What Makes a Person Truly Beautiful?

woman holding a christmas wreath decoration

What does it truly mean to be beautiful? When I was younger, I was quite naive about the nature of true beauty. I don’t consider myself at all a superficial sort of person. But, if one major flaw can be found in my character, it would be that I’ve often fallen far too easily for a pretty face or a pair of piercing eyes.

That innate desire to find someone beautiful to light up your life is just part of being human. But really, it’s who a person is on the inside that counts. As corny and cliché as that sounds, it’s true.

So what is truly beautiful vs. what is truly ugly? I’ve come to this realization: everyone has something beautiful about them, and everyone has something ugly about them. Someone who appears beautiful on the skin may in fact be a beautiful person inside, as well. But this outer beauty does not mean there is nothing ugly under the surface, too.

Each and every one of us has vices. Each of us has a few aspects of our character that prevent us from truly being in a state of Grace. But in our imperfection, we can still find beauty.

What is Beauty?

Some will say, “To be unique is to be beautiful.” There’s definitely truth to that statement, but how does uniqueness align the concept of true beauty? What is true beauty, for that matter? I’m not really asking what makes a girl pretty or homely, or what makes a man handsome or ugly. Rather, how beautiful is a person as a whole?

There are plenty of “plain looking” people in the world that are neither ugly nor pretty in a superficial sense, but are some of the most gorgeous human beings on the planet in regards to their character. The opposite is true, as well, of course; there are as many gorgeous-looking individuals who are twisted and evil in their disposition. But even then, those beautiful people somewhere deep inside do have a beauty to them often unrealized. Everyone is beautiful, no matter how other people may regard your outer looks.

I think in some way blind people are blessed in a way those of us that take our sense of sight for granted can never dream of being; they don’t see, but only hear, taste, touch, smell beauty. I think in many ways, these other four senses are much more refined towards the seeking of beauty.

Holding someone you regard dearly in your arms – isn’t that a beautiful feeling. Tasting a tender kiss with your partner – isn’t that gorgeous? The scent of your lover’s scent in the air – isn’t that beautiful? The sound of your beloved’s voice announcing that he or she is home; it’s such a fantastically wonderful thing. They say that seeing is believing. I think that’s bullshit when it comes to understanding true beauty, though. The world that we see with our own eyes is so often upside-down and inside-out and filtered in ways that we often don’t consciously realize.

Lady Gaga once said something quite fascinating when she was describing how she chose the members of her backing band. She just closed her eyes and listened as her auditions were playing. What she heard was her only criteria; she didn’t want any preconceived notions of “looks” clouding her judgment with who she chose for her band. It’s a method that’s obviously far more effective than the traditional way; how someone “looks” is often too important a factor in who gets what part.

“Looking the part” has become far, far too important a factor in deciding the fate of an individual. Deep inside most of us realize this, but our society has hammered this bad habit into us so deeply that we often don’t give deserved talented people a chance because they don’t “look right” or “look good” to us.

So, What Is Ugly?

On the other end of the spectrum, what is ugly? Obviously, it would seem to be the polar opposite of beauty. Naturally, this conclusion leads me to believe that we throw around the word “ugly” much too lightly. It seems that we have a chronic habit of using it improperly, mostly because too many of us have become far too quick to judge. It’s an awful feeling when you discover who we thought was “ugly” at first sight is actually a beautiful human being; suddenly, you don’t find that individual ugly anymore.

Perhaps we should refrain from calling people “ugly” altogether. Each and every one of us is beautiful in a unique way. But there are people that we just cannot possibly call beautiful, aren’t there? Trust me, though, someone who is constantly called ugly is either going to do everything that proves that he or she is not ugly, or worse, instead becoming engulfed in the misery of “ugliness.”

What’s caused all this ugliness, anyhow? We have become far too concerned with unrealistic, self-destructive societal expectations. You’re expected to do this and that to be considered “attractive” in the “eyes” of society. Those eyes are, sadly, poorly trained. When I say unrealistic, understand that I am not saying that some people can never be considered attractive. Rather, I’m saying that it is unrealistic for a person to truly be anything but who he or she truly is, and to not accept that unique individual as anything but beautiful is a tragedy.

