Inspired Woman Magazine

Beauty Defined: What do the Books Tell Us?

By Betty Mills

Now around my easy chair is a scattering of books of quotations in which I sought a nifty description of “beauty,” only to find many of them range from incomprehensible to nearly unprintable (at least in implication), and a few of them shivered any part of my anatomy.

For example, how do you get an “aha” moment out of this questionable gem by Virginia Woolf: “The beauty of the world has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” But that leaves out potato salad, watching your child march down the graduation aisle, sitting in your favorite chair with a good book, or watching the sun go down in a western North Dakota sky, to name a few.

Try this one by Paul Dirac, a British theoretical physicist: “It is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.” While I am reasonably sure my mathematical-minded son might find that a rational statement, it merely reminds me of the educational avenues I failed to travel.

Although aware that what captivated my 18-year-old unwrinkled heart might not fly in that age group today, I still find them worth remembering. There was Keats: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” And this by Sara Teasdale: “For beauty more than bitterness can make the heart break.”

While the scattering of books may have made a mess of the living room, it did provide me with a lot of laughter and remembered joy. For instance, this by Phyllis Diller, a once popular comedian who could turn ordinary events into a good laugh: “When I go to the beauty parlor I always use the emergency entrance. Sometimes I just go for an estimate.”

There were some variations on the extent of beauty. Parkers Law states: “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clear to the bone.”

And this by the playwright Jean Kerr made me laugh out loud: “I’m tired of all this nonsense about beauty only being skin deep. That’s deep enough. What do you want—an adorable pancreas?”

According to Sir Walter Raleigh, Socrates called beauty a short-lived tyranny; Plato, a privilege of nature; Theophrastus, a silent cheat; Theocritus, a delightful prejudice; Carneas, a solitary kingdom; and Homer, a glorious gift of nature.

The word beauty has been put to many uses. My husband could describe a walleye he caught as “a real beauty,” and the same phrase is often used for a black eye or a brand new car.

There is no disputing that ultimately, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Who would argue with the grandfather with his nose stuck to the hospital nursery room window proclaiming as he viewed a small, red, wailing newly born grandchild, “Isn’t she just a beauty?”   


Betty Mills graduated with honors from Mary College in 1967 with a degree in so- cial work. Her career has included motherhood and leadership; Betty served on many local boards and councils.

Inspired Woman Magazine

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