Originally hosted by Christina at Reflections of a Catholic in Formation as Day 14 of the series, "You are Beautiful." Thank you Christina!
Is beauty objective or subjective? Is it “in the eye of the beholder” and therefore a matter of mere opinion? Or is there something higher to which beauty must ascribe? I hope and do think that it is something higher.
The definition of beauty is this: “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest)” (dictionary.com, emphasis added). Beauty is something that conveys or represents the presence of goodness. I think it can be argued that goodness itself is not subjective. Complete, total and true goodness is God. If beauty is connected to objective goodness, then it is not simply a matter of any “beholder’s” opinion. Perhaps it can even be said that beauty comes through goodness. C.S. Lewis has said, concerning beautiful objects, that “Beauty was not in them, it only came through them” (“The Weight of Glory”).
In mainstream culture, because everything is seen as relative and subjective, it follows that beauty would be also. I don’t know how long the phrase has been around, but I would think that “... in the eye of the beholder” likely arrived with modern subjectivity. So what are mainstream culture’s standards of beauty? And what is the main type of “beauty” most emphasized? In secular society, there is no Divine, unseen standard of goodness, and therefore, no non-physical standard of beauty. To add insult to injury, the over-sexualization of the body by secular culture causes beauty not only to become synonymous with physical attractiveness, but almost requires a certain amount of sexual allurement along with it.
As Christians and as Catholics, we use a higher standard. Unlike those who value only the material world, we have revelation of the transcendent. From the transcendent comes the true value of goodness and meaning of beauty. So what is a beautiful woman? A beautiful woman is, most importantly, a good woman. She embraces the goodness of her femininity, and conveys goodness in what she does. But since our standard of beauty is so different from that which is emphasized in the culture around us, how do we know if we are following the true path of goodness and beauty?
We have the most beautiful things of all to show us the paths of true beauty. We have the Church, our Holy Mother, to guide us. We have the Church’s teachings about the dignity of the human person, the dignity of the body, and the vocation of women. We follow Her teachings because we know they are truly His teachings: Jesus Christ, who loves us more passionately than any human can, and accepts us and takes us back after we have fallen.
When mainstream culture’s demands to conform our beauty to its own become too hard to ignore—as we all know it sometimes does! — we have our faith (and each other!) to help us through. We have the ability to measure our beauty not only visually, but internally, with the help of Divine Revelation. We are guided with “the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen.”*
* Heb 11:1, emphasis added.