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The Flawed Perception of Beauty

Image: Praveen via Flickr
Image: Praveen via Flickr

Beauty has been defined and redefined. I have been led a couple of times to revisit these posers: Should beauty be subjective or objective? Do the criteria for beauty evolve across continents, cultures and ideas? Is beauty embedded in our subconscious so much so that we recognize it the moment we come in contact with it? Can the human race perceive beauty in the exact same way?

There are different shades of beauty. There is no perfect complexion, no perfect hair, no perfect physique but our informed perception. Our judgement of what is beautiful should be based on how it affects us and the pleasure we derive from it, personally. Allowing a people’s opinion on beauty define our perception of it is tantamount to a repression of our feelings and denial of our fundamental right to individualism. The West and mainstream media should be barred from deluging our senses with their perpetually blemished fiction of beauty.

The hackneyed expression ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’ was my consolation for years. I had resorted every so often to it during days of endless arguments with my peers. Not because I really believed in its truthfulness; but because it gave me hope. Hope that I might be beautiful after all. Beautiful just enough for the right eyes to behold me. I had heard of ‘community fineness’; that beauty that is generally, unarguably accepted, quite opposed to the beauty that lies only in the eyes of the beholder. I have not considered myself ugly to the point of repulsion. No. I have accepted myself as okay, presentable. That was reassuring enough. I remember the day a cute doctor called me pretty. I had to look up the word in the dictionary. Not because I doubted my cognitive ability to decipher that simple word. No. But because I had felt ordinary before he complimented me. I had worn a maxi, yellow skirt and blouse with floral patterns. The skirt had extra hips protruding. I was on a low haircut and no makeup. There was nothing to prettify me, yet the bespectacled doctor called me pretty.

A sizeable percentage of society believes that for something to be beautiful it must follow a certain pattern and pass a standard test. We have been led to believe that for beauty to be perfect, the face must be oval, nose pointed, hair straightened or curled, lips full, and rumps round. For a long time I judged all features on that standard. But a remarkable thing happened to me after I cleansed myself of Neocolonialism: I found beauty in textures and colours I had disregarded, and delighted in kinky coils, dark skins and round faces. Then I realised that the human race cannot perceive beauty in the exact same way because we are created differently.

Beauty should be subjective. It should not depend on what others see on another person’s behalf.  There should be no uniform standard for measuring beauty because society’s perception of what is and what is not beautiful is flawed.


Image: Praveen via Flickr

Jennifer N. Mbunabo
Jennifer N. Mbunabo
Jennifer Nkiruka Mbunabo was born in Lagos, Nigeria. She studied Law at the University of Benin. Her Poems, short fiction and non-fiction have been published on,,, and the Nigerian Guardian Newspaper. She lives in Port Harcourt.

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