Poets and philosophers have tried for eons to define what makes a woman beautiful. More recently, doctors and scientists have weighed in. One California plastic surgeon, Stephen Marquardt, M.D., even produced a mathematical formula to describe the perfect female face, calculating its proportions as a series of consistent ratios.
But beauty is more complicated than a set of numbers. We have all met women who by conventional standards (and Dr. Marquardt’s formula) shouldn’t be beautiful, but undeniably are. Some cultures recognize this with a term like jolie laide,
which translates literally from French as “pretty-ugly” and is used to describe a woman who is not predictably pretty, but still irresistible.
Let’s see what the wise women (and men) of history have to say on the subject:
Francis Bacon, scientist, philosopher, politician, writer and all-around brilliant 17th century British gentleman
“There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”
Marie Stopes, early 20th century British scientist, sex-manual author, and early feminist
“You can take no credit for beauty at 16. But if you are beautiful at 60, it will be your soul’s own doing.”
Coco Chanel, 20th century French designer, founder of Chanel
“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”
Salma Hayek, contemporary Mexican-American actress and producer
“People often say that ‘beauty is in the eye
of the beholder,’ and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are
the beholder. This empowers us to find beauty in places where others have not dared to look, including inside ourselves.”
Lady Gaga, contemporary American singer, songwriter, actress
“You define beauty for yourself, society doesn’t define your beauty. Your spirit and your faith define your beauty.”
Steve Maraboli, contemporary American behavioral scientist, author
“There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.”
Can any woman be beautiful? The answer is, of course, yes, but it takes that uncommon mix of self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-confidence. Perhaps that is why beauty is a quality more often associated with grown-up women, rather than pretty young girls.