The Politics of Beauty


Beauty is a term that has been used for centuries by philosophers and others to describe things that appeal to our senses or are thought to be pleasing. It is also a concept that has become increasingly politicized as it has been used to justify and criticize a range of social, political and economic phenomena.

The Classical Views of Beauty

Many ancient philosophers, notably Plato and Aristotle, considered beauty as a matter of objective proportions. They held that, if something is defective or otherwise not as it should be, it is ugly. But this was not the only way to define beauty: it could also be a matter of harmonious proportions (sometimes expressed in mathematical ratios) or of clarity, for example, as Aquinas argued.

These views of beauty were often regarded as being incompatible, but each had its own distinctive features. For example, hedonism and the ecstatic neo-Platonism of Plotinus had elements of both kinds of views, although they differed in how they treated the unity of the object and its resemblance to something else.

Santayana, on the other hand, saw beauty as a kind of pleasure. This view, however, has its own problems. First, it tends to over-emphasize the subjective aspect of pleasure, which is not always a useful thing to do. For instance, it may lead people to think that they should strive for a perfect body, even if they do not find it attractive.

This approach ignores the fact that human beings do not necessarily have perfect bodies or that our bodies can change with time and circumstance. Instead, we should focus on the quality of our lives, and not our appearances.

The Modern Views of Beauty

The twentieth century saw a decline in the prominence of beauty in Western aesthetics. While it was still important, artists began to treat beauty as a frivolous goal that they should abandon in favor of more serious projects. This was partly because, as we have seen, it had become associated with wealth and decadence (see Levey 1985).

Second, beauty began to be linked to power and economic interests. Especially in the early 20th century, it was often regarded as an expression of capitalist values and interests.

Third, modern philosophers such as Freud and Nietzsche believed that beauty was an essential part of human nature. They also found it to be an element of a person’s character, and thus a source of morality or identity.

Fourth, contemporary philosophers, such as Peg Zeglin Brand, see beauty as a means of resisting and challenging dominant norms. These women argue that while traditional notions of beauty may be patriarchal and restrictive, they can also be liberating.

A person’s definition of beauty is influenced by many factors, including their childhood and adolescent experiences, their culture and beliefs, and the standards that they have learned from the media or their peers. These influences may be the result of family or friends, or they may be a product of their own individual tastes and preferences.