||Beauty (from Latin bellus, â€˜prettyâ€™, and its French derivative beau) is a quality philosophers find hard to define. The standard definition is that it is the quality of things which pleases or delights the senses or intellect. However, being stroked can please and delight the senses, but it hardly seems right to say that being stroked is beautiful. Some philosophers hold that beauty is an intrinsic, mind-dependent quality of objects. Others hold that beauty is not objective, but consists in a disposition to produce a certain reaction (such as a feeling of approval) in mental subjects. In both these definitions, works of art are beautiful, and so are parts of nature (such as plants) which are not works of art.
Anthropologists say that beauty is not simply an essence embodied in the object or action itself, but derives from the values and ideas of the creator or observer, who is in turn affected by his or her cultural milieux. Therefore, concepts of beauty vary not just from person to person, but cross-culturally as well. Whether associated with physical attractiveness, artistic practices or products, graceful motions or other factors or attributes, ideas of beauty are closely entwined with values and expectations held in particular communities. They entail ideals of collective thought sustained by certain limitations. For example, ideas about a person\'s beauty are predetermined by the individual\'s gender.
Western ideas about beauty may be traced back to Plato. He proposed that what is beautiful is synonymous with the truthful and divine. Since then, various other theories have been offered. Beauty may be a property that evokes a special reaction in a person; it may also be a means of expressing non-possessive love and so forth.
Among the Tiv people in southern Nigeria the body was the primary context for ideas about beauty. Glowing after oil is rubbed over the body was considered particularly beautiful. Stylish dress, body scarification, and, in earlier days, teeth chipping, were also considered means of beautifying the body. Trends in these personal arts were noted, providing an index of variant notions of beauty and values between successive generations.
James Faris (see below) presented a picture of the Nuba peoples\' views on personal beauty in the 1970s. Whereas Nuba women had their bodies scarred at key points in their life, particularly during puberty and after childbirth, Nuba men decorated their bodies with paint according to their progression through the age-grades. Ceremonial competition encouraged Nuba men to experiment with their personal arts in order to present themselves at their best for appreciation in the community. Only men who were initiated in the final grade were privileged to wear black all over the body. The important requirement for all Nuba people was that they wear a slim belt round the waist. Otherwise they would not be considered fully dressed. Thus Nuba ideas of beauty, whilst allowing for a great deal of individual variation and creativity, were considerably shaped by social and cultural values and expectations. AJ RK
See also body; aesthetics; visual anthropology.Further reading James Faris, Nuba Personal Art; , A. Rubin (ed.), Marks of Civilisation.