Defining Beauty

inner-beautyBy: Katy Mullins, Journalist for University of Pittsburgh Project HEAL

I’ve noticed recently that our culture seems determined to stick a label on beauty, to find some sort of solid definition for this concept that we can all look and say with certainty, “This is what it is to be beautiful.” It started with a movement that put pressure on us to be thin, idolizing this “ideal” body type that we all must aspire to if we have any hope of accomplishing any of our dreams, which, of course, is unattainable for most of us. Then a cultural backlash arose, shouting that “big is beautiful,” entirely ignoring the fact that for some of our peers, “big” is not a body type they will be able to achieve either. And it goes beyond even this. First we are supposed to dye our hair blond, then brown, then red. Don’t forget to straighten it. We are supposed to dress for ourselves, but also be careful we don’t wear the “wrong” thing and send some kind of bad message. But we should also take care to remain stylish.

So what is beauty then? Which definition should we choose? What about all

of those people that these definitions leave out? Personally, I feel

compelled to ask… why define beauty at all? We’re so desperate, so caught

up in our desire to fit in with what everybody else considers to be

beautiful, that we have failed to realize that we are able to decide for

ourselves what we think true beauty means to us, and there is not one

all-encompassing definition.

Recently, I had to get braces again due to a long-standing jaw problem

that I am finally having corrected. While I try to remember that thousands

of people need to go through orthodontics at some point in their lives, I

will admit that I have become increasingly self-conscious about smiling,

because, as I say jokingly to friends, I feel as though braces make me

look childish. I have become hyper aware of showing my teeth to anybody,

preferring to smile with a closed mouth, afraid that perhaps these pieces

of metal in my mouth will somehow detract from how other people view me,

as though they might make me less beautiful. However, I work with

children, who are notoriously straightforward. A few days ago, one girl

asked me, “Why do you have those things in your mouth?” while thoughtfully

running her finger over her own front teeth. I felt very self-conscious as

I explained what braces were, and why some people needed them. Oblivious

to my discomfort, she smiled up at me in reply and said, “I like them!

They’re shiny, like jewelry for your teeth.”

It is up to YOU to decide how you want to define beauty. Beauty is found

in acceptance, and for me, it means smiling with confidence and pride,

because "mouth-jewelry" does not need to be a source of shame. Finding

beauty means dressing however you want, and ignoring the people who tell

you to do otherwise. It means accepting your body regardless of its size

or shape, because it’s the only one you will ever be lucky enough to

have. And beauty is found in strength, the strength to stand up and

decide who you want to be, surround yourself with people who accept you,

and allow space to come between you and those who seek to change you.

There are thousands of definitions for beauty out there, but in the end,

it is ultimately up to you to create your own and stand by it when others


So now I will ask you: what makes you beautiful?