What Does Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder Mean?

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder Meaning

Definition: Any judgement of beauty is subjective.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder is a commonly used expression in British and American English. It is frequently phrased as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.”

It applies not just to issues of physical beauty but also to anything proposed as perfect and desirable.

If you introduce friends to a prized painting at the museum, they might disagree with your taste saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That’s a polite way of disagreeing with you, and it can be said with some dismissive condescension.

Origin of Beauty is (Lies) in the Eye of the Beholder

English idiom beauty eye of the beholder meaningWhether or not beauty if subjective or objective has been argued since at least ancient Greece.

Greek philosophers, including Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, considered beauty an absolute manifest in order, symmetry, and proportion. But, Skeptics, Epicureans, and Stoics nudged towards an understanding that beauty exists in symmetry (objective) and in eurhythmy (subjective)

Roughly their contemporary, Confucius is credited with saying, “Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.”

In 1741, Benjamin Franklin offered, “Beauty, like supreme dominion, / Is but supported by opinion” (Poor Richard’s Almanack, III Mon May).

In 1757, British sceptic and essayist David Hume wrote, “Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty” (Essay XXXII, Of the Standard of Taste).

As you can see from the above examples, the sentiment expressed in this idiom is quite old, but the modern coinage is relatively recent—and attributed to a Irish novelist.

Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholderIn 1878, Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, the Irish romance novelist, writing anonymously as “The Duchess and as “Mrs. Hungerford” in the United States, published Molly Bawn, in which she coined the idiom as we generally see it today, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Examples of Beauty is (Lies) in the Eye of the Beholder

  • Eavesdropping on the cheerleaders fawning over the football players, Jack thought to himself, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, if you ask me.”
  • As Marcy and Harry left her boss’s newly redecorated home, he whispered “It just goes to show that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

More Examples

  • They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well, Wall Street investors love the look of e.l.f. Beauty—and they are clamoring to own a piece of the newly public cosmetics brand. –Forbes
  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s unclear how anyone can look at this property, located at 24 Brentwood Drive, as anything “fascinating.” –New York Post

Summary

Beauty is (lies) in the eye of the beholder is a frequently used expression first phrased by an Irish author and commonly used in English speaking cultures. It takes a position that beauty is a subjective and personal experience.