“She’s not really that beautiful, apart from the hair and the cheekbones and the lips.”
Smiling at the comment by a character in ITV’s The Durrells, there was a thought that perhaps she had a point, who determines who is beautiful and who is plain? While beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, more commonly, beauty is what is judged to be so by the local culture. Beauty seems also something attached only to women and children, a man might be good-looking or handsome, but the description of a man as physically “beautiful” would probably be thought odd.
Stepping into a jeep for a journey with an Irish companion to an African village an hour from the tarmac road, an African man climbed into the other side and expressed surprise the three of us could sit comfortably across the back seat of the vehicle. He looked at my female companion and said, “You are very thin. You must eat more, then you will be as fat as the lady in the front.” The lady in the front seat laughed loudly, thinking his comment was a great compliment. Attempting to gently suggest that commenting on a woman’s shape might not be acceptable in European culture brought a quizzical look from the man, “I am saying a good thing.” We laughed and agreed that there might be some cultural differences.
Even within European culture, the perceptions of what is beautiful have not been constant, the women painted by Sandro Botticelli in the Fifteenth Century are almost boylike when compared with those painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir in the Nineteenth Century.
Popular ideas of beauty still suggest that cheekbones, hair, lips and shape are determining factors, but it would be a very dull world where those who are botoxed, sculpted and dyed are thought to have made the grade, whilst those whose attractiveness is not within the cultural criteria are not thought beautiful. Real beauty is more than the shape of the face, or the cut of the hair, or curves of the body, it is about the person within.
Being beautiful doesn’t come from walking a catwalk, appearing in a movie, or featuring on the cover of a glossy magazine, being beautiful is possessing something indefinable; being beautiful is about personality and grace; being beautiful is about strength and integrity.
The woman on The Durrells was right; hair, cheekbones and lips are not really that beautiful. Beauty is something deeper.