How Society's Definition of Beauty Has Changed

Beauty is such a broad term. It can be used in terms of people, animals, or inanimate objects. When we call someone “beautiful” we have a definition of what we consider beauty in a person. Maybe it’s long hair, or thick eyebrows, or some other feature that really sticks out to us. What we think of as beautiful typically varies from person to person, but as a society the definition of beauty is pretty homogenous. Right now in the U.S. the people we deem beautiful are people like Bella Hadid or Camille Rowe. They are thin, tall, and fairly symmetric in their looks. However, as crazy as it seems, people like them weren’t always considered “beautiful”. So that brings up the question: how has beauty changed throughout the years?

A couple weeks ago I went to an art museum with a friend. Looking at all the portraits of people, we saw similarities in how they looked. This brought up a question from my friend, if the people that were in the portraits were considered the epitome of beauty back when they were alive. These portraits all depicted pale women, with lighter hair and a little more weight. And back then, that was what society deemed as beautiful. In fact, many women would actually put substances that were harmful on their skin–such as lead and mercury–to achieve a pale, never-seen-the-sun look. Nowadays, people still use harmful products on their skin to change their complexion, but in a different way. Instead of wanting to be paler, many people are trying to have darker colored skin. But changing beauty standards goes farther back than just the 17th century.

Back in the 1400’s, there was a defining moment in the history of beauty. The painting The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli was created, depicting the roman goddess of beauty Venus, or in Greek mythology Aphrodite, rising from the sea. The reason this was a defining moment was because people looked at this painting and declared that she was the perfect woman. She had all the characteristics of beauty that people wanted, but doesn't match up at all with today's standards of beauty. She wasn’t thin, at least not to the extent that models today are. She had long blonde hair and was actually pretty average in looks. But back then, she was what society looked up to. This painting was used for centuries to show what the ideal woman should look like. Even if fashion and other beauty trends shifted, Venus was still considered perfect.

Things started changing in the late 1800’s through the 1900’s. Whereas before, being a bit heavier was a sign of beauty because it showed that you were wealthy enough to afford to eat, now the term “diet” was being used and being heavier wasn’t always a good thing. Yes, pinup models were still not as thin as todays models are, but they were noticeably thinner than what was considered attractive in the century before. People like Marilyn Monroe were considered extremely beautiful, in fact many people claimed she was the most beautiful person alive. But as time went on, being thin was considered being beautiful. Models switched from being curvy to having a straight figure. People also started valuing larger lips over smaller lips, leading many people to get lip injections. Tanning beds were also used more often so people could have darker complexions. The definition of beauty seems to have flipped from what it used to be.

There’s no question that what is thought of as beautiful is extremely different from what it used to be. But what’s great about society nowadays is that it is being more and more inclusive in terms of beauty and not leaving out people because they’re not "conventionally beautiful". We’re seeing plus-sized models, models with disabilities, models with uneven skin tones, and other nontraditional beauties taking over the fashion world and showing that beauty doesn’t just mean one thing. People are being celebrated for their differences instead of being shunned for not fitting society's mold for beauty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder now, not just in the eye of society. So embrace your beauty, even if it is a bit different!

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