Beauty in the Subway

So today while I was riding the subway to meet my friend at Hongdae I experienced one of the most beautiful things in my life.

I was standing in the middle of the subway car, clutching the handrail when I saw a couple right in front of me. It looked like an ordinary scene when it comes to couples for the most part. There was a young woman sitting in the lap of a young man, with the young man clutching his arms around the supple waist of the young woman. But here’s the catch: The young-man was handicapped and confined to a wheelchair.

What struck me as peculiar and odd was not the fact that the young woman was sitting in the lap of a guy in a wheelchair, but rather the feeling of confidence the couple radiated. There were easily around 40 people in the subway car, but these two young lovers were in their own world. They were like encased in an impenetrable bubble, impervious to the curious stares of all the others around them. Nothing else in the world mattered but one another.

At that moment I felt a wave of love and compassion fill my heart. I had never felt anything quite like it before in my life, and I kept standing there trying to bask myself in the beauty of the situation. I remember thinking to myself, “This is what true love should be.” Typically handicapped people are looked down by “physically able” people in society and are seen as weak, helpless, and needing to be taken care of by others.

However the young man in the wheelchair showed an incredible amount of masculinity and confidence, as he grasped the young woman around her waist while gently leaning his chin on her shoulder. Although he may not have been able to pick her off her feet and hold him in his arms, he really made the best of his situation and gave his young girlfriend a rest off her tired feet by letting her sit in his lap. While other people in this young man’s situation may have groaned, groveled, and felt angst towards the world for being physically handicapped, this young man realized how although physically handicapped, he was not handicapped emotionally or in spirit.

Beauty is all around you. Not only until you start paying attention do you notice.

Beauty in the Subway

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Photoshopped Reality

What I am about to tell you may come to you as common knowledge or a shock to you:

Everything you see in magazines, posters, advertisements is all photoshopped.

Yes, every damn magazine, poster, and advertisement has some sort of digital retouching applied to it. There is not one magazine cover which is not altered to make a person look more appealing by smoothing out their skin, cloning out their facial imperfections, and even by altering the structure of their face or body. Remember the last time you opened up a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and wondered how the skin of the models were so silky smooth and their breasts so perfectly round and perfect?

All hail Adobe® Photoshop®.

We all live in a photoshopped reality. We can’t really believe anything in our every-day lives to be “real” anymore. Whenever you see advertisements, they are always full of young, attractive, and beautiful people. When we are constantly bombarded with these images, we can’t help but think that is what the “ideal” person should look like. The reason why the multi-billion dollar diet and exercise industry thrive is because there are millions of people out there striving to look like Brad Pitt or Angelia Jolie, thinking that they are the epitome of “beauty.” People often get depressed when they grow older, as our society worships youth while shunning away anything that deviates from it. Women are starving themselves to death to lose a few inches around the waist, and men are injecting themselves with steroids to add a few inches to their biceps.

Our society is more depressed and self-loathing than ever in their quest to reach “perfection.” Regardless of how hard we might try, we can’t all have those size C-breasts or that 6-pack we all desire. Everybody is born with a different body type, with some people naturally taller, while others smaller. Others are more adept in gaining weight, while others cannot put on a pound even if they tried. In an attempt to make up for these physical inequities, we are even starting to “photoshop” our own bodies through plastic surgery, tummy tucks, botox, lipsuction, and countless other procedures to strive to be young and “beautiful” for as long as we can.

The field of cosmetic surgery is an industry which is exponentially increasing. This is not any more prevalent than in one of the cosmetic-surgery capitals of the world, Korea. Certain procedures that alter the eyes, the nose, the lips, or even the structure of the face are considered commonplace and normal in Korea. In a culture which has a huge sense of celebrity worship, people are always striving to have the same flawless and dainty features of the people they see on television. It may come to some people as a shock that when applying for jobs, you must attach your photo to your resume, to show your potential employers how you look physically. In America, this is unheard of, because employers are not supposed to discriminate their employees based on appearance, sex, or ethnicity. Although the same is supposedly true in Korea, you are much more likely to be hired if attractive and youthful-looking.

Is beauty universal or depends on what time and place you are? If people think that skinny and fit people are “naturally” more attractive than fat people, they are hugely mistaken. In the eighteenth century, having a larger waist-line was a sign of prosperity, as you had the means to feed yourself in order to gain weight, while poor people could barely put enough food on the table to get by. Although it is attractive to have a tan in America, it is much more attractive to be pale in Asia, because it is a sign that you don’t have to work outside doing menial-work where people get the most tan. Although Americans believe the huge-macho guy to be the ideal shape for a man, Koreas find more effeminate looking men to be more attractive.

