The beauty myth. From a man's perspective.

The “most beautiful” woman in the world? Depends on your definition of beautiful.


Journalist Tom Matlack recently wrote an article for the New York Times that declared his wife to be the “most beautiful woman on this planet.”

“I just turned 48. So did my wife. We celebrated ten years of marriage on December 28th. She is the most beautiful woman on this planet. That sounds cliché but in my case it’s the truth. I love to sneak a glimpse of her first thing in the morning – she has slate blue eyes that sparkle in a particular way. My stomach turns inside out every time she looks at me. It’s as if the whole sun has been transported into those two orbs of light,” Tom wrote.

Well done, sir!

I commend you on your absolute commitment to the truth.

In response, Tom’s colleague, author Joanna Schroeder noted:

“But I believe Tom. Not because I think that his wife, Elena, is objectively the most beautiful woman in the world. She’s lovely, of course, but the reason I believe him is because my husband feels the same way about me.”

And for the record, I feel the same about my wife, Saliha.

So, how, in a world of seemingly endless supermodels and celebrities, have Elena, Joanna and Saliha each become the most beautiful woman in the world?

Well, we all have our own view of what is beautiful, right? But we are also subject to our culture’s collective view of beauty.

And that narrative is a powerful one, indeed, when reflected back to us 24/7 on every billboard, magazine, video screen and cereal box in the known universe. Typically, a culture’s collective view of beauty is, in fact, a direct reflection of that society’s class structure.

In the middle ages, only landed gentry could afford to be well fed or could live in such a way as to have pale skin instead of sunburns from working in the fields, so beauty was pale and full figured. In post-industrial McDonald’s cheeseburger America, only the wealthy can afford a personal trainer or time to pursue a nice golden tan, so tanned and thin represents the unattainable ideal of beauty. It’s all pretty obviously tied to power and wealth and all things unattainable. Did I mention unattainable?


Which poses the question, was Helen of Troy considered to be more beautiful than the rest because of how she looked, or because two powerful kings started a twenty year war over her? Are certain physical characteristics deemed beautiful because the rich and powerful media outlets tell us that they are? And we all fall in line in agreement?

Young people take in these weirdly narrow ideals of beauty hook, line, and sinker and internalize them to the point that they risk years of debilitatingly low self esteem. Which is terribly sad, because it takes so long to cast off these narrow mass media views of beauty and take ownership of the richer and more diverse expressions of beauty we see staring back at us from our own mirrors.

Because no sooner does one part of the mass media elevate a woman as a celebrity sex symbol then another part begins tearing her down. It’s a nearly simultaneous construction/demolition process that reflects decades of cynical packaging and marketing of sex and beauty.

Recognition that diversity is what’s beautiful is slowly (very slowly!) starting to come about in Hollywood and in the real world. Take a look:


Both the range of physical traits AND the actions required for someone to be defined as beautiful in our culture have gone way off the rails. Thin has never been a mandatory prerequisite for beauty, I don’t care what Cosmo Magazine’s last 2000 covers say. Furthermore, if beauty is a marker for lasting lifelong love then, by extension, one’s actions must be understood to inform one’s beauty not the other way around.

If we leave the definition of beauty in the hands of the mass media, we will get back a cynically narrow and therefore, badly distorted view of it. The repercussions of which reach down into our schoolrooms and our bedrooms; into the lives of our children and our selves. It’s not that these images of beauty are false. They are simply too narrow, excluding the much wider range of passion inspiring fantasies and images that can, in turn, empower the vast variety of human beings who come in all shapes and colors.

Everyone is beautiful. And I mean, Lauren Bacall, “You know how to whistle don’t you?” beautiful. There isn’t a man or women in the world who doesn’t have their moments of divinity. That moment when the light hits them a certain way. That moment when their courage or kindness sets them apart from all others.

Unless we teach our children (and ourselves) how to see and value much wider expressions and ways of beauty, and unless we encourage them to communicate who they are in the world, we leave them with little choice but to mimic what is being sold to them by the mass media.

Author, Mark Greene

The narratives we need to encourage in ourselves are not hard to figure out.

1) Everyone has their own special range of beauty. Look and you will see.
2) An honest and open relationship is deeply erotic thing.
3) No one else in the world has what you have. Don’t hide it.

No matter how beautiful a man or woman is deemed to be, we humans inevitably lose interest if the surface is all we are focusing on.

So if we, in our internal dialogues, continue elevating one pretty face after another to the pantheon of the ideal, in lock step with the mass media, we miss the beauty in our sweet children and loving partners because we are not opening our eyes to the rich and diverse markers of beauty in our own lives.

To return to my opening example. How did myself, Joanna’s husband and Tom come to all be married to the most beautiful women in the world?

Well, I can’t speak for Joanna’s husband or for Tom, but I have a simple explanation for my own good fortune.

I finally decided to open my eyes to what is truly meaningful and beautiful for me in the world, and there she stood.

I suspect they did the same.

This is a version of a post that was originally published on The Good Men Project and has been republished with full permission.

Mark Greene is an Emmy® winning animator, designer and author. He blogs about kids, relationships, and the power of play. You can follow him on Twitter @megaSAHD

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