Every now and then, someone tries to make a case for objective beauty–the notion that there is a quasi-scientific way to judge whether a person is attractive or not. They will bang on about facial symmetry and the golden mean . Or they will note early man’s sexual predilections, trumpeting “natural” attraction to youth and child-bearing hips. They (poorly) analyze survey data. In the end, all this so-called objectivity simply serves to uphold white, Western standards of beauty. After witnessing the sturm und drang following a host of allegedly objective pronouncements about beauty, I’m convinced they’re all bunk. Beauty, as we all learned as children, is in the eye of the beholder. It is subjective–always and forever.

The latest minor storm over beauty standards came this week when several news outlets took a contest sponsored by a British chat show seriously. The ITV program , “Lorraine,” pronounced 18-year-old Florence Colgate (above) a perfect, natural beauty and “Britain’s most beautiful face.” American news outlets, including ABC’s “Good Morning America” and the Gawker network online jumped on the story of the lovely Ms. Colgate, touting her “perfect” dimensions. It was no surprise to many that a young, white, blonde and blue-eyed woman would be held up as the face of beauty. This is the (racially-biased) standard, after all, that Western women of all races are judged against. Indeed, one Carmen Lefèvre, from the University of St Andrews perception laboratory in the School of Psychology, gave the game away when she was quoted in The Daily Mail. She said, “Florence has all the classic signs of beauty. She has large eyes, high cheekbones, full lips and a fair complexion.” (Bold mine.)

COPY CODE SNIPPET

And that’s the thing. Facial symmetry and other measurable factors may influence what we find attractive, but I’d wager that nurture (societal and personal bias) has more to do what we like than nature. Consider if Florence Colgate’s face possessed the same proportions, yet was a rich, cocoa brown, rather than pale white. What if she wore a teenie weenie afro rather than long, loose blonde hair? What if her face was fatter? Will people still find this young woman beautiful 40 years from now, when her face has wrinkled and perhaps her hair has grayed? Chances are, any of these factors would change our perceptions of her attractiveness. We are a culture that, for now, worships whiteness, thinness and youth–especially for women. Women of color, fat women and older women are generally left out of the beauty paradigm.

But beauty standards change (which should be a big sign that they are subjective). Compare the body types revered during the mid-20th century to the ones championed today. Just last year, Allure magazine declared the “All-American Beauty” dead. When asked to rate a bunch of non-celebrity models, the magazine’s readers chose a Latina woman and a South Asian man as ideals. This week, Beyonce became the second black woman to be named People magazine’s “most beautiful.” Who knows what the future of beauty holds. It’s a safe bet what we find beautiful 20 years from now will be based, in great part, on a host of things more abstract than measured space between brow and hairline.

This discussion should not be a referendum on whether Florence Colgate is attractive or not. Weigh in on beauty standards and whether you think they are objective or subjective.

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  • Natasha

    @Perspective
    I agree with your statement that that Halle Berry & Beyonce are mixed and not, in fact, black. But your suggestion to mentally segregate the races is a bit overwhelming. I grew up in an apartheid era in South Africa in a ‘Coloured” community. Only problem with me was my father IS black and my mother was mixed race (her parentage was Black Damara woman from Namibia & Jewish blue eyed blonde dude)
    I was never excepted as entirely black neither entirely coloured (racial term in South Africa to indicate mixed race) and my white friends where annoying (private school- “how do you get your hair to do that?” questions)
    My hair was never black enough, curly enough to be mulata or staight enough for my Caucasian counterparts. I am an attractive young female and have travelled RSA (Rep. of South Africa) and Africa extensively and have discovered that my kind confuses many. Black guys wanted to date me as their ‘trophy’ girlfriend, ‘coloured’ guys from my area found my features too black (and coloureds try not to show interest in anything black, unless it’s Black American; and white guys find me not Black enough.
    ALL BASED ON HOW I LOOK!!!
    Personally I find tall, dark, well built black men attractive which many of my friends, across the colour wheel, do NOT find very attractive as culturally we are being brain washed by MTV Base and BET to find light skinned coloured mixed race looking guys as the ideal as we have to ‘think about what our kids will look like ethic wise.’
    Eventually I just moved to Angola where I am considered as a light skinned black and still stunning.

    • CHE

      Beyonce is BLACK!

      She is *mixed* like most Black Americans …..from way Back. Both of her parents are BLACK.

  • Socially Maladjusted

    All I know is this conversation aint cute.

    Seems to me that no one here has any true appreciation of beauty, otherwise they wouldn’t be trying to define it.

    LOL & smh

    Beauty is an experience, not a person – one that enlists ALL the senses and all the emotions.

    I want beauty to surprise me (as it does), I don’t want it to be –

    predictable or measurable or definable or –

    STANDARDIZED.

    I just wanna know that I’m experiencing beauty when I experiencing beauty, and engulf myself in it and be engulfed by it.

    Tell you what I don’t need – I don’t need some primitive barbarian trying to claim beauty unto themselves.

    A “beauty standard” can NEVER be beautiful, because it is a (wo) man-made social construct, an attempt to RE-define beauty in the image of woman and, even then – only a tiny few women. It’s about EXCLUSION, never inclusion, putting some on a pedestal so that “beauty” can be sold to everyone else.

    Well I aint buying it.

    Aint paying it for it, aint lookin at it, aint aint lovin it.

    What?

    That people confuse true beauty with a “beauty standard” shows where their minds are at. You agree with the “woman as beauty” concept and YOU also aspire to OWN beauty and deprive others of it.

    Well

    you and your “beauty standards” and your “beauty standard” aspirations can kiss my –

    beautiful ass.

    • bekah

      i enjoy your perspective

  • Lee in London

    That girl is pretty though.

  • anonymous

    Beauty is objective. Period.

    Simply put: The boner doesn’t lie.

    Like it or hate it, there is an objective standard of beauty. Life is not fair, some people win the genetic lottery, and some people come out losers in the genetic lottery, deal with it.

    There is a reason that this young woman is creating such a stir on this site, and around the world: She is in fact very beautiful. She looks like how a human being should look, with proper facial and physical proportions that are easy for our brains to process.

    Compare that young woman to a picture of Andrea Dworkin, and tell me there’s no objective standard for beauty.

    • MIkela123

      The woman pictured above is beautiful…. for a White woman.

      Is she any more beautiful African woman with smooth dark brown skin with no acne and pimples, full lips, high cheekbones, broad nose, and all the “proper facial and physical proportions”?

      Or an Asian woman with almond shaped eyes? Or an Indian woman with her long black hair?

      Is blonde hair truly more beautiful than black hair? Are blue eyes prettier than brown eyes?

      The issue is not so much whether she is beautiful, but that her beauty outranks women from other races around the globe because of her specific physical characteristics that are indigenous to only people from her part of the world.

  • anon

    Don’t worry its all hype nobody in britain thinks she’s beautiful- she’s just an attractive white girl no more no less. The blond blue eyed look is played out over here anyway.