It is, of course, “societal expectations” that cause us to do very mean things to other people. We’re all so well-trained in this “dog-eat-dog” mentality that basically says: “If I’m going to make it in the world, I have to be ‘more attractive’ than you.”

This idea of being more “attractive” isn’t just in getting a hot date – or rather a hot night of cheap sex – or worse. It’s also a major part of landing a job or even fitting in wherever you may gather socially. Many people, though, won’t judge you based on what society says is attractive, and actually appreciate you as who you are, and compliment you on that basis. But even some people like that regard their neighbors with such understanding and respect will then turn and regard total strangers quite disrespectfully. 

There isn’t a lot of love lost when we call someone “pathetic” and wish them the worst of our intentions. But this attitude just eats at you inside. The more hateful behavior you allow yourself to get into when you’re younger, the more animosity and disgust towards others you’ll feel when you’re older.

How Do We Overcome “Ugliness” In Our Society?

We should reserve the designation “ugly” for those that blatantly disrespect others and even express satisfaction from doing so! There are many people like that in the “new media” that make a living spreading gossip and carefully planted falsehoods to make up a story that calls attention to them. Essentially, there are those that delight and even profit from hurting the self-esteem and self-confidence of others. Anyone who buys into all of the negative gossiping that prevails in the “entertainment” industry is only hurting themselves.

Too many people have this very dangerous false idea that celebrities should somehow automatically have more moral fiber and integrity than the rest of us. This is not the case, of course. In many cases, their flaws are more easily exposed. Although there are a good number of celebrities that use their fame for good purposes, in reality, they are few and far between.

Much of celebrity culture is horribly ugly. Let’s call the culture ugly, not the people affected by it. Then, I think you’ll understand a little bit better why we regard so many of our neighbors so negatively.

This does not mean we should not try to wish the best for these “ugly” individuals, but we can’t let them spread lies, either. There will always be rumors and misinformation, but it’s important that we not have individuals taking advantage of rumors & misinformation to purposely hurt people and gain from others being humiliated. We just have to admit that each and every one of us has our failings, but that it’s important to work together to compensate for one another’s failings by relying on the strengths of others.

People know this, of course; it’s a part of human nature to seek out those that are strong in what we falter at, but I don’t think this is actually a very prevalent concept in our society. It’s become too much about what you alone can gain and not what you can do for others, when it should be a balance. No wonder people end up being so lonely – who wants to be around selfish people?  Cooperation is beautiful, and stepping on people for your own gain is ugly.

How to See the Beauty in Others

Beauty is what you can without a doubt say brings joy to your heart. Ugly is what without a doubt repulses you. Here is the dilemma: if you look upon a total stranger and instantly declare them to be ugly, since you know nothing of this individual except for their superficial appearance, you clearly do not have proper information to judge if that person is truly beautiful or ugly. People are not objects, and yet people are far too often objectified. Herein lies the major problem with our society.

If we make a conscious effort to stop objectifying people so much, then I guarantee you that the truly ugly people in your life will make themselves apparent. You will undoubtedly discover that someone you admired for their “beauty” was only skin-deep. That doesn’t mean don’t just walk up to them and tell them that they are actually ugly, though. You need to make sure that you are clear that it is their actions and habits that are ugly. Even the truly ugliest people can be redeemable. 

However, it should not be your life’s duty to try and convert truly ugly people into the truly beautiful. For one to overcome their “un-beautiful” ways, it must be a conscious effort on the part of the self. However, through your positive actions towards those that are only superficially “ugly,” you truly begin to make a difference by giving those people a model to follow. Once the truly ugly people lose their hold on those that society tends to call “plain” or “ugly” can we truly hope to win the battle for the truly beautiful – those that are beautiful in character vs. those that are ugly in their hateful and damaging ways.

Picture credit: Pixabay, Public Domain

(Originally written October 20, 2011, revised in 2020.)

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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