Ambiguous Aesthetics

That language is arbitrary is tautological, an analytic claim. It’s true by definition. Structuralists, i.e. Saussure, had known this even before the postmoderns, e.g. Derrida, came into the picture.

Trigger Warning
If sexist perspectives offend your sensibilities, continue at your own risk. This is not meant to offend, rather just to illustrate, but you’ve been forewarned.

Where it might be most apparent is in aesthetics. So, when describing the appearance of a woman in a positive light—I’m a guy, so indulge me, please—, one might describe her by one or more of these descriptors:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Margaret Wolfe Hungerford
  • Adorable
  • Beautiful
  • Cute (or Kawaii, if you’re into the Anime culture)
  • Gorgeous
  • Handsome
  • Hot
  • Lovely
  • Pretty
  • Sexy
  • A 10 (or something along an otherwise arbitrary if not capricious scale)

Each of these is a term to indicate some aesthetic quality. Each capturing a connotative notion, and of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Givenchy – Ugly Beauty

Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.

David Hume

I am not going to attempt to illustrate the nuances between these terms. As with any preference-oriented terms, the relationship between and within a given term. What I think is beautiful may not be to you.

What I think is beautiful today, I may not feel is beautiful tomorrow. Speaking in terms of music, there are plenty of songs I thought were ‘good’ when I was growing up, but I don’t like them anymore. Take a look at fashion in the past and how silly it might look now. If you are older, take a look at some pictures of how you dressed in your teens or twenties. You may have felt like quite the chick magnet in the day, and now you cringe and no longer wonder why you spent as many nights alone as you might have.

As a test, gather 100 images of different, say, women—I’m staying with the trend—and rank them from 1 to 100; rate them cute, sexy, whatever. Record your choices. Do this each day for a month and see how steady your choices are. It will be extremely unlikely that there will be no variation no matter how carefully you try to define your classification to remain consistent—and this is just communicating with yourself. Now imagine if you have to consistently convey this to other people.

Cover image courtesy of this article.

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