Beautiful. What does that word even mean?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines beautiful as “excelling in grace of form, charm of colouring, and other qualities which delight the eye, and call forth admiration.” Yikes.
The most popular definition at Urban Dictionary says, “Beautiful is a woman who has a distinctive personality, one who can laugh at anything, including themselves, who is especially kind and caring to others.” Now this definition, I love.
Different cultures have different standards of beauty, and those standards have evolved over hundreds of years under the such diverse influences as economics, norms, fashion, and even religious beliefs.
Author, historian, researcher, and all-around Wonder Woman, Geri Walton, blogged this week about Ideas of Female Beauty in the 1700s and 1800s. It’s a fascinatingly specific essay on what people – and especially men – considered beautiful two and three hundred years ago. Some ideals seem a touch odd today, like round knees, white shoulders, an unaffected air, or a smooth, high forehead. Perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of the characteristics called beautiful are still used as measures today: youth, smooth skin, straight teeth, and
plenty of bosom.
If there’s one thing history can teach us about beauty, it’s that someone will always be around to judge who they think is or isn’t qualified to wear the adjective. So it’s up to us to set our own standards, create our own definitions, and find what fits for us.
It’s just like Mr. Knightly said: “Perhaps it is our imperfections that make us perfect for one another.” (For the purists: I know it was 1996 movie Mr. Knightly, or rather screenwriter Douglas McGrath, and not Jane Austen who gave us these words . . . but I’ll take them. And Jeremy Northam.)
Do the clicky thingy and head over to read Geri’s post at 2Romance, and check out the beauty standards of yesteryear. You might be surprised to see that a few of the things we search for in our mirrors were the same things searched for in a foggy pier glass in a Georgian town house.