I don't know where this picture came from originally, but it is a computer-generated image that has been posted in many places online as an example of a fairly normal but objectively beautiful female face.

I don’t know where this picture came from originally, but it is a computer-generated image that has been posted in many places online as an example of a fairly normal but objectively beautiful female face.

Society and the mass media promote two different ways of defining and thinking about beauty. The first tells us that beauty is objective and can be judged according to a standard set of ideals, that some people are much better-looking than others, and that it’s important for every individual to do whatever they can to make themselves as attractive as possible, especially in cases where this individual is female. The other perspective says that beauty is only skin deep and that true beauty comes from within. According to this definition, there’s no such thing as objective beauty and it is unethical and hurtful to say that one person looks better than another. One of these views is considered to be superficial and the other is considered to be politically correct, but they’re both commonly held ideas and they’re both deeply ingrained into people’s minds. I would like to offer the opinion that actually, both of these ways of thinking of beauty are incorrect and potentially harmful. Even though one is always critical and the other is always complimentary, they’re both too extreme and just plain wrong.

Of course, everyone knows what’s wrong with the idea of objective beauty that is promoted by movies, the fashion industry, and advertisements in general. It’s unrealistic and artificial, and it promotes the idea that a person’s self-worth is based primarily upon their physical appearance. It makes people, especially women, feel inadequate, and it opens opportunities for marketing strategies that prey upon people’s insecurities. Women are told that they are supposed to strive for a certain ideal, and if that means spending ridiculous amounts of money and time on nice clothes and makeup and hair care products and skin care products, then that’s what you have to do. If you don’t, you’re ugly, no one likes you, and your opportunities in life will be very limited. Those ideas are obviously neither correct nor pleasant.

The other definition of beauty sounds better, though. It’s nice to be able to say that everyone’s beautiful just the way they are and that a person’s facial features have no impact whatsoever either on their potential in life or their overall degree of attractiveness. The problem is that, strictly speaking, that isn’t true in every context, and anyone who really believes it is going to have a hard time dealing with a world in which looks really do matter sometimes. Personally, I feel that there’s a bit of a contradiction in a philosophy that states that everyone is beautiful and that beauty doesn’t really matter. The only way in which that conflict is resolved is to make “beauty” an extremely vague term, which is easy to do when you’re already operating according to the idea that beauty is unimportant. But then you’re basically denying the existence of any such thing as objective physical beauty, and that’s kind of sad because beauty is, by definition, a good thing.

To be honest, I have never understood why people say that the Mona Lisa is pretty.

To be honest, I have never understood why people say that the Mona Lisa is pretty.

I think it makes the most sense to think of beauty in the same way as you’d think of a skill in a certain area. For example, some people are born with a mathematical mind and are guaranteed to be good at math as they grow and learn. If that is something that really matters to them, they will put effort into mathematics and will end up being excellent; otherwise, they’ll just be a little bit good at math and they’ll be better at something else that matters a little more to them. In other words, a person’s mathematical ability comes from a combination of natural ability and deliberate effort. It would be silly for another person to tell a mathematical genius that being good at math is not something they should be proud of because they were born with it, but it would also be silly for others to put that mathematical genius on a pedestal as a model of human perfection just because he or she is extremely good at one certain thing. Other people are born without that degree of mathematical talent. If they work really hard, they can still become somewhat good at math, but certainly not to the degree of being a genius. It would be incorrect and hurtful for other people to claim that this non-genius is an inadequate human being just because of a lower level of innate proficiency in one area.

Likewise, some people are born being naturally good-looking and others aren’t. Regardless of how naturally attractive someone is, there are things he or she can do to look better. The question of whether or not it’s worth it is really a matter of opinion. For example, I personally think that plastic surgery, except when it’s reconstructive in nature, is not worth the money and the recovery time. I don’t, however, think that it’s silly or wasteful for me to use makeup or to occasionally spend some time doing something cool with my hair or to prefer wearing clothing of certain colors simply because I think I look better in those colors. But I do know a lot of girls who wear an awful lot more makeup than I do and who care more about their hair than I do and who buy a lot of clothes because they find it necessary to have as many flattering or “cute” outfits as possible. Some of them are naturally beautiful people who do their best to enhance their good looks because it’s something that they value in themselves. Others are less good-looking to begin with, but they are dedicated to making themselves look as good as they can, and usually, the result is that they succeed in being pretty.

