Could you imagine yourself sitting in the dining room, sipping a black liquid concoction of tea mixed with iron fillings and pungent, aromatic herbs? This was, for centuries past, a reality for young ladies in Japan practicing ohaguro, or dying the teeth black. Or maybe think about donning a perfectly powdered pastel pink wig in 18th century France. It was all the rage back then, but that is so three centuries ago. We, as a human race, have defined beauty in so many shapes and forms that it is easy to get lost in the trending looks of the day. Questioning the nature of beauty itself can help us understand where we see it and how we see it in our everyday lives.
Who Defines “Beautiful”?
Walk into your local grocery store and you’ll see racks and shelves of glossy magazines, their covers plastered with the faces of beauty. Undeniably, the media is a strong influence on the trends of beauty. A good example would be “body goals.” The rise of ladies with fuller behinds and smaller waistlines of the likes of Kim Kardashian has prompted a newfound appreciation for active-chic look with a heavy emphasis on the hourglass figure. A simple image search for “body goals” on the internet confirms this shift from the early 2000s skinny-rocker vibe to the preferred curvier overall body type of today. Nevertheless, many of us inevitably fall into the trap of following the crowd. More often than not, we try to follow and fail. Maybe it isn’t right to have a select few dictate the standards of beauty for such a diverse population, that is the rest of us.
It Is Important
Even though we understand that beauty is ever evolving and its direction is often dictated in manners out of any single person’s control, it is important to keep in mind that beauty is good. Even with cultural variations and societal swings, the experience of life owes a lot to beauty. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate,” proclaims Shakespeare in his famous Sonnet 18. Beauty’s importance is tied to how we appreciate existence itself. Beauty allows us to witness in people things that fills us with feelings comparable to summer days, springtime breezes, and autumn chills. Yes, it is sometimes skewed and taken for attributes that it is not, such as lust, narcissism, and superficiality. But that does not mean that we as a society should shun the idea that beauty exists. It instead means that our approach towards how we seek out and develop beauty must do justice to its true nature.
The risk of falling into cliché is worth the cost if this point is made: beauty is more than the ebb and flow of what’s “in”. Beauty is decided upon how you feel appreciation for yourself and those around you. That feeling of summer days isn’t limited to how perfectly contoured one’s makeup is done or how a waist-trainer has enhanced an itty-bitty waistline. The one consistency tied to beauty throughout history is that it lasts. Unlike strange fads and trends that come and go, the core of beauty doesn’t. Go out and appreciate the many beautiful aspects of yourself and others, physically and emotionally. It’s okay to admire your best friend’s perseverance in the gym to become a better self. It’s okay to feel confident in your own skin. Learn to appreciate the small, beautiful things in other people and embrace the beauty in yourself. Just remember that beauty is ultimately decided upon you and no one else.
Essay by: Jessica Lumintang
Institution: Loma Linda University