So how can we come to ends with the disappointment of our physical appearances? How can we ever live with ourselves without being able to fit into those skinny jeans or be buff enough to walk on the beach with our shirts off? Well, we first should realize that everything that we see is indeed photoshopped, and that these people are not a true depiction of what “real” people look like. “Real people” have flaws such as having small eyes, crooked noses, dainty lips, large faces, wide waists, and are short in height. Although there are people out there who are more attractive than us, we cannot truly live life until we are satisfied with how we look.

Like Kanye West said, “The people highest up have the lowest self-esteem.” Even those supermodels that you see on the runway suffer from bulimia, anorexia, and depression by feeling that even they (the “epitome of beauty”) are still not good enough. Even the hugest bodybuilders always have a burning desire to get even bigger and stronger than those around them, often turning into more monsters than humans in the process.

So be happy for who you are. Don’t let magazines or the media tell you otherwise. But damn my arms are looking tiny, time to do some pushups.

*Some links to check out:

http://www.glennferon.com/portfolio1/portfolio09.html

*Update: Link sent to me by my friend Phill: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knEIM16NuPg

Is beauty truly in the eye of the beholder?

We are often told by society that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” So according to this idea, the definition of “beauty” differs when it comes to different individuals. But through personal observations of mine, I want to question this idea a bit, and expand on the implications of this.

To start off, we have to define what “beauty” is. When it comes to defining what type of people are beautiful, we might go two routes: one of them being based on pure asthetics such as their face, body composition, and height, while others see “beauty” as more a manifestation of a person’s personality and traits.

So if we were to define how “beautiful” a person was based soley on their outer-looks, I would make the claim that people can make a general consensus whether someone is very attractive or very unattractive. If we show someone a picture of Jessica Alba, I bet close to 99% would call her attractive and beautiful. However if we asked the same people whether they thought this person was attractive (refer to picture below), I bet 99% of people would call that person unattractive.

Jessica Alba- an "attractive" person

But how do we come to this general consensus if a person is generally attractive or unattractive? How can beauty as a physical trait be so apparent and obvious? Is it something that we are trained through society through the media (television, internet, movies), or something that we are born innately with?

An "unattractive" person

Let me present you with something interesting that you may not know. It is called the golden ratio and it is a ratio that shows up all the time in nature. Nobody can really explain why it is, but the number is: ~1.618. For example, the ratio between the length of its petals and the width of the petals, the ratio of the distance between the spirals in a seashell and its circumfence, and countless other examples in nature.
A few years back, I watched a fascinating documentary on TLC called “The Human Face.” The documentary tried to learn about all the aspects of the human face, and tested this “Beauty in the eye of the beholder” hypothesis. Through their studies, they used the golden ratio to construct a wire-model of an “perfect face” face with “ideal” proportions and they put that translucent model over the face of many famous people. For notoriously attractive people like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, the skeleton fit almost perfectly. When it was put on a picture of someone who looked typically “unattractive,” the wire model didn’t fit at all.

So the thought of beauty being translated into a simple number is quite disturbing. We always are told that beauty is something that we have a personal choice to make; not something that is so concrete in something as cold as a lifeless number. But I will bring more examples of the golden ratio.

In many famous renaissance paintings as well as ancient art, you can see the golden ratio being employed everywhere. From Gothic Cathedrals to paintings of nature, you will see this number pop over all over the place. Even in photography this number is extremely present.


There is a compositional “rule” in photography called “the rule of thirds.” According to the rule of thirds, for a photo to look balanced and appealing, you have to make sure your image abides by a grid that is split into thirds.
So although this rule doesn’t apply 100% of the time to all photographs, I would say it applies close to 95% of the time for landscape photographers. If you look at any great landscape photograph (or painting), you will see that the sky, the land, and the foreground will be split into thirds. Either that or the foreground will take up 2/3rds of the image while the sky takes up 1/3 of the image. This “rule of thirds” is also derived from the golden ratio.

The rule of thirds gridlines superimposed on an image

Going back to the example of photography, I would also say that generally speaking, people have a general consensus what a “good” photograph is. It is a combination of composition, subject matter, as well as color or contrast. I am part of a world-class photography forum called Fred Miranda and usually the number of comments you receive are directly proportional to how “beautiful” your image is. Although there are other factors such as how many people may know you on the forum and so forth, you will generally get more comments on how visiaully appealing your image is.

So does the majority define what beauty is? Or is it something more individual? If we define beauty as merely physical attractiveness, I would come to the conclusion that it is something universal and empirical. However if beauty is defined by one’s inner beauty, something that we can’t measure like the kindness of one’s soul or someone’s personality, I would say it can indeed vary from individual to individual. The proportions of one’s face can be measured, but how deep their heart goes cannot be measured by any instrument.

So I’m not writing this to make you lose faith in the idea of beauty as being cold, lifeless, and definable by numbers. However it is just a philosophical idea that has been running around my head for a while and I just wanted to throw this question out there.

So do you believe beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.