Beauty Comes in All Shapes and Sizes


This post is based on a short Google Plus dialogue on the graphic above – – The term pretty implies (to me at least) something shallow and petty. Beauty is a better word for what women (and men) want.

A woman (or any human) can be attractive, and attraction is obviously a physical/chemical phenomenon that occurs in the one attracted. I think people generally mean this when they say someone is pretty. Pretty also implies decorous and pleasant, also properties women are supposed to have.

Beauty is the great idea associated with this domain. A woman can be perceived as beautiful without being considered attractive or pretty or decorous. Most things I think of as beautiful are also pleasant, but there’s an overlap between beauty and “the sublime” which covers catastrophic events such as supernovas, atomic bomb explosions and volcanic eruptions that may count as beautiful without being at all pleasant.

Beauty is an ideal that overlaps but is greater than the physical world. I see the sublime as a symbol, a pointer to an idea that cannot be instantiated in the physical world, whereas beauty can.

Uche Eke noted that Plato’s Forms are helpful here. Beauty can be considered as a form and therefore timeless (i.e. outside time). His description adds to this conversation:

“Pretty seems to have an of the moment, temporal quality, and inspires notions of fragility, possibly even weakness, whereas beauty seems to describe an inherent, almost immutable, property e.g. I’m quite convinced the ruins of Ancient Egypt still possess a beauty that must have been present from the day they were originally completed. One would never regard them as pretty!!”

Uche also notes that when awe accompanies any experience, as an encounter with something that is almost painfully beautiful generally does, it touches the sublime and “the sublime is that je ne sais quoi feeling that is simultaneously alien and completely familiar, that seems to draw us to all things that possess it.”

Uche’s inclusion of je ne sais quoi is excellent, as is his characterization of it as a feeling, something ineffable but which resonates in your mind.

I’d like to add the concept of mysterium tremendum et fascinans here. It’s closely related to the idea of the sublime and also helps us describe the human experience of someone or something so beautiful, so powerful, that we are simultaneously terrified of it and inexorably drawn to it. This state of awe, which lies beyond reason and can move us independently of any rational thought, helps us understand some aspects of extreme, unreasonable human behavior.

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