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Beauty,Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
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The Equation of Beauty

Liz Paterek

Beauty is a social and genetic construct that exists only in the mind. It is like a mathematical formula, because it has predictable patterns. These arise not from the simplicity in beauty or the newness or any one stagnant concept but rather the combination of an individual's genetics, nurture and nature. There is a framework created by genetics, which is built on by socialization and personality. However, saying that each person should experience beauty a correct way or that one quality always makes something beautiful is a false concept because it fails to recognize that beauty is not a tangible thing. It is not intrinsic to an object or concept.

Like color, beauty is the seen through human eyes and is not intrinsic to an object. With color, the tangible component consists of the wavelength of light the object most readily absorbs. In beauty the only tangible component is what we are genetically predisposed to see as beautiful. Beauty is not easily definable because it means something different to everyone. Therefore we must not talk about beauty as a blanket concept but rather an individual reaction to a stimulus. In both cases, there is predictability as to what each individual will see when shown a certain stimulus; however, what is seen is not the same to everyone and therefore does not exist in the object itself.

The individuality of beauty is often ignored for a blanket concept of what is beautiful and how this beauty should be seen. Dewey does this when he says that we can only experience beauty when we are ignorant. Barnes does this when he talks about viewing art without any outside information. They feel that their opinions on how to see beauty are the most correct or will teach people the most. However, people require different experiences to find things beautiful. There are those who will be happy with the approach of random discovery and ignorance, others however, require knowledge in order to find beauty in something. Knowledge cannot exist without ignorance and ignorance cannot exist without knowledge. Sometimes we are simply so grateful to understand something that we find it beautiful. Other times we are grateful for finally having the new experience. However, saying that both cannot be beautiful is a narrow blanket perspective, which is incorrect.

There is a genetic component to beauty that in some way is similar to a blanket concept. This idea can be recognized in two ways. The ideals of beauty do not change over time and there is an equivalent concept in non-human animals. This indicates the response is most likely subconscious. These traits commonly exist to aid in survival of the organism or their offspring. Appearance attracts mates in both the human and animal world. In humans, individuals will find symmetric faces attractive. This trait has held up throughout time. In animals, the equivalent is varies by species but could be size, coloration or any trait that shows reproductive fitness. However, this should not be taken out of context and stated that humans find everything symmetrical beautiful. This response directly relates to mate selection and therefore can only be applied to other humans. Humans also have a tendency to view love or companionship as beautiful. Humans will have difficulty surviving without companionship. Even humans, who refer to themselves as loners tend to have a group affiliation or some attempted group interaction. This is likely an evolutionary response to aid in survival. Humans are not extremely adept at using their bodies in self defense. In groups, humans can use their minds to create weapons and strategies. Once again this response has remained the same throughout human history and has a sister component in the animal kingdom. Fish remain in schools to be protected from predators. Wolves remain in packs, because doing so allows them to hunt better. It is not a conscious choice for these animals to do this; they respond this way naturally.

There is a component of socialization to beauty that often involves status. This type of beauty varies by generation; however, is accepted by a large portion of the population as being beautiful. In times when there were many manual laborers, paleness was seen as beautiful because it was a sign that you were above the working class. Today thin women are viewed as beautiful, yet at other times in history curvy women or overweight women were viewed as the most desirable. Obesity was seen as beautiful because it was rare and was a status symbol. Today, food is abundant; therefore, beauty is seen as beauty thinness in females. This may be because it is rare and difficult to maintain in this society. While this is all the natural desire to select the best mate, idea of what is best is socialized, instead of present inherently, making it different from the genetic component. Because it creates a more conscious understanding of mate selection, the human mind can place status above the natural reaction to beauty. Therefore detrimental traits, such as extreme thinness can be placed above the health of the potential mate.

The idea of socialization of beauty can also be seen in objects and art. Art reflects its time period. In a time of disillusionment, art may question the world. In times of opulence, art is often baroque. This art is often what is viewed as the beauty of the time. Once again the variable nature of the beauty and the mass acceptance defines it as a socialized piece of the beauty formula.

Looking at the personality in conjunction with the socialization of the observer also influences what is seen as beautiful. People who enjoy new things are more likely to be bored by art that they have seen a large number of times. People who have a fond appreciation of the past may appreciate classical ideals over the modern ideal. Curious people will require knowledge before they can find something beautiful. Individuals who find themselves rejected from society will view the general ideals of society as ugly and will create their own standard for beauty. This is seen in the large numbers of subcultures, such as punk or goth. These groups create a standard that shocks the society and that will most likely be found to be ugly. This defiant appearance, however, is what these individuals find beautiful. There is rarely a large amount of defiance of the genetic component. For example, there is still beauty in a symmetrical face, there is still a desire for group interaction and group affiliation; however, it must be separate from the main group of society. All of these ideas take what was created by socialization and modify them to the individual.

The equation that defines beauty is built on genetics, socialization and a person's nature. The genetic component forms the general outline of the formula. It is almost never defied. Socialization takes the genetic component and adds other components that alter what is seen as beautiful. It creates more parameters based on the basic idea of selecting the best mate or belonging to a group. It can override the natural genetic ideal in certain cases, because it is based on conscious choice. Personality components build on, modify or defy socialization. They do not, however, oppose what is created by the genetic framework. Therefore beauty cannot be defines in any blanket terms or generalizations. There is no right way to see beauty because it is about how the world interacts with an individual.

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