Interest in perception dates back to the time of the ancient Greek philosophers who were interested in how people know the world and gain understanding. As psychology emerged as a science separate from philosophy, researchers became interested in understanding how various aspects of perception worked.
Is there truly a universal standard of beauty? How has our quest for beauty evolved through the ages?
What Are Some Historical Perspectives Of Beauty?
Throughout the ages, distinct cultures have expressed beauty ideals. Overall, these ideals of attractiveness have included body shape, facial attributes, and the use of make-up and adornments to signify beauty and status. The historical examples are many but some of the most notable historical examples include:1
- Egyptians’ use of powdered coal to beautify their eyes, and henna to give color to their lips and nails. Men also used makeup with dramatic eyeliner symbolizing wealth and status. Self-adornment was also used by both sexes.
- The Hebrews and Arabs were conservative and frowned upon the use of facial enhancements and self-adornment. But they used aromatic perfume.
- Greeks frowned upon use of facial cosmetics as courtesans primarily used it. The Greek views of masculinity focused on the body. In Greek mythology, Apollo is seen as a model of masculinity as well as, the many Greek warriors.
- The Romans were more open to extravagant use of adornment and used various ingredients to beautify their skin, hair, bodies, and nails. Roman women used bleaches to lighten their hair color as that was seen as beautiful. Roman men also used makeup and painted their nails. In the First Century AD Roman men used camouflage makeup to cover bald spots.
- The Chinese viewed long and painted nails as a sign of beauty and wealth.
- The Japanese Geishas had unique beauty practices of using white face and body paint and styling their hair into elaborate styles.
- Various cultures and all sexes tattooed and pierced their face and bodies.
The ideal body size or figure has changed dramatically over the years, especially for women. While the majority of historical thesis on beauty cite female beauty rituals, men also were concerned about physical beauty and attractiveness. David Yi, the author of Pretty Boys: Legionary Icons Who Redefined Beauty, “concludes that history omits the grooming rituals of leaders and rulers in an attempt to put a modern, heteronormative-filter on the past.” “Many historians are fearful that the men they have studied and revered would be stripped of their dignity, or perhaps even deemed less powerful, if it was discovered that they wore makeup or had a passion for being pretty.”2
Standards of physical attractiveness and beauty are constantly evolving but many can be traced back to history. Perceptions of beauty have universal appeal and are merging throughout the world. Western and international trends are merging due to the growing presence of the Internet and influence of social media and influencers. Often these beauty trends are fast and fleeting.
Read More About Present Beauty Perceptions and Trends
1Beauty Standards: See How Body Types Change Through History
2David Yi, Pretty Boys: Legionary Icons Who Redefined Beauty