What Is Beauty?
Perhaps the British novelist, essayist, and poet D. H. Lawrence had it right when he proffered that “Beauty is an experience, nothing else. It is not a fixed pattern or an arrangement of features. It is something felt, a glow or a communicated sense of fineness.”
For beauty, as we have come to understand it, is merely a perception of appearance by ones self or by another. It is subjective and differs among individuals and between cultures. Certainly, that which is considered beautiful among Aborigines may not be interpreted similarly by others around. Although the phrase is frequently ascribed to others, the author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford in 1878 was the first to write in her novel, Molly Bawn, the famous idiom that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Certainly her proffer seems on point.
One’s perception of beauty varies from generation to generation. For example, the proportions and shape of the “sought after” nose in America today is far different than the cute, little upturned (bobbed) nose popular in the early and mid-1900s. If one peruses old books and magazines, clearly the same is true of body morphology and even hairstyles.
However accurate they may be, we as doctors do not depend on romantic notions or assertions to define concepts, even one as nebulous as beauty. We look to norms, ratios, mathematical formulae, and science as did Leonardo da Vinci in his famous drawing, the Vitruvian Man (Figure 1.1).