Thursday, 7 January 2010

Pretty versus Beautiful: some musings

Today someone told me that I looked beautiful. A compliment, sure, and they don't come that often, which is why it got me thinking enough to write this post. I don't think of myself as beautiful. But I do think i'm reasonably pretty. (Passable, as my boyfriend would no doubt say!) And I think there is a very clear difference between being beautiful and pretty, i'm just struggling to define what it is.

With its turned up nose and rounded cheeks and chin, I would say my face was typically British. And that twee Britishness to me is pretty. Kate Winslet, Lily Cole, Samantha Janus, Katy Perry: these are all pretty women.

But they aren't beautiful. Beauty to me is looking striking, unusual. Having the kind of face that can make someone stare. Strong cheekbones, defined jawlines, thick set eyebrows and straight noses are beautiful to me.

Is this definition universal? Do we all have the same ideas of what beautiful and pretty are? Or do I admire in others what I don't have in myself? Do I perceive strong cheekbones and defined noses as beautiful precisely because they are the polar opposite of the feautures I have on my own face?

According to a recent study, North Americans and Brazilians identify beauty differently, especially around where your features are placed. I am also aware that perceptions of beauty change over time: women used to pad out their clothes to achieve the perfect hourglass figure, but now long and lean is the order of the day. Surely this must apply to facial beauty (or prettiness) as well? On some god-awful reality TV show I was watching an "expert" said that symmetry is very important in determining whether someone is perceived as attractive. But to me a symmetrical long nose will always be beautiful and a symmetrical little turned up nose only pretty. And it could just be semantics, but as far as i'm concerned, pretty will always be inferior to beautiful.

How do you define beautiful and pretty? Do you think there's a difference and, if so, what is it?

Love, Tor xx


Claire said...

It is an interesting question and certainly one which I've contemplated before!! To be beautiful, for me, there has to be something unusual or striking about the person - cheekbones, as you say, or an unusual nose, amazing hair, unusual eyes etc. Pretty is, to me, merely where all the features go together in a pleasing way. There are more "pretty" people out there, it is easier to fake pretty, whereas to be beautiful is difficult. Perfect skin does help though!!

I also think that beauty isn't universal - what one person sees as beautiful, isn't necessarily to another (the feature that's defining could seem utterly horrific). Whilst I don't see myself as either, I cannot remember ever being called "pretty" but I have been called "beautiful" on occasion (my feature would be my hair!).

It's also interesting that perceptions of beauty change between countries (and presumably other groups as well). Certain features aren't seen as a good thing elsewhere. Again, referring to myself, I'm far more likely to have an American come up to me and love my hair, than someone from the UK - probably due to the irrational dislike of gingers!!

Good post, definitely made me think!

Helen Cox said...

Very interesting idea. I think that interesting faces are beautiful to but I know that is my definition of the word. I think objectively speaking their are classic "beauties" (thinking Audrey Hepburn here) but whether a face is beautiful or just pretty I think is quite subjective. It depends what you as a person find beautiful and what you as a person find pretty.

everybodysaysdont said...

Good question! I used to think this was quite straightforward, especially when I was a teenager. I only judged beauty on looks, genger and age, I only thought girls aged 15-40 could be beautiful (I'm very ashamed to say) where as now I think anyone can be beautiful, the old, young, male, female, babies and really old people. I really see beauty differently these days. Smiling makes most people more beautiful too!

Make Do Style said...

Oh tough one. Too subjective a notion but I do think you are right about one decades beauty is another's yuk. you only have to look at the Classical Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe etc to see how today's stars are a different set of beauties and more body orientated too.

The Style PA said...

I think lots of people are pretty, but not so many are beautiful, I agree with you there.I wouldn't agree entirely with the 'unusual' aspect though.

Some of the most beautiful faces are the ones which are still conventional too, people who look so flawlessly perfect it's enchanting.