I don't often spend any more time on my hair than absolutely necessary, but I do admit to having wasted some time recently trying to imitate this hairstyle. This is Clara Oswin, from the latest Doctor Who episode.

I don’t often spend any more time on my hair than absolutely necessary, but I do admit to having wasted some time recently trying to imitate this hairstyle. This is Clara Oswin, from the latest Doctor Who episode.

To be honest, I am a little biased against people who think that their appearance is a high priority in their life, and I am very baffled by some girls’ willingness to spend so much time and money on the way they look. Really, though, it’s a lifestyle choice. To me, my appearance is slightly important, but there are a number of things that are much more important. I’d rather put my time and efforts into the pursuit of intellectual achievements, partly because that seems much more important to me and partly because I’m aware that any natural assets I have are intellectual rather than aesthetic. I’m not saying I’m a genius, either, but I do go to a fairly prestigious college and make fairly decent grades, which is worth something.  I’m not sure what an equivalent achievement in prettiness would be, but it’s certainly something well beyond my potential.

There are some people out there who are very good-looking and very smart and very talented in other areas as well.  I guess that must come from a combination of being very naturally gifted and being extremely non-lazy. In that case, those all-around awesome people deserve admiration and respect, even from those of us who just can’t understand how an intelligent and motivated person can find the time to make their hair look that nice or put that much effort into putting together a really great outfit.

It’s true that there are a lot of people out there who are superficially obsessed with their appearance or who are misguided enough to judge other people based upon their looks. And it’s true that it’s bad to be entirely focused on physical beauty and that our society shows many of the negative results of that mindset. But that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to acknowledge that there is such a thing as objective beauty and that some individuals do have quite a bit of it.

Here is a picture of Grace Kelly, because I once had a paper doll of her that I deemed to be the prettiest of all my paper dolls.

Here is a picture of Grace Kelly, because I once had a paper doll of her that I deemed to be the prettiest of all my paper dolls.

For the record, this blog post was in part inspired by a website I found (and unfortunately lost again, so I can’t share the link) which lets you upload a picture of a person’s face and then uses objective details to calculate how good-looking  that person is. This strongly appealed to the part of my brain that is fascinated with quantifying everything. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do a lot with it because it requires pictures that are completely straight-on; the slightest angle or the tiniest incline of the head confuses it. I therefore only had a couple pictures available to feed into the program, but I was interested to note that the analysis of one particular picture of one particular sister indicated that she was more than 95% pretty. Given the fact that I have myself beheld the face of this sister of whom I speak, I am not at all surprised, and I expect that pictures of some of my other sisters would have gotten similar scores if I had been able to find correctly angled pictures to use. My point here is to justify the coolness of such a computer program (and the amount of time I wasted playing with it) and to explain why it is both awesome and unfair that my sisters are pretty people. The additional point of this particular paragraph is to subtly point out that my sisters are pretty people without actually complimenting them, because, you know, that would go against all the principles of sibling rivalry.

Note: Those of you reading this who know me and/or my family in real life may be curious about which sister’s picture I used. If you want to know, you can see it for yourself, because it’s my current cover picture on facebook. It is pretty obvious which sister’s face I was able to use because she’s the only one who isn’t leaning and doesn’t have her head turned or someone else’s hair obscuring her face.

Other note: I notice that all of the pictures I have used here happen to be of Caucasian women, and I would like to note that 1) This is a coincidence where my choices were concerned and I hope that isn’t offensive, and 2) It is interesting and strange, though, that Google images don’t give you racial diversity unless you specifically ask for it.

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