Beauty Is Only Skin Deep?

by  Sam C. Chan

August 9, 2006

That is at once an over-statement, and an under-statement, as you will see...

The Case Against Beauty

Let me start by agreeing with the statement: Beauty is indeed only skin-deep. It is not everything. It is but a superficial veneer. It doesn't represent one's core. Come to think about it, it's not even that. Often, beauty is only cosmetics layer deep. It's not even to the skin level. It's more illusion than reality.

Beauty is also fleeing & elusive: Such shallow and unreal phenomenon exists only moment by moment, and only from certain angles and specific distances. Subtle calibration of expressions and poses result in drastic shift in perceived beauty.

Case in point: As photographer, I'm keenly aware that even the most mundane objects and humans alike, can be rendered beautifullyupon careful manipulation and massive coordination of: placement & orientation, distance & perspective, lighting sources & conditions, color saturation & hue, emphasis & de-emphasis (hiding). It's all about the magic of rendering rare specific instances of the 3D universe into pleasing 2D images.

Beauty is undefined, or as it is often saidin the eyes of the beholder. It has as much to do with the subjective beholder as it does with the objective beauty itself. Psychological insights in conjunction with cultural understanding are paramount in creating appealing images for any given audience body.

Beauty could be destructive. Many a war had stemmed from precisely such lust.

The Case For Beauty

Following that barrage of dismissal, you might begin to feel that beauty is utterly over-rated. I shall now demonstrate that beauty is also nothing to sneer at:

  • Beauty is a virtue. It's something to strive for, with comparable importance to being polite, or any other provisions to make your guests comfortable.
  • The desire and need for beauty is universal, inherent and insuppressible. It's one of the proven basic laws of nature.
  • Beauty is constructive, and is credited as catalyze to advancement of civilization.
  • Beauty provides intrinsic values, and under the right circumstancestangible benefits.
  • Beauty is inspirational, and hence brings meaning to life.
  • Beauty can be timeless.

Defense & Clarification

Many people do things related to beauty that are clearly objectionable. These include:

  • Unduly discriminating against those lacking (or simply not touting) beauty.
  • Imprudently elevate beauty to trump higher order & more fundamental values.
  • Over-doing it to offensive scale, often with excessive emphasis in sexual arousal.
  • Beauty as disguise, is a device of dishonesty to achieve rouge objectives.
  • Use beauty as weapons, shields, means to cheat, or in other immoral fashion.

However, none of them is actually against beauty itself. People often confuse them with the offenders' behaviorthe root cause of objections. In a case of zeal, or sheer ignorance, many see it fit to demonize beauty, as a way to promote other "real" values. Truth be told, beauty and morals are not mutually exclusive.

Let it be known that most vocal critics who publicly denounce and ridicule beauty, are in fact (naturally) themselves secret admirers and seekers of (or otherwise receptive to) beauty, and therefore considered hypocrites.


Things are seldom quantifiable in a single 1-dimensional attribute. Beauty is no exception. It is a complex, multi-facet issue with a myriad of criteria. There is a time and place for form over function, and vice versa.

Beauty exists in more forms than one, and is not necessarily linked to lust. Beauty is neither all-important nor un-important. It is at times virtuous, and at others, down right evil. At its best: Beauty, truth and goodness are one and the same. At its worst: Abuse of beauty exemplifies the flaws and ugliness of humankind.

I submit to you that an undistorted and comprehensive understanding of beauty is essential, in order to competently address such wide-ranging topics as: public relations, marital problems, social utility, truth, purposes, and advancement of humankind.


Back when I was around 12, during a beauty pageant, there was much passionate debate among my friends. Naturally, we each had our own diverse opinions. That turned out to be one of my earliest profound enlightenment. Inevitably, I concluded that there's no such thing as "the most beautiful." That would later form the basis of my philosophies on the whole concept of "best," or more precisely, the exposť of misconception and fallacy of it.

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