May 23rd, 2011
12:39 PM ET

What does beauty mean to you?

(Left to right, top to bottom) Kelly, Reda, Rebecca, Amanda, Shiro, Autumn, Gloria, Jennie.
(Left to right, top to bottom) Kelly, Reda, Rebecca, Amanda, Shiro, Autumn, Gloria, Jennie.

It's a cliché, but it's one rooted in the truth: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Everyone has a different idea of what is beautiful to them. And everyone perceives their own qualities in a different way.

There are few better examples of the terrible power beauty has on the human psyche than this powerful story from Kyung Lah. She introduces us to a 12 year old who thinks the way to gain confidence is to change her appearance with plastic surgery.

After filing the story, Kyung decided to look a little deeper at what beauty meant to people in different parts of the world. She put out a call to friends of friends to hear their thoughts, and while certainly not a scientific survey, their answers are fascinating.

El Dorado Hills, California, USA

"Beauty is now for sale. The natural beauty will always be a classic but if that is not the look you were born with you can change it. You can purchase the right clothes and accessories, the make-up, color your hair or get extensions, and even change your features - all for a price. In a way it is freeing because anyone can be beautiful."

Tokyo, Japan

"Beauty is beauty of the soul. A person can be normal in looks, or less than normal, but still you feel he or she is beautiful because you admire their soul."

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

"Anyone can say that beautiful is an Angelina Jolie, or a Kate Moss, but to me smiles that make your eyes crinkle - that's beauty. If a person is happy, truly happy, it exudes from every pore, it's contagious and warm and no matter what they look like, it's beautiful."

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

"What makes a person beautiful? A presence that goes beyond looks. Happiness, confidence and kindness. And great hair doesn't hurt. :)"

Yokohama, Japan

"I think a person is the most beautiful without any make-up, modification or extra addition to his or her face. The way you lived life will be reflected in your face, body and skin, so if you effort to live everyday life in good spirit, you will become beautiful."

Washington DC, USA

"For me, beauty comes from within, and radiates out into the world. Without being comfortable in your own skin and sure of yourself you can't be beautiful."

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

"Authenticity makes a person beautiful."

Beijing, China

"For me, beauty is something that puts a smile on your face or makes your heart skip a beat. What makes a person beautiful is the ability to pull off whatever style this person chooses by having an aroma that spreads from the inside out, from personality to appearance."

Filed under: General
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Colleen Cote

    When we visited and then moved to Central Mexico 9 years ago I was saddened to find out that the little girls I gave dark skinned Barbie's to only wanted the blond ones. The rare darker skinned ones have strange names so that you can decide for yourself if they are Black, Hispanic or just what. Where is pride? Here in MX darling darker skinned children can be seen in TV commercials as the children of amazingly white skinned parents. No jobs for them when they grow up. So sad. Black IS beautiful and so are all the colors in between. Why don't they see that? Too bad plastic surgery is so accessible. It should be a crime to give it to children only for vain reasons.

    May 23, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Reply
  2. Andre Swiegers

    Physical beauty is a "there and then attractiveness" – true beauty needs time to be discovered... 🙂

    May 23, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  3. ReshAyo

    As a matter of fact, physically "black is beautiful"...wont trade my colour in the next world if there'll be any...but truth is beauty in the real sense is the "heart" covered by the body...if the heart is sweet itz only a matter of time no matter how "not fine" the body may seem to look"...kit!

    May 23, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  4. Diana

    I think that it's absolutly harming to child to learn that they are not good enough or beautiful enough particulary by there own parent..! The operation she had wasn't just a quik fix of something her mother didn't like.., but the beging of a long life of frastration and self dislike.
    I live in Thailand now and to my surprize..az mentioned above local people indeed think that the whiter there skin are tha better looking they
    are and will benefit them more..! It just radiculous....

    May 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Reply
    • Snobar

      As I read this post I immediately uhhtgot of an extraordinary, small black & white photo on display at a studio used by the Hartford School of Ballet. It is of a most exquisitely masculine, beautiful man, wearing the most beautiful ballerina costume, in a strikingly feminine ballet pose. I love that photo and think about it often. I am glad that whoever created it and placed it wished to share that beauty, and that you are (ironically) able to articulate and confirm its deeper meaning and value so well. Excellent article, my friend.

