There’s a website called Loudwire (I’m assuming it’s a website because it has a Facebook page).
Anyhoo, they’ve got this ongoing series of photographs of the hottest rock wives.
I guess they’re all pretty hot.
Since I make it a habit of reading the comments section of webpage articles I noticed that at least one person has a slightly more expansive ideal of beauty. Someone in the comments section suggested that Sharon Osbourne be included on the hot rock wives list.
Think about it for a moment.
Got your response yet?
Wait – wait a minute. Don’t say it out loud.
Well, someone else responded to the suggestion (to include Sharon Osbourne) that although Sharon Osbourne is badass and married to Ozzy Osbourne (which technically makes her a rock wife), she’s not exactly what you would call “hot”.
Derivation style, the response would look like this:
Philosophy Fan ¹ Sexy Rock Wife
I don’t know how Sharon Osbourne would feel about this, but reading the response to the suggestion made me feel kind of sad.
After all, Sharon Osbourne is a smart, capable, and savvy businesswoman. He kicks ass and takes names. And she seems like a funny gal. These are all positive qualities and certainly each quality is hot in its own right. So why Sharon Osbourne isn’t considered “hot”? It can’t be just because of her age. Sharon Osbourne is not that old. Besides, plenty of women of a certain age are considered hot: Helen Mirren, Susan Sarandon, and Demi Moore to name a few.
Wait, Demi Moore isn’t as old as Helen Mirren is she?
No. she’s not.
But really, even if we don’t consider Sharon Osbourne’s age, is it just Sharon Osbourne’s looks that keep her from being considered hot?
This brings us to that age-old question what is beauty.
Well, that answer depends on who you ask.
… and if you’re a philosopher.
Most people would say that if someone is considered to be “hot” that one possesses physical beauty; that is, one’s face and body are pleasing to look at.
Someone who looks like this:
But not like this:
Whether we’re looking at a statue of the Venus de Milo, the zaftig models of Peter Paul Rubens, Marilyn Monroe, the 1970s Breck Girl, or modern-day supermodels, beauty has always been defined as unblemished, youthful, and feminine.
Beauty, from the ancient philosophers to Leonardo da Vinci placed beauty in symmetry, form, balance, and proportion. Plato said beauty is found in proper measure and size. Aristotle writes:
To be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole made up of parts, must not only be present a certain order in its arrangement of parts, but also be of a definite magnitude. Beauty is a matter of size and order…
St. Thomas Aquinas says “Beauty is the mark of the well-made, whether it be a universe or an object.” and that beautiful things have unity, clarity and proportion. Beauty is the physical reflection of a perfect God.
This seems to be significantly relevant to the estimation of the beauty of a woman.
Susan Faludi writes that an “unblemished exterior becomes proof of a woman’s internal purity, obedience, and restraint.” (204)
For Freud, beauty, like all things, is linked to sex. Our perception of beauty is nothing more than our sexual urges telling us who are suitable to have sex with. Anthropologists and biologists determined that certain (supposedly universal) traits such as a woman’s waist-hip ratio are indicators of fertility, overall health, and cognitive capacity.
Darwin observed beauty’s ornamental value in attracting an ideal mate.
Science gives us an explanation for what we think is beautiful, but science can be a bit of a trap as well. If scientific fact informs our cultural standards (this is why according to anthropologists some cultural standards of beauty are universal), then living up to the scientific ideal of beauty can be harmful to one’s philosophical, if not physical health.
Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, writes:
…women both young and old told me about their fear of aging; slim women and heavy ones spoke of the suffering caused by trying to meet the demands of the thin ideal; black, brown, and white women – women who looked like fashion models – admitted to knowing, from the time they could first consciously think, that the ideal was someone tall, thin, white, and blond, a face without pores, asymmetry, or flaws, someone “wholly” perfect…
Seems like we have a problem, here.
Some people think living up to the cultural/biological standard of beauty is unreasonable.
They think biology isn’t the answer for everything.
Just argue for the infallible truth of reductionism with a philosopher. You’ll see what I mean.
Now, if some feel that our cultural ideal of beauty is unrealistic (or unachievable), this suggests that there is something to beauty other than a manifestation of biological urges or cultural standards.
St. Thomas Aquinas said that the beautiful is what “pleases us upon being seen”.
Well, if you ask any ten people what pleases them upon being seen, you might get ten different answers. What pleases us is often subjective. How many times have we been floored by a spectacular sunset only to hear someone dismiss it as no big deal?
If there’s some room for one’s personal tastes, then beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote in Critique of Aesthetic Judgment:
There is no science of the beautiful, but only a critique… For a science of the beautiful we would have to determine scientifically, what is by means of proofs, whether a thing was to be considered beautiful or not; and the judgment upon beauty, consequently, would, if belonging to a science; fail to be a judgment of taste.
So, if we ask should Sharon Osbourne be included on a hot rock wives list we must ask this question: is beauty strictly physical?
Some might say the answer is no. Beauty isn’t exclusive to one’s physicality; whether one is judged “pretty”, “handsome”, or “sexy”.
One can be beautiful without being physically attractive.
(Listen: I am in no way saying that Sharon Osbourne is not a physically attractive woman. In my not-at all-humble opinion she is.)
There’s a reason why we say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that beauty’s only skin deep, and it’s what is on the inside that counts. Yes, to some degree our perception of the beautiful is cultural, even at times exclusively physical, but beauty is also a matter of personal tastes.
That explains how people find this beautiful:
And this beautiful:
Beauty is not just a matter of physical fitness but beauty, at least in the philosophical sense, is transcendent; perhaps even a matter of having a good soul. In Symposium Socrates says
A base man is that common lover who loves the body rather than the soul… for as soon as the flower fades, which is what he loved, ‘He takes to the wing and away he flies’… but the lover of a good character remains faithful throughout life, since he has been fused with a lasting thing.
Socrates cautions us not to become enamored only with the physical. Physical beauty fades. We should not merely strive for physical perfection but perfection of the soul. A good soul lasts forever. We should, as Bertrand Russell tells us, appreciate beauty “without appeal to any part of our weaker nature…”
So, it’s not that unusual if one was thinking of beauty beyond one’s physical appearance, that one would think that Sharon Osbourne should very well be included on a hot rock wives list.
That is, assuming Sharon Osbourne has a good soul.
The deal is when we think about beauty philosophically, we shouldn’t focus exclusively on whether a person is physically “hot” but what kind of person we are dealing with.
Is the person a good person?
Are we inspired to be better people when we are around them?
Would we say a person isn’t merely physically beautiful but has a good soul?
If the answer is yes, we might call that person truly beautiful.
At least that’s what a philosopher might tell you.
But then it’s completely expected a philosopher would say so.
Especially since some philosophers look like this:
1) Mortimer J. Adler. Six Great Ideas. 1981. NY: Touchstone. 112.
2) Susan Faludi. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. 1991. NY: Crown Publishers. 204.
3) Naomi Wolf. The Beauty Myth. 2002. 1991. NY: HarperCollins. 1.
4) D.L. Irick. Mindless Philosopher: How Philosophy Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Popular Culture. 2012. CreateSpace.
5) Symposium. The Great Dialogues of Plato. 1956. 1984. Trans. W.H.D. Rouse. Ed. Eric H. Warmington and Phillip G. Rouse. NY: Signet. 80-1.