About the Social Concept of Beauty


There is an old saying that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." However, there are definite social concepts of physical beauty. Individuals who are perceived to be beautiful enjoy advantages that their less attractive counterparts do not have. Females in particular have historically faced pressure to conform to a particular standard of beauty. However, men increasingly face the pressure to look good as well.

History of Beauty

Traditionally, beauty has been ascribed to females, although in ancient Greece, males were often held to be the standard of beauty. In this country during the late 19th century, the standard of beauty for women called for voluptuous, rounded figures. By the 1920s, super-thin flappers were the ideal. By the 1940s and 1950s, curvaceous pin-up girls were considered the pinnacle of beauty. By the turbulent 1960s, super-thin models were back, along with short skirts similar to those worn by their flapper counterparts. Women today still aspire to be thin, although the emphasis is increasingly on toned, healthy figures.

Beauty Across Cultures

Just as the standard of beauty has varied throughout history, it also varies across cultures. For instance, in many non-Western cultures, voluptuous female figures are still considered ideal. In some Asian cultures, elongated necks are considered to represent female beauty, and young girls are fitted with rings from an early age to achieve the effect. Research studies suggest that hourglass shapes in females appeal to males across a majority of cultures because of the suggestion that the female is healthy and fertile (see Resources). Leaner and more muscular physiques as well as taller stature are considered attractive and desirable for males.

Ideals in Facial Beauty

Ideals in facial beauty also differ somewhat across cultures, but some features are common to most cultures. For female faces, fuller lips, wide spaced eyes, high cheek bones and general symmetry in facial features are generally considered attractive. Male faces with a strong jawline and symmetrical features are generally considered more handsome. Young people are generally considered to be more attractive than older people. This is especially true for women. While in many instances, men are considered to be "distinguished" when they show minor signs of age, such as graying temples or facial wrinkles, such features are less tolerated in women.

Beauty and Cosmetics

The Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in 1938 in response to widespread harmful effects of a previously unregulated industry. Nonetheless, cosmetics remain largely unregulated, enabling cosmetics firms to make unsubstantiated and sometimes outrageous claims. Ingredients used in cosmetics are almost exclusively evaluated by a self policing safety committee, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel. The vast majority of ingredient in personal care products have never been evaluated for safety by either the CIR or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Cosmetic Surgery

Cosmetic surgery has been used for decades in an attempt for patients to achieve physical perfection in their faces and bodies. Until recently, women were the overwhelming majority of plastic surgery patients, with face lifts and breast implants being the most popular procedures performed. However, more men have begun to opt for surgical procedures such as hair transplants and pectoral implants, as society begins to put more pressure on them to look good as well.

Advantages of Beauty

According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, beautiful people earned five percent more than less attractive colleagues, while those while those who are considered to be below average in looks earned nine percent less than others. Other studies have shown that more attractive students receive more attention in class, more attractive job seekers are more likely to be hired and more attractive criminals receive lighter prison sentences than those who are less attractive. Women are more likely than men to consider romantic relationships with partners who are less attractive, but in general, more attractive people tend to become romantically involved with one another.

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