The Subjectivity of Beauty: A Reminder

It seems that the increasing friction between conflicting ideas and opinions on various social issues continues to make many believe that if someone has a different opinion than yourself, it automatically makes them an enemy. I’ve found that although this applies usually to bigger and more sensitive issues such as politics or religion, this type of mindset also has inadvertent effects on how we interact with others, particularly in relation to who/what we declare or perceive as beautiful.

poetry and artwork © leigh fuentes

The next few statements may perhaps be interpreted as defensive, ranting, or feminist, but in truth, they are merely my opinions and I share them in the hopes that some individual will read them and find truth as well. I don;t aim to get into arguments with anyone or make anyone agree with me. I just think that there are certain things that we so easily forget and something small such as this piece may hopefully serve as enough of a reminder as to how we can and should treat one another better and how we should learn to acknowledge beauty in all its forms.


The Subjectivity of Beauty

I’ve found it so difficult to understand how a lot of people are unable to comprehend that similar to how the world is composed of different countries, nationalities, and cultures, our definition of beauty varies as well and is, in fact, greatly diverse. Frankly, what the heck is wrong with that? So long as a certain definition does not imply harm on any individual and/or living thing or doesn’t violate the basic laws of humanity, why not embrace this type of diversity?

During the early Chinese dynasties, women with large eyes, slim bodies, and small feet were the basic definition of physical beauty; during the Italian Renaissance and the Victorian Era, beautiful women were those with ample bosoms and full figures which completely contradicted that of previous centuries. Our perspectives change constantly and though the world is becoming more accepting when it comes to post-modern beauty definitions, sometimes we still forget that beauty is not limited to one kind, so much so that we tear down and degrade what others view as beautiful or desirable just because it doesn’t match ours.


On The Hated Standards Portrayed by Mainstream Media

Another thing we tend to hate on too much is how men and women are portrayed in popular media such as in film, TV, and print. A lot of people hate so much on the creative people and direction behind these outputs. Fashion designers in general, for example, tend to receive hate and criticism for how designs are usually drawn only on unrealistically tall and thin figures. Unbeknownst to some, this portrayal is mean to be a form of deconstruction of the human body — a simplification, if you will — and though they may affect or influence beauty standards, they are not meant to be a representation of what women actually look like. The design of the clothing is the main focus, not the figure.

Another example would be magazine covers of sculpted men and women. Sometimes, people forget that magazines are products being marketed to the general public and because of this, a depiction admirable to the majority in created and preferred over others. Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree that mainstream portrayals (not just when it comes to body types, but also in terms of race, age, and background) should indeed be diversified and made more inclusive, but I certainly don’t believe that we should be encouraging or contributing to a culture of hate in the process of fighting to make this happen.


Mine, Yours, Theirs, Ours

Of course, there will always be groups and sectors that have a more firm definition as to what is appropriate and what should and shouldn’t be. The Philippines, for example, is quite a religious and conservative country (at least usually). Therefore, we have always had this traditional dalagang pilipina [Filipina maiden] who, in a nutshell, is defined as conservative, prim and proper who laughs with a hankie over her mouth, and is more often than not destined to marry and become a dedicated mother set as the general or ideal portrayal of Filipina beauty. Sure, that can be great and that definition may also be said to be beautiful, but does that mean beauty lies only inside that definition? No. Does that mean that a young woman who laughs out load or prefers not to be married can no longer be classified as beautiful? Definitely not. Thankfully, it seems that more recent portrayals of women in filipino media have been evolving, including more diverse traits and characteristics as admirable. In shifting times and changing generations, we need not forget that beauty varies and changes as well.


Acknowledging Others, but Also Acknowledging Ourselves

Probably even more difficult than acknowledging the value or beauty of something or someone other than yourself is being able to acknowledge and give ourselves some credit. In a world that seems to get more and more competitive by the day, we tend to assume that the strengths of others take away from ours, which is simply not true. Beauty in ourselves shouldn’t be overlooked. Otherwise, we’d be taking away from the diversity, not making it stronger.

We also need to remember that within the cultural definitions or standards of beauty, there lies sectoral differences and within sectoral differences lie personal preferences. There are so many layers and so many variations to what beauty is and what it can be. Therefore, there is no sense in pretending, insisting, or insinuating that one definition of beauty is correct or that beauty is linear. It’s about time we learn to embrace not only the beauty of diversity, but equally as important, diversity in beauty.


Please feel free to comment or email me about this piece. I’d love to hear from you!

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