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File:Red rose.jpg
Many see natural beauty in the folded petals of a rose.

Beauty is the phenomenon of the experience of pleasure, through the perception of balance and proportion of stimulus. It involves the cognition of a balanced form and structure that elicits attraction and appeal towards a person, animal, inanimate object, scene, music, idea, etc.

Beauty and aesthetics

Understanding the nature and meaning of beauty is one of the key themes in the philosophical discipline known as aesthetics.

The composer and critic Robert Schumann distinguished between two kinds of beauty, natural beauty and poetic beauty: the former being found in the contemplation of nature, the latter in man's conscious, creative intervention into nature. Schumann indicated that in music, or other art, both kinds of beauty appear, but the former is only sensual delight, while the latter begins where the former leaves off.

A common theory says that beauty is the appearance of things and people that are good. This has many supporting examples. Most people judge physically attractive human beings to be good, both physically and on deeper levels. The phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," however, suggests that beauty is wholly subjective.

"Beauty as goodness" has many significant counterexamples with no agreed solution. These include such things as a glacier, or a ruggedly dry desert mountain range. Most people find beauty in nature, despite it sometimes being "red in tooth and claw" (Tennyson). Another type of counterexample are comic or sarcastic works of art, which can be good, but are rarely beautiful.

It is well known that people's skills develop and change their sense of beauty. Carpenters may view an out-of-true building as ugly, and many master carpenters can see out-of-true angles as small as half a degree. Many musicians can likewise hear as dissonant a tone that's high or low by as little as two percent of the distance to the next note. Most people have similar aesthetics about the work or hobbies they've mastered.

Beauty and human appearance

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Venus de Milo, front and back.

Studies done largely in the US have found that facial symmetry may be important because it is evidence that the person grew up in a healthy way, without visible genetic defects. Other studies have also shown that the length and height of the cheekbones may contribute strongly to beauty. These studies were conducted by scientists who asked volunteers to rate a series of photographs on the basis of beauty. The attributes common to all images rated beautiful were then picked out.

One traditional, subtle feature that is considered an indication of beautiful women of most cultures is a waist-to-hip ratio of about 70% (waist circumference that is 70% of the hips circumference.) The waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) theory was discovered by psychologist Dr. Devendra Singh of the University of Texas at Austin. Physiologists have shown that this ratio accurately indicates most women's fertility.

See also: Physical attractiveness and Semiotics of Ideal Beauty

Theories of beauty

The earliest theory of beauty can be found in the works of early Greek philosophers from the pre-Socratic period, such as Pythagoras. The extant writings attributed to Pythagoras reveal that the Pythagorean school, if not Pythagoras himself, saw a strong connection between mathematics and beauty. In particular, they noted that objects proportioned according to the golden ratio seemed more attractive. Some modern research seems to confirm this, in that people whose facial features are symmetric and proportioned according the golden ratio are consistently ranked as more attractive than those whose faces are not.

According to an ancient Indian definition, the beautiful is that which from moment to moment is always new. That is to say, it removes the mind from the world in which things grow old. But considering that the visual system allows us to see by extracting the stable, rather than changing, features of the environment on a momentary basis, this ancient definition seems hard to support.

Even mathematical formulae can be considered beautiful. e^{{i\pi }}+1=0 is commonly considered one of the most beautiful theorems in mathematics (see Euler's identity). The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote that "Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare" in an allusion to the austere beauty many people have found in the reasoning in the geometer Euclid's Elements.

Another connection between mathematics and beauty which played a prominent role in Pythagoras' philosophy was the way in which musical tones can be arranged in mathematical sequences, which repeat at regular intervals called octaves.

Different cultures have deified beauty, typically in female forms. Here is a list of the goddesses of beauty in three different mythologies.

Beauty contests claim to be able to judge beauty. The millihelen is sometimes jokingly defined as the scientific unit of human beauty. This derives from the legend of Helen of Troy as presented in Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, in which her beauty was said to have launched a thousand ships. The millihelen is therefore the degree of beauty that can launch one ship.

Effects of beauty in human society

A survey conducted by London Guildhall University of 11,000 people showed that (subjectively) good-looking people earn more. Less attractive people earned, on average, 13% less than more attractive people, while the penalty for overweight was around 5%.

The term "beautiful people" is used to refer to those who closely follow trends in fashion, physical appearance, food, dining, wine, automobiles, and real estate, often at a considerable financial cost. Such people often mirror in appearance and consumer choices the characteristics and purchases of wealthy actors and actresses, models, or other celebrities. The term "beautiful people" originally referred to the musicians, actors and celebrities of the Californian "Flower Power" generation of the 1960s. The Beatles reference the original "beautiful people" in their 1967 song "Baby You're a Rich Man" on the Magical Mystery Tour album. With the close of the 1960s, the concept of beautiful people gradually came to encompass fashionistas and the "hip" people of New York City, expanding to its modern definition. Beautiful people usually enjoy an image-based and/or financially-based prestige which enhances their aura of success, power, and beauty.

See also


External links

da:Skønhed de:Schönheit als:Schönheit et:Ilu es:Belleza fr:Esthétisme nl:Schoonheid ru:Красота ja:美 zh:美 he:יופי