This question is so loaded it is hard to know where to start, but maybe that is the point. If you strip beauty down to its bare essentials and examine it on a philosophical level, then describing beauty as an illusion isn’t so far-fetched. In fact, many philosophy courses –such as those offered Association of Learning – feel beauty at its core is purely a social construct.
Think for a moment about how we react to beauty…
If someone is scarred, got a disfigurement or has got a noticeable skin condition, then our minds automatically view them as unattractive. Yet if for instance, we were all born without a nose we would all still be deemed as beautiful, as it would be normal to not have a nose.
This example reinforces the idea that our perceptions of beauty are based on what is considered ‘normal’. Meaning anything that falls outside of this predetermined parameter is considered unattractive.
And many things can influence this: social norms, culture or social interactions. Each of these do and can affect what people take to be normal.
Maybe that is why definitions of beauty differ between countries and cultures? Their lifestyle, upbringing, religion, etc. has directly affected what they perceive to be the ideal form of beauty.
Differing thoughts on beauty
We could talk for days about the philosophy of beauty and what it means. Some concepts you might agree with; others might make you think ‘What the heck?’
In any case, what we have learnt about beauty so far is that ‘you’ are the defining influence. Which is why, instead of trying to force your opinion, we have gathered all the latest opinions on it.
With them, you can decide on your own terms whether beauty is an illusion or not:
Idea One: Beauty is an amorphous concept
This is the leading theory because it lends to the belief that everyone is different and as such ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. It examines how we perceive beauty – whether it is in someone’s face, in the rising sun or a flower – and how in many it reflects who we are.
And there is a lot of truth in this, as whilst beauty is arguable everywhere; there are also negative forces at play – the inner voice inside all of us – that prevents us from fully appreciating the true beauty that exists within the world.
To truly value beauty – and move past its illusion – we need to defeat these negative forces and instead learn how to reconnect with beauty.
Idea Two: The material world and beauty
This idea examines how everything within our material world has been set up to applaud beauty (in any form) and be something that we must strive for. From owning beautiful homes and cars, to dating/marrying beautiful men/women, etc. Even money is seen as a means to an end for beauty as it can be used to buy clothes, makeup and accessories that help us to look or feel more beautiful.
And the media is the perfect example of this theory at play. As when you delve deeper into magazine covers and films, you’ll see that they’ll openly encourage certain forms of beauty e.g. to be beautiful you must be a size zero, have blue eyes, blond hair and wear your makeup a set way.
In many ways, the media is one of the biggest instigators on how beauty is defined and should be achieved.
Idea Three: Beauty outside of ourselves is an illusion
This idea has strong ties to idea two, as it explores the quest for things outside ourselves – the mission of turning spirit into matter.
You see, when you strive, desire or crave something that is ‘outside of yourself’, what you are actually doing is trying to turn love and happiness into objects – something which can never be achieved.
The truth is – love and beauty cannot be separated. So whilst an object can make you feel things related to beauty, what is actually happening is that they are helping you to feel loving emotions.
Now, if we were to take this idea a step further – when we invite beautiful objects and people into our lives or try to make ourselves look more beautiful; what we are actually doing is trying to increase the love in our hearts, as these things make us feel more loved.
But what can be taken from this idea is that beauty should be recognised as pointers to your own internal beauty, and should never be treated as a quest. We need to stop valuing beauty outside of ourselves (for what it represents) and should instead turn to our inner beauty.
So is beauty an illusion?
There is something to be said for all the ideas listed above…
Is beauty a social construct? Yes. If we consider it ‘normal’ we accept it as beautiful.
Does culture, lifestyle and the material world influence our perceptions and opinions on beauty? Yes. Think about the amount of money we spend on makeup, clothes, cars etc. in a bid to make ourselves feel good and look beautiful. Similarly, think about how every country/culture has different opinions on what they consider to be beautiful.
Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Yes. If we all found the same type of person attractive, then we would have gone extinct long ago.
So, is beauty an illusion? In many ways, yes it is. It ties into all our unconscious desires and need for more.
But hey, don’t just take our word for it. Have a think and see what you decide…