I PROMISE I won’t try one of those “Love is…” lines today.

But I will try to shed light on perhaps one of the most enigmatic but ambiguous, elusive and equally perplexing forces in the world—beauty. While “beautiful” for Filipinos may not be “beautiful” to Indians, Chinese, Slavs, Turks, Ugandans (and vice versa), it is also equally impossible for all Filipinos to have the same concept of beauty.

My mother is 60 years old, has varicose veins on her legs, thinning hair, loose bilbil, and wrinkled skin, but she is one of the most beautiful women I know.

As William Shakespeare said, “beauty is bought by judgment of the eye,” meaning beauty is in the eyes of the beholder; beauty is what is desirable. Going with this belief, however, leads us to the root problem: we still can’t define beauty, that is, not in its subjective, but universal sense.

Desire of beauty is immortalized in Homer’s Iliad, which tells of Paris asking from the goddess of beauty, Hera, for the most beautiful woman, Helen of Troy. But was Helen the most beautiful woman, or was her beauty only according to Paris’ or Hera’s tastes? I will definitely have a different idea of Helen in my mind, a picture of a woman I, not Hera, desire.

Between 65 to 8 BC, the Greek poet Horace wrote Ars Poetica, often referred to as dulce et utile (sweet and useful) as a measure of the arts. Let’s take cellular phones for example; amazing telecommunications and vast selection of phone designs/models have made great things possible, under the sun. If that is not beautiful, you’re too much of a cynic.

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Ask an industrial designer. They’ll say that there are certain designs that are better or more ergonomic than others because they allow maximum benefit and efficiency. During the Paleolithic age, men made crude tools and weapons; today, men still make tools and weapons, only more powerful, more effective, and more comfortable to use.

But with this beauty bestowed on us, man can choose to create terror and ugliness by using these “beautiful” objects against each other—in the form of weapons of mass destruction, felonies, unethical practices, etc.

Expressionist artists of the 20th century distorted reality through random and abstract strokes. But through the harmonious blend of colors, textures, and media, “beauty” was also achieved. The relation of the subject in question to its environment should also be considered. Would a person wearing a designer gown look beautiful if she were strolling along Divisoria? Beauty is the natural order of things, Aristotle said. Without the natural, things will become illogical. However, postmodernist movements have led men to be aware of different worldviews, all equally valid, further pulling us away from a single definition of beauty.

The ambiguity of beauty has led many to search for a template. But a template would suggest that someone has to set fair standards for the judgment of beauty. In literature, beautiful writings are symbolically captured in canonical works and other classics. In the late 15th to early 16th century, an Italian mathematician, Luca Pacioli, in his Divina Proportione, applied a “golden” ratio, one that was used by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians for aesthetic purposes, to a human face. Based on that ratio, 1.618…, a beautiful face should have proportionate features, like the distance of one eye from another, the lip from the nose, and so on. Case in point: Catherine Zeta-Jones or Denzel Washington. Go figure.

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Perhaps that template of beauty exists. Perhaps beauty is, for all purposes, instinctive. And perhaps beauty, for now, is judged—not so much in international beauty pageants, art exhibits, cinema festivals, ISO standards, and awarding ceremonies—but in each person’s individually unique psyches, which are in turn, shaped by the mass media and globalization.


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