      March 5, 2012 at 2:02 am | Reply
  5. Omar Khadine

    Clearly 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder'...but having been to and made love to more than 100 different countries and nationalities.....!
    when you consider Aesthetics and the abstract beauty ..then comparing like with like..if you then consider women or men with symmetry ...facially..and physical development..
    today due to better living standards....

    It is patently clear that African women and men are far superior to the white counterparts...!

    The African women have the curvaceious sensuousity as a given..and their white counterparts simply DO NOT..
    and even if they did ..their bodies are so dull lifeless collage of cellulite without any colour...!!

    Who goes to an Art Gallery and spend hours staring at a Blank Sheet of White Canvass...!!!????

    and even the genitalia of a black woman..when you open her thighs..are full of different shades..and leaves you with a cherry plum to adore..!

    As for the men and women their physique is more developed and muscular..by nature..

    why do the white women go to get a tan everuy time there is some Sun...!????

    May 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  6. ulisses

    I mean a mother sending a 12year hold daughter to make an eye opening surgerey!! she sends the wrong msg to the world and to her daughter that being asian and looking asian is wrong! I think those people need to read more about their grate history and natural beauty. Well i'm black and proud

    May 23, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  7. jerrald sanders

    beauty is inside..you can chance the outside but when you and your partner are plan the have children,your character traits ermerge again so why chance the outside?..maybe for your own personal reason. it`s all quality classification variance crisis..

    May 23, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  8. Xue Jin Fu

    I for one am very disappointed when I watched the CNN news report about the Korean girl who had her cute tiny eyes undergo surgery just to make them look really big–like Westerners. What's worse, her MOM approves of it. That's racism!!! That's self-hatred... I really hated it when they mentioned that for most of the Asian population now, beauty means 'western' features. What the hell right? I for one, am proudly Chinese, and I'm proud to say that..for a Chinese, I have one of the tiniest eyes... you can call my eyes 'slit likes'.. my eyes are REALLY SMALL. I look more Chinese than any of my Chinese friends... And I don't have a high bridged nose... and I don't have long eyelashes, but it has never occurred to me to have a face lift. I'm truly saddened that my fellow Asians think this way, especially my fellow Chinese. I love my Chinese features, THEY SHOULD TOO. I believe that everyone is beautiful, since we're made in the image and likeness of God. Caucasians may be pretty, but so are we!!!! >.<

    May 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Reply
  9. Xue Jin Fu

    Hi! Well, it's me again! I just want to say that ASIANS (or any other race for that matter) shouldn't go change themselves! It's downright demeaning and ridiculous!!! >_< I wanna tell that to all the Koreans and Chinese who go have plastic surgery for it! UGH. I hate Asians who don't like to be Asians.

    I'm PROUD TO BE CHINESE! Never wanted any other race! I LOVE MY CHINESE-NESS!!!!!

    So sad to find out that they get 100 patients per day for plastic surgery. Are people THIS vain nowadays? where's the dignity?

    May 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Reply
  10. MamaMia

    A 12year old requesting for such and being granted shows the level of insecurity she has undoubtedly inherited from her mother. True beauty reflects our confidence in our ancestry. When you are willing to change your body to meet people's expectations of you, you most be willing to change who you are as well. At the end you are barely living but existing. It is sad that even in Africa (Nigeria) today, certain men would rather marry women who are fair skinned so they could have babies who look 'oyiboish' (white).

    No wonder lots of cosmetic companies have ready made markets in my country! Young women in a bid to marry the 'right' kind of man tone and 'bleach' their bodies to the point of albinism and these men praise them for job well done.

    10years down the line when they are smelling and stinking up the house and the black patches appears as the victory trophy of the mighty African sun, these same men turn to younger women still coming up in the process.

