What is beauty? Beauty to the Greeks was a virtue. Sontag explains if it had occurred to the Greeks to see inner or outer beauty, both types of beauty would be looked upon; one beauty is not more significant than the other is. Through time, people are taught that those with beauty aren't exactly the brightest, and those that are intellectual aren't beautiful; however when we see someone beautiful and intelligent, we are surprised. Socrates, a Greek philosopher is an example of being the brightest but was considered "ugly." He taught the "splendid-looking" disciples and through his teachings, he showed his students how life is full of paradoxes.
Sontag continues with how the influence of Christianity "deprived beauty" of classical ideals of human excellence. Through Christianity, beauty became something superficial, in turn alienating this word, causing it to lose its "prestige." For over two centuries, as Sontag puts it, the gender that is and continues to be inferior, is women. Then she goes on explaining that correlating women to beauty puts it on a defense even further.
In English women are beautiful, which is stated within the article. However, when we describe a man we have to call him handsome. Describing a man beautiful has degrading overtones, because beauty is mainly used for women and is considered feminine. Sontag states that countries such as Italy and France retain paganistic appreciation for beauty, in which men are considered beautiful, unlike those countries that are or have been influenced from Christian Protestantism. Sontag believes that though there is a difference between Christian and post Christian views of beauty, this difference is dwindling, because women are associated and categorized as the beautiful sex.
She then goes on saying that an essential characteristic of being a woman is being beautiful. Men aren't called beautiful because they are not concerned with how they look, more so with their intellect and competence. Within our American society, the expectation of beauty makes women become self-absorbed, thus creating superficial women.
Women are "taught" to see themselves through individual parts. They are taught to feel obligated to this type of perception because they feel that need of being flattered by the opposite sex, as Sontag puts it. This feeling creates this atmosphere of being inferior to that of the male stature and gives men power.
She then explains it is the obligation to be beautiful and not the desire of it that is wrong. Women often dissect and scrutinize each part of their body to the point where they want something done about it; they have to be perfect. Because of this, women self oppress, trying to gain that "perfection" that our American society places upon them. Men don't look for perfection, because its almost unmanly. Their good looks are seen as a whole, unlike women who are seen through parts. In fact, some imperfections in men are desirable, according to a critic within the article, because it saves them from being feminine.
Cocteau is quoted within...