is correlated with several different definitions of beauty. When an individual meets the requirements for one category, they may feel that they qualify for that category; however, if they fail to meet the requirements for another, they will feel that they do not qualify for beauty. For example, a person who believes that beauty consists of having long hair might think that someone with straight hair is not beautiful. While this may seem contradictory, there is actually a hierarchy of beauty for people of various ethnic backgrounds, body shapes, hair lengths, skin tones, and so forth.
Beauty then, like all other ideals, exists on a personal level for each and every individual. The beauty ideal that most people share resembles some ideal that society as a whole shares; however, there is more to beauty than what others think about it. One’s own sense of beauty is usually much more powerful than the opinions of those whom one has never met. Thus, beauty standards must be flexible enough to allow people to adjust their standards depending upon their individual beauty ideals.