    It shames me to admit that the colonization of the blacks and other races by the white race has resulted to this acclamation of 'white' skin supremacy. we have forgotten our traditions and origins and in our desire to be more western are willing to do anything to be 'white' and 'acceptable'.

    Yet these same people we strive to be and look like come to Africa every year for holidays to experience us and our uniqueness. They run to spas to tan their skins and make them darker and buy tanning creams just so they could darken their skin just a little bit.


    May 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Reply
    • Susy

      As I read this, I couldn\'t help but hold in the back of my mind the nitoon of the beautiful from Greek philosophy, or even the idea of doing what is beautiful from Islam. The idea behind both is that beauty is not only (or even primarily) about aesthetics, or what we see with the eye, but beauty instead is a matter of virtue, of becoming a certain kind of person. And so finding nature beautiful or art beautiful or music beautiful seems to have less to do with the thing itself having a quality of beauty but moreso the beauty it possesses is reflected beauty from the virtue of the one creating it.I am pondering a bit whether it is somewhat a false dichotomy to separate beauty from sexuality. Both of them are human traits which reflect the divine, and together help make up the whole of what it means to be human. And yet in the same breath, I have to say that what you\'re attempting is right on, I think that finding someone or something beautiful has nothing to do with lustful urges to have sex with one or really even much to do with attraction in the way that our culture has defined it.However, I do think it is C.S. Lewis who says that we long to be united with the beauty we see, to not only see it but somehow enter into it. In the case of human beings, maybe there is a push toward those we find beauty within, those who are filled with the kind of virtue portrayed in their living, but there an amazing array of ways to connect with others that have not a lot to do with the act of sex or copulation itself.One other question it all raises for me is along the lines of what beauty is *for*. Is it a means to an end, or is it an end in itself? Our culture uses it as a means, but I do highly suspect it really is an end.Fantastic thoughts. Thank you much for sharing

      March 3, 2012 at 12:46 am | Reply
  11. Voltrox

    Beauty is = Light Skin, blue eyed, blonde women. That is what beauty has always been to me and I will hold that belief until the day I die, people stop lying to yourself, you are influenced by the American atmosphere of political correctness and social engineering. You know that this is true. That is objective reality and not American egalitarian ideas of political correctness that everyone is beautiful and that black women are equally beautiful to white women, please give me a break. It is almost impossible to ignore that fact without lying to yourself when you say it.

    May 24, 2011 at 2:26 am | Reply
  12. Xue Jin Fu

    To MamaMia: I LOVE YOUR ANSWER!! I agree! =) Although, I'm Chinese...not Black. 😀 But I believe that you are beautiful!

    May 24, 2011 at 6:26 am | Reply
  13. sarah

    Its sad to see how the present day Korean Society is obsessed with westernization and the extent the Korean girls go to just to change their appearence to get that "western look"...eye surgery, nose jobs, face lift, cosmetic peel, orthognathic surgery to alter their jaw-line...!!
    As a foreign doctor living and working in Seoul, the worst I heard was when a colleague commented on his new-born baby that he has to pay for her cosmetic surgeries before she gets to college, instead of celebrating her birth...!!
    I wish Korean girls could understand that they are beautiful and be proud of their ethnicity rather than obsessing about appearance, they should work on their self esteem...beauty is not just the appearance...its who you are as a person...a genuine smile is more beautiful than double eye-lids...!!

    May 24, 2011 at 6:36 am | Reply
  14. Greg

    Obviously there are genuine cases where plastic surgery is a good idea, and that's where there are problems with health or wellness (with wellness being a broad term for 'needing' to have it done).

    If done for purely cosmetic reasons, then it's trite. I believe that you should embrace who you are, not to become an arrogant idiot who believes themselves to be perfect. No-one is, so why even try? The whole point of being an individual is not to think that you are perfect and realize that the best parts of people are the imperfections, the quirks that make them different.

    You have to be comfortable in your own skin, whatever that looks like. It's ridiculous to want to be the 'best', whatever your colour or background. To have to have these dumbed-down mottos and sayings to justify yourself like 'black is beautiful' or 'thin is in' just shows a massive insecurity and defensiveness that creates a very unpleasant attitude.

