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Anthropology of the body: free from the imperative of objective beauty

Updated: May 31, 2023

Author: Roberto Luciani

Date of Publication: 09/11/2022

You might think that by the mere fact that you are reading my words, rather than looking at me and letting me look into your eyes, you can evade the laws of our corporeality. As if the word, spoken verbally or written and read, could really dematerialize ourself, avoiding consequently the exposure of our outward appearance. It might be a good idea, in fact, to allow them to get straight to the substance without going through the form first. I will write without showing you who I am, you will read doing the same, it will therefore not matter who is taller and who is shorter among us, whether we are beautiful or ugly, male or female. We are just thoughts comparing, and that is enough.

Sadly, it is not so easy.

The perception of the body

Depending on the way I write or depending on how I use punctuation, certainly something will happen in this small confined space. It may also depend on my attitude in sentences, or on other components present in the way you read. It is possible that you will be intrigued by my words, then you will want to read on to the end. It is possible, on the other hand, that you will disagree with me from the first few sentences, or you may not like the way I write, then you will stop your reading with disarming speed. As for how I write, you may imagine me as you like, I will have no power over your mind, and there the first corporeal form will already be formed in it. Uncontrollable in its birth. There, you see, we have not evaded the bodily laws even in this way.

There will always be an appearance and an appearing. Your perception will respond to perceptual laws already described by great philosophers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He argued about how the body is the general instrument for understanding the world. Through its perceptual capabilities we know reality, which naturally includes others. The first thing we come across the moment we come into contact with other people is indeed the body dimension. The body is a multiple entity: we are and at the same time have a body. But how is this being in the world experienced nowadays?

The perception of the world

It seems that beauty is the new mantra of our generation. As if only by meeting a certain minimum standard can one afford one's part in this world. Without generalizing too much, we can say that perhaps never in history has so much attention been paid to aesthetic details as is the case now. This is probably also due to the advent of photography and social media in general. It is therefore very common to feel inadequate and imperfect. It is possible to feel weighed down by the imperative of standards, bombarded by models who are taken as unattainable examples, even though they do not represent reality.

Questions then arise: do we really have to be like them to be liked? Is beauty objective?

Is beauty objective?

The experience of beauty

This is how Anthropology, and Anthropology of the body more specifically, comes into play. There are countless theories concerning this topic that would have to be described in a separate article, moreover, no conclusion has yet been reached that satisfies everyone. However, it is a good start at least to describe the process, what is called the “experience of beauty”.

Beauty is a subjective experience.

Beauty is an absolutely subjective experience that expresses a relationship between a subject and an object endowed with sense and intellect. Without a mind to grasp it, beauty does not exist. We perceive as beautiful that which seems to us capable of satisfying a need or purpose of ours. But the goals of different cultures are different, and so the needs of individuals and their desires change. This explains the individual, cultural and historical diversity of the judgment of "beautiful”. There are few things that appear beautiful to everyone regardless of the culture to which they belong. Those few can be explained by the indubitable fact that we all belong to the human species, and that we share a large part of our purposes, such as that of survival. This is not sufficient, therefore, to claim that beauty is objective. Beauty is above all a promise of happiness, an anticipation, an expectation of fulfillment. It shows the pain of a lack and the possibility of filling it. It is thus an emotional experience as well as subjective as is fear.

The meaning of beauty varies in cultures.

Beauty is useless. According to Kant it is an end in itself and not a means to something else and in that sense, it is “useless”, superfluous. Culture of beauty, all authors agree that, culturally, indicators of health, youth and strength that promise long life and marked sexual traits indicative of fertility are considered beautiful. People are often unconsciously attracted to characters complementary to those they possess (what we lack) as if trying to recreate a balance in offspring.


So many things can be said and discussed about beauty. The intent of this article is not to summarize the many theories that are still widely debated, but rather a desire to develop a sensitivity regarding these issues. Today, more than ever, it may prove useful to forgo the standards of supposed objective beauty and focus, rather, on one's uniqueness. In this way we can express the best of ourselves, free from the judgment of others and especially of our own.


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