Dr Sanjay Prasad Pandey/ Beauty: An Illusion or Reality

Dr Sanjay Prasad Pandey

Assistant Professor

Department of English

Lovely Professional University

Phagwara,  Punjab-144402

Mob. No. 8146873377


                                               Beauty: An Illusion or Reality


“Beauty is but a painted hell;
shee wounds them that admire it,
shee kils them that desire it.
Give her pride but fuell,
no fire is more cruell.”     —— Thomas Campion

Is beauty just a cultural thing, based on whatever the common consensus is at any particular time?  Or is there a ‘true beauty’, that could be found in all cultures and times? Does beauty really exist or is it simply an illusion? The present paper will explore the concept of true beauty; whether the beauty of the physical frame or the smooth and steadfast mind should be considered as true beauty.

The irony is that this quest can never be achieved, for it is very difficult to find a solution to which aspects of ‘beauty’ are arbitrary, and which seem to be biological? Or whether stick thin models are truly beautiful, or just an artificial fad? Or whether the sincerity, faithfulness, honesty, loyalty of character is beauty?

When one goes through the poetry penned by some poets, novels written by some novelists or stories written by some storywriters, one finds the poet, the novelist or the storyteller describing the beauty of his/ her protagonist in an exaggerated manner. The question is they really were beautiful or only existed in the poets fancy? Is it an illusion or reality? One needs to think whether beauty is inherent in the physique, character or is it simply a creation of man’s mind? Is Beauty the word for a thing one is attracted to, but not sure why? Is it just one’s natural instinct and how one’ mind works?

One can start to answer these questions by saying that beauty is the illusion of one’s mind.

If it had not been so, the proverb “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” would never have been framed. No one in this world thinks in the same way, and differ in opinion. Beauty in one person’s eyes, may be ugliness in another’s eyes.

Now, if one looks at what different cultures and times have held to be beautiful, one will find a wide variety, one can say beauty is mostly cultural.  If there’s wide agreement, one can say it’s biological. But beauty is not just a visual experience; it is a characteristic that provides a perceptual experience to the eye, the ear, the intellect, the aesthetic faculty, or the moral sense. It is the quality that gives pleasure, meaning or satisfaction to the senses. Shakespeare in his sonnet no. 20 writes:

“A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,
Hast thou the master mistress of my passion,
A woman’s gentle heart but not acquainted
With shifting change as is false women’s fashion,

An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling:
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth,
A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.”

This simply reminds of the beauty within. The lie is that the beauty is intrinsic to the object, but the truth is that beauty is intrinsic to you. This truth brings more meaning to the statement: “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Love and beauty cannot be separated. It can be said that an object that makes one feel emotions, pertaining to beauty in actuality is also helpful to feel the loving emotions. Beautiful objects, people or making oneself appear more beautiful, is an attempt to increase the love within one’s own hearts. This makes one feel more loved. But nobody knows why they like what they like anymore or why they are the way they are anymore. Generally everyone falls for thinking that beautiful is whatever is portrayed as such. Can’t anyone see the flaw in this? Confucius rightly said “everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it” Yet, there is inner tension that exists in this paradox and that is part of the human experience as John Donne in his sonnet ‘Go and Catch a Falling Star’ says that one can perform all the impossible deeds of the world but cannot find a beautiful woman, sincere and truthful to her wedlock.

Obviously one can find beautiful women but there could be no guarantee whether she would be sincere or truthful to her wedlock or not. Hence, if the sincerity is missing the beauty is faulty and converteth into ugliness. Thomas Carew in his poem The True Beauty advocates the significance of the true beauty by saying that the beauty of corporal frame decays with the passage of time but the smooth and steadfast mind is permanent and remains till doomsday. Now, the question is how to measure beauty and what is the standard of true beauty. The physical charm or the beauty of character. The physical charm is not going to live long, for Shakespeare says:

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

And at the same time there is no guarantee of sincerity, faithfulness and loyalty as well as John Donne says:

If thou be’st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And swear,
No where
Lives a woman true, and fair.

So, can’t one say that the real beauty lies in the perceiver’s eyes, his consciousness , and not in anything else. It is the perceiver who perceives the thing as per his consciousness and that is why a thing that looks beautiful to someone may not be the same for somebody else. For example a sari disliked by someone in a sari shop could be admired by somebody else. It means the sari isn’t beautiful or inelegant but it is the way the perceiver perceives. The Bollywood movie ‘Dulara’ where the hero hates the heroine clad in western dress, but admires and is deadly in love with her when she appears clad in Indian Sari. Here, the heroine is same, her physical charm, attraction of the corporal frame, the body is the same but the only difference is her dressing style. Now, the question is how to measure beauty? What is the standard of beauty? What makes one beautiful? Once again, it is an enigma. It could not be answered. A girl could be appreciated and admired by someone and at the same time could be despised by the other one. Why? So the question still lies unanswered.

If one defines beauty as the degree someone is attractive, and illusion as a quality that can be manipulated arbitrarily, even then beauty is an illusion. Attraction is a function of number of characteristics including how you associate certain features/qualities in your brain to pleasure. As Shashi Deshpande in her novel That Long Silence writes: “Ten different mirrors show you ten different faces”. She further writes: “The mirror is always treacherous; it shows you only what you want to see. And, perhaps, others to see in your face only what they want to see.”

One can say that the complexion of our bodies like white, black, brown etc., could make us beautiful, but this is also an illusion. If somebody is asked to touch the black, white, or brown women in the dark and feel the hue, he will definitely fail to do so. Hence, it’s once again just an illusion.

However, if beauty is defined as an attractive quality which is innate to one’s honesty, then clearly it is not an illusion, because honesty is not a quality that changes with circumstance nor with one’s chemical balance. Perhaps attraction to facial symmetry and other surface characteristics are also innate and not illusory.

People on this earth are eternal beings that are traveling through life. They have forgotten one very important aspect of life that is their quest for beauty is their quest for perfection. Whether one talks about beauty or talks about perfection, both reside in the real self. People run around life like vaporous spirits trying to consume anything and everything yet this passes right through them. It is when the bottomless appetite and unquenchable thirst is directed to the abundant and unending supply of both these elements, they feel satisfied and contended.

Campion, Thomas. The Third and Fourth Book of Ayres, Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, OUP, 2014, XIIII

Donne, John, “Go and Catch a Falling Star”, Amazon Digital Services, Inc. July 21, 2012

Deshpande, Shashi. That Long Silence. Noida: Penguin Books India, 1989. Print.

Shakespeare, William, The Oxford Shakespeare The Complete Sonnets and Poems (Oxford World Classics),   Ed. Colin Burrow, Oxford University Press; 1 Edition , May 15, 2008

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