Beauty is a complex social concept that exists in various ways across every culture. Over time, beauty trends and expectations have changed along with the social attitude towards beauty standards. However, because the definition of beauty is constantly changing and changes from person to person, there is still a great amount of contention regarding what the social construct of beauty actually is. The roots of modern beauty can be traced to ancient times because the core of what beauty is has not changed, but the subjection of beauty certainly has changed and has always varied across the globe.
The Origin of the Concept of Beauty
The philosopher Plato defined beauty as a separate concept from tangible life and more of a way to describe God-like concepts. Beauty as we know it first originated as a form of art criticism in ancient Greece. Using the analysis of anatomy and composition in the art to represent ideals, art critics in ancient Greece determined beauty to be something achievable only on a canvas as the scenes in these artworks were often forms of praising gods and depicting figures with features beyond what was realistic for humans.
In the 20th century, artists began to resist the old concepts of “good” art and started exploring new styles of art and expression. Before then, beauty, as it applies to humans, reflected the expectations of artwork and was unrealistic, but this concept is the only representative of Western beauty. However, Western beauty has greatly influenced the beauty standards across cultures, leading to the concept of global beauty.
Beauty Standards in Latin America
Because of the proximity of Latin American society to that of the United States, it is no surprise that some social constructs are similar to those in the United States. For example, much of their media is flooded with idealized white and Latina beauty, but people with darker skin are lacking in representation in both societies. Additionally, U.S. blacks are considered being more attractive than Afro-Latinos, emphasizing the underlying racism that can also infect the perception of beauty (De Casanova). However, a study conducted in Ecuador showed that black Ecuadorians largely ignore the beauty ideals printed in magazines and other media and have learned that beauty idealizations unjustly exclude the black population.
Beauty Standards in Africa and Asia
In other regions, skin color is not important in the perception of beauty. For example, in Africa, many of the beauty aesthetics are expansive and heavily traditional (Nijofor). African culture values beauty in nature and is a very important part of the culture, so skin color is virtually irrelevant to this aesthetics. On an entirely different spectrum, Asian beauty is heavily based on alterations that are often surgical (Liew). For example, common beauty concerns among Asians are the shape of the nose, the size of the chin, and the shape of the tear trough. Although some of these operations seem to parallel the aesthetics of Western beauty, they are more targeted to correct and optimize the underlying structure.
In the Western world of beauty, historically Eurocentric standards of beauty left behind people of color because of the naturally variant appearances of non-European populations (Bryant). However, nowadays, people of various skin tones and cultural backgrounds are finally able to be proud of their natural beauty as beauty standards are redefined to be more inclusive and based on the acceptance of diversity. There is still progress to be made regarding the inclusion of diverse beauty in media, but there has no doubt been an improvement in recent years.
Beauty is Becoming Undefined
While beauty has no exact definition and is constantly up to interpretation, the projection of the perfection of art onto the expectations of real-life has influenced modern beauty standards. Fortunately, these unrealistic beauty expectations have been greatly redefined to be more inclusive. The Western world struggled and still has some struggles with accepting a wide variety of people into the category of what is considered beautiful by the social construct of beauty, but with the diversity of the Western world ever-growing, Western beauty may soon be completely undefined compared to other regions where beauty as a definite controlling denominator.
Bryant, Susan L. “The beauty ideal: the effects of European standards of beauty on Black women.” Columbia Social Work Review 11.1 (2013): 80-91.
De Casanova, Erynn Masi. “No Ugly Women” Concepts of Race and Beauty among Adolescent Women in Ecuador.” Gender & Society 18.3 (2004): 287-308.
Liew, Steven, et al. “Consensus on changing trends, attitudes, and concepts of Asian beauty.” Aesthetic plastic surgery 40.2 (2016): 193-201.
Njiofor, Justin C. “The concept of beauty: A study in African aesthetics.” Asian journal of Social sciences and humanities 7.3 (2018): 30-40.