When Clark Writes asked our campus community to tell us about what they were writing, I was particularly intrigued by Samantha Nedoroscik’s response: a journal entry based on the prompt “Who taught you the meaning of beauty?” In her reflection, Samantha explores the various definitions of beauty she has come across during her lifetime, most of which focus on aesthetic qualities of the human body. When she learned to question this set of ideals, she discovered a new definition that felt more authentic to her. As you read “Defining Beauty,” challenge yourself to do the same. Who shaped your understanding of beauty? How has this conception changed over time? When you describe someone or something as beautiful, what are you really saying?
Growing up, I was always told that I was beautiful. My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends talked about how much of a beautiful young woman I was growing up to be: “How beautiful does Samantha look in that dress?” “Look at Samantha in that bathing suit!” “What I would do to have a figure like that again.” These comments and many more throughout my childhood took refuge in my memory and each overheard compliment emphasized not my beauty, but that of my body. At a very young age, I understood that what my family valued as beautiful had nothing to do with personality or character—rather, my family taught me that beauty was merely skin deep.
It became apparent that in order to be beautiful, not only do you have to look a certain way, but you have to please others to confirm your beauty. I watched my mother get ready for family gatherings and work functions countless times and observed as she repeatedly changed her clothes, fixed her hair, and applied makeup. I came to the realization that just because I thought my mother was beautiful, this did not mean that her friends or coworkers would perceive her as such. I learned that if you want others to recognize you as beautiful, then you have to adhere to a set of rules that dictate beauty: Your body must be exquisite; your attire must be appropriate; your hair must be tamed; your makeup must be pristine. Beauty is nothing more than a facade.
Society’s definition of beauty only helped to nurture and nourish these ideas that had taken root in my brain. With each objectifying television commercial for women’s sportswear, each condescending magazine cover exclaiming the most recent Hollywood diet, and each snippet of conversation I heard scrutinizing another woman’s physical appearance, the list of rules that defined beauty grew longer and longer. Judging myself based on these rules meant that beauty became an unattainable desire. No matter how much I aspired to be beautiful, there would always be something or someone standing in the way. Even if I thought I was beautiful, this would not determine that I was beautiful.
It would be easy to say that my family’s definition of beauty or society’s standards shaped my own personal definition of beauty. It would be easy to say that because I grew up in a world where beauty concerning the body is so heavily emphasized that my own perception of beauty is based purely on the physical. It would be easy to say that one’s appearance dictates whether they are beautiful or not. But the reality of beauty is that it is not easy or simplistic. Beauty cannot be measured by an ever-changing list of societal expectations. To me, beauty cannot be measured at all. There is no spectrum of beauty. Beauty lies in the unseen, the unheard, and the undiscovered. I believe that one comes to recognize beauty in their relationships with others and that at a certain point physical attraction loses its value. You are beautiful not because of your physical appearance, but because of your incredible significance in the lives of others.
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