As a society, we seem to be infatuated with beauty. Fancy material items, medical procedures, expensive clothing, extensive workout regiments, all things we do to make ourselves appear to be more beautiful. It is a common joke, that some people are just “too ugly for TV”, or that performers have a “face for radio”. We have television shows that never, never, never die that are completely focused on outward appearance…that which society thinks is “beautiful”. And yet, starting at a young age, we are taught that, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Why as a society, do we seem to lose sight of that simple and common phrase?
The origination of the term is actually a paraphrase from Plato’s Symposium:
"Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may."This phrase was later simplified by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford in her 1878 book, Molly Bawn. This is where we get “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, but like many things in our life, in order to truly understand the meaning, we need to dig for the foundation.
Thinking about Plato’s original statement, through our human eyes, we may perceive beauty. However, beauty is subjective, qualitative, and there is no Truth in perception. It is important here to distinguish between a Truth, and an agreement. Truth is a quantifiable measure. A divine attribute that can not be argued. There is a Truth in mathematics, a Truth in geometry, a measurable Truth in astronomy. And although there may be a Truth in nature (golden ratio), there is no truth in a persons physical attributes. After all, when discerning the beauty (or lack thereof) of a human, isn’t that where we often apply this common phrase?
I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, in reference to anything but physical beauty. And not just physical beauty, but physical beauty of a human. We see a couple, and we aren’t physically attracted to either party, it doesn’t bother us. It doesn’t cause us to emotionally erupt in a storm of verbal artillery. Why not? We remember the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and we move on.
Now, I’m not suggesting that anybody abandon their personal beliefs. I would simply like to posit that the term "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" does and should apply to far much more than our physical attributes of the meat suit. I can’t believe that Plato was merely thinking about the figure of a woman (or man) when he wrote his Symposium, but without summoning him, we’ll never know.