    For goodness' sake, whether you're Asian or actually African or from Europe, the point is the same – enjoy your individuality and don't pretend to be 'better' than anyone else. After all, if everyone looked and behaved the same way, it would be a pretty dull (and very scary) place.

    May 24, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  15. ambar vilma montes

    .........The most complete of perfection humand beauty consept is expossed By Michelangelo's " David " proportions in humands face body are required, today with all make-ups,beauty sculpting surgery the humands have new oportunities for by in Michelangelo's proportions, what bring us a result that today BEAUTY is not a problem of proportion is a Financial 'DISPROPOCION ".

    June 4, 2011 at 11:15 am | Reply
  16. Marika Jetty

    The problem with people these days is that they put physical beauty first before character. Moreover, we have the kind of media that sells the idea that a person is beautiful if he/she meets the requirements they've set for beauty. When in fact, these requirements do not really exist. They have been formulated through convention. And it's sad to note that most of us are buying that idea of beauty.

    I think it really is important for parents to teach their children to embrace who they are. To let them realize that we are all made with a unique design. That we all possess something that others do not.

    Let's not focus too much on how a gift box looks like. We should give more attention to what's packaged within us. Remember, beauty fades, personalities change but character remains. 🙂

    January 22, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Reply
  17. Kimberly Liu

    I'm so absolutely tired of all of these articles lamenting the trend of Asians wishing to "Westernize" their faces. It's not so-called "Westernization" or "globalization" – it's beautification, plain and simple. Larger eyes, a less prominent jawbone, and a more slender nose are biological indicators of fertility, not exclusively Western traits. In the video, Kyung Lah asks Min-kyong which of the two Asian faces in the magazine is more beautiful. Min-kyong's choice of the Asian model with the larger eyes and less defined face is deplored as an example of the effects of Westernization. However, the face Min-kyong chose was the biologically more beautiful and feminine face, as well as the face that, in fact, best fit traditional Asian beauty standards. Take a look at the famous Chinese actresses Zhang Ziyi and Liu Yifei, the popular South Korean girl band Girls Generation. All of these women are widely considered beautiful by Asians, and all of them still look very Asian. I, myself, am a traditionally beautiful Chinese girl. I have fairly large, round, naturally double-lidded eyes, a small nose, and full lips. However, that does not mean I look European. These are traits that have always been considered attractive, today or in the Ming Dynasty, in Brazil or Norway, because they are biological indicators of fertility.

    Western women seek out plastic surgery as well. Two of the most popular procedures are nose jobs and lip augmentation. Blake Lively, Ashlee Simpson, and Jennifer Aniston are all high profile American celebrities who underwent the same kind of tip refinement procedure that many Asians seek out. The only difference is that when Asians opt for that procedure, it's Westernization, whereas when Westerners do, it's simply a straightforward cosmetic procedure for the purpose of beautification. Now on to lip augmentation. Many Caucasians augment their lips artificially, as the Caucasian race is characterized by thinner lips than those of Asians, Hispanics, or Africans. Asians do not typically seek out lip augmentation because their lips tend to be naturally full. Does this mean that Caucasians are attempting to look more Asian or African? No! There are simply certain biological beauty standards, among them large eyes, a small chin, a taller forehead, full lips, fine skin, thick hair, a small nose, and overarching neotonic features, that indicate the presence of estrogen and therefore fertility in females. Different races are strong in different areas (Asians tend to have full lips, thick hair, a small nose, and neotonic features, while Caucasians tend to have large eyes and a small chin) and lacking in different areas (Asians tend to have smaller eyes and broader noses, while Caucasians tend to have thinner lips and larger noses).The primary purpose of the vast majority of Asian cosmetic surgery is to look more attractive, not to look more Western, though the traits they seek out (larger eyes, a more slender nose) may be more prevalent among Caucasians, just as the primary purpose of the vast majority of Western cosmetic surgery is to look more attractive, not to look more Asian, though the traits they seek out (fuller lips, a smaller nose) may be more prevalent among Asians.

    April 15, 2013 at 2:03 am | Reply

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