Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Bet you’ve heard that one before. Many times. But what does it mean? And does it contribute to negative body image?

This expression apparently first appeared in 3rd century BC in Greek, many years later translated to English by Shakespeare in Love’s Labour Lost as “beauty is bought by judgement of the eye”. The exact phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is credited to Margaret Hungerford in her 1978 novel Molly Bawn.

Okay, that’s it for the history lesson; let’s talk about the meaning of this saying.

On one (more positive) level, this could mean that beauty is subjective and that what one person finds beautiful another may not. Can’t argue with that.

On another level, society – especially the media – has turned this saying on its head such that it could now be interpreted as beauty is created by the observer.

And when you look around – on social media, in magazines, Hollywood – it seems to reign true. Society has been telling us what is beautiful for centuries. If you told me that what you perceive, think and feel about your body wasn’t in some way influenced by what you see in the media, you’d probably be lying (unless you’re disconnected from all technology but if you were, you wouldn’t be reading this). 

Photo of a woman looking at her body in the mirror.

The influence of society

Unfortunately, the social pressures, media and peer group expectations we face can fuel a negative body image as we absorb the unhealthy messages we constantly see and hear. Maybe you were teased about one or more of your body features as a child. Or maybe you have a different body shape to everyone else in your family. Perhaps your social media feed is filled with influencers and connections who are constantly presenting a faux “glow up” of themselves.

Whatever it is, you’re not alone.

According to recent research, 80% of Australian women are dissatisfied with some aspect of their bodies.

Often, influenced by societal messages, the worst enemy of positive body image and high self-esteem is our inner critic. We’re quick to point out our own flaws before the next person notices. When we see a beautiful woman, our minds subconsciously compare and find all the ways we believe we don’t measure up.

At the end of the day, you define beauty. It shouldn’t be misplaced in the hands of society with its unrealistic beauty standards that only lead to insecurities, self-hate and pure vanity.

"People often say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder." - Salma Hayek


And that realisation happens through the process of unlearning.

Unlearning body image beliefs

The process of unlearning the unhealthy, toxic messages that provoke a negative body image (including skin colour) that have been conditioned in your mind is a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight.

To shift beliefs about your body that you have held for so long requires an intentional pursuit. It’s about turning up the volume on your own voice and turning it down on the voices telling you who you should be and what you should look like. It’s about challenging what doesn’t sit right with you.

Remember, you are the beholder of your beauty.

Let me leave you with some fire body image quotes to give you that confidence boost and get you well on your way to unlearning society’s negative messages:

"Since I don’t look like every other girl, it takes a while to be okay with that. To be different. But different is good." – Serena Williams

"Being a healthy woman isn’t about getting on a scale or measuring your waistline. We need to start focusing on what matters — on how we feel, and how we feel about ourselves." – Michelle Obama

"I can’t think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself." – Emma Stone

"Say goodbye to your inner critic, and take this pledge to be kinder to yourself and others." – Oprah Winfrey

"It doesn’t have anything to do with how the world perceives you. What matters is what you see." – Gabourey Sidibe


Whenever you need a reminder that you are beautiful regardless of what they say (or what you think), come back to these quotes, turn up Lizzo’s Good as Hell and own it, girl.

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