What Do Your Eyes Behold?


“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  That may be true, and there is certainly no one definition of beauty.  But the perception of beauty varies widely depending on the individual beholder, and the eye of the beholder is influenced by the prevailing social ideas about beauty, often with negative consequences for those whose beauty is being assessed.

What is beautiful is a question that has been answered in vastly different ways throughout history.  According to an article on the history of beauty standards, in ancient Egypt the ideal woman was slender with narrow shoulders, a high waist and symmetrical face, while in ancient Greece  she should be plump and full-bodied with light skin.  During the Italian Renaissance, ample bosoms, rounded stomach and full hips were beautiful, and in Victorian England, a woman should be plump and full-figured, but with a cinched waist.  By the time of the Roaring Twenties in the last century, the standard of beauty included a flat chest, short bob haircut and a boyish figure.

From there, standards went through increasingly rapid change.  In the 1950’s, the glamor of Hollywood actresses called for an hourglass figure, large breasts, and a slim waist.  The 1960’s required a thin, willowy, adolescent figure, which gave way in the 1980’s to the supermodel standard of a tall, curvy, but athletic body with seriously toned arms.  Since then, standards have gone from waif-like/androgynous and extremely thin with translucent skin, to healthy skinny, flat stomach, large breasts and butt, with the all-important thigh gap!

So what does this review of beauty standards have to do with me at this stage of my life?  Notice that nowhere in the perceptions of beauty listed above are these:  liver spots, wrinkles, puffy feet, prominent blue veins, or stray hairs sprouting from places they aren’t supposed to be.


In the past several years, as I take on most of these beauty signs of aging, I have tried to celebrate them.  The first time I realized I had the hands of an old lady, I experienced a moment of sadness, but then remembered my mother’s hands that touched me gently and looked just like mine as she grew older.

These signs are proof that I have lived to an old age, something that is not guaranteed. For today, it is enough for me to be thankful that I have reached this time of life and that true beauty is intangible and not dependent on the eye of any beholder.


People are like stained-glass windows.  They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross




©Martha Hurwitz, 1/30/20


  1. Family lore has it that the heaviest of my great-aunts was considered the beauty of the family. The thinner ones? Nyeh. One of the nice things about not being in love with the mirror is that it makes aging easier.


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