Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?

Howdy y'all (inserts imaginary curtsies and customary bows). Fear not, my fellow classmates, for my group will not be talking about anything depressing or gruesome like what we did previously. Today, my group will be exploring the beauty standards in Ancient China and Ancient Greece. Let's begin by taking a glimpse of what was considered beautiful in each civilization.  

Ancient China

The Four Greatest Beauties of Ancient China
The Four Greatest Beauties of Ancient China

The picture above shows the four great beauties of Ancient China (from left to right: Xi Shi, Wang Zhaojun, Diao Chan and Yang Guifei). These women were said to be so beautiful that they were able to influence emperors, move political mountains and even caused birds to forget how to fly and fall out of the sky. So, what did women in Ancient China have to have to be considered beautiful? While beauty standards in Ancient China varied from time to time (just like fashion), women with red lips and white teeth were generally thought to be beautiful. Other standards of beauty for women in Ancient China included being tall and slender and having large eyes and nicely shaped eyebrows (eyebrows on fleek!) (sorry, we just had to). Most women had their hair piled up on their heads (just like the Diao Chan in the portrait above) to add to their height and make them appear taller and more slender. Scholars in Ancient China even took to writing about what was considered true beauty. An example would be the excerpt below, which is a description of classic beauty from 57th poem in The Book of Odes.

"Her fingers were like the blades of the young white-grass;Her skin was like congealed ointment;Her neck was like the tree-grub;Her teeth were like melon seeds;Her forehead cicada-like ; her eyebrows like [the antenne of] the silkworm moth;What dimples, as she artfully smiled!How lovely her eyes, with the black and white so well defined!"

The Four Best Looking Men in Ancient China
The Four Best Looking Men in Ancient China

Like the Four Great Beauties, the men in Ancient China were not lacking in the looks department either. The picture above stars four of the best looking men in Ancient China (from left to right: Pan An, Song Yu, King Lanling and Wei Jie). These men were said to be so handsome that they constantly had swarms of girls encircling them, where Wei Jie fainted as a result. While little can be found about the beauty standards of men in Ancient China, it is worth noting that men were regarded more for their intelligence, nobility and morality instead of their looks.

Ancient Greece

Aphrodite
Aphrodite

Like the Aphrodite, women in Ancient Greece were considered beautiful if they were voluptuous and had wide hips and large breasts (FYI: Did you know that beauty was very often portrayed through Ancient Greek's art? It is through art from Ancient Greece where we get an idea about what beauty meant to them.). Other than that, women who had red or blondhair were also considered to be beautiful. Ancient Greek women valued their hair, where hair was provided more than aesthetic pleasure but was a way of showing which class you belonged to. Women from a higher class had long hair whereas slaves had short hair. Based on their tendency to apply lead onto their skins in a bid to whiten them, it can be seen that fair skin was also seen as standard of beauty in Ancient Greece. While little is said about the other features that an Ancient Greek women must have to be considered beautiful, Ancient Greek women did care about their appearance and self-presentation enough to go through tedious regimes and also apply makeup, where they would wear khol (eyeliner) around the eyes and lipstick. Eyebrows (though eyebrow would be more appropriate) were also not to be neglected and they were often connected (unibrow), filled in and darkened with a colored pigment.

Statue of Polykleitos’ Doryphoros (Girl, look at that body)
Statue of Polykleitos’ Doryphoros (Girl, look at that body)

Just like the picture above, men in Ancient Greece had to have similar physique to be considered good looking or beautiful. (FYI: The body of the statue above was considered as perfect and was the ideal male body type.) Well defined muscles and being physically fit were the standards of beauty for men (FYI: Men were known to train up to 8 hours a day. Whuuuttttt...). Since, like mentioned above, beauty was often portrayed in Ancient Greek art and being a ripped male basically meant that a man was beautiful, most of the Ancient Greek male sculptures featured physiques similar to the one above. (BTW, do they not just have the most carefully sculpted 8-pack and impeccable pecs?! Breathes heavily.) FYI: The Ancient Greeks were so known for their emphasis on physique that a defined body part in the modern day is named after Apollo. Click here.

After seeing the standards of beauty in Ancient China and Ancient Greece, it is safe to say that the Ancient Greeks placed a much larger emphasis on beauty than the Ancient Chinese. Plato even went so far to say this: "The three wishes of every man: to be healthy, to be rich by honest means, and to be beautiful." It is also evident that beauty was valued in both civilizations, where in cases like Ancient China, it was able to wield great power and in Ancient Greece, outwards beauty reflected inwards beauty. However, like our opening line, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, Ancient Greeks and Ancient Chinese had contrasting preferences with regards to beauty, where red lips, good eyebrows (with respect to each civilization's preference) and luscious locks seems to be the only things the two civilizations can agree on. If we were to look deeper, we could even go so far to say that this could perhaps reveal each civilizations' ethnocentrism towards themselves.

Comparing past beauty standards and the ones we have now, on the surface, we have changed by leaps and bounds. However, just like seasons that come and go, we are pretty sure that our preferences in the future would overlap with those in the past one day. (Like how armpit hair was recently a trend, maybe, one day, the uni-brow would make its return as well.) However, what was interesting was that, man's interest and obsession with beauty remains unchanged. Beauty was a thing back then and beauty is still a thing now (or perhaps even more). We would like to leave you with this food for thought and feel free to leave us a comment as to why is beauty so important to humans. We hoped you enjoyed this post as much as we enjoyed writing it.

P.S. The first video will help you visualize the transformation of women's beauty standards over the years.

https://youtu.be/Xrp0zJZu0a4

P.P.S To make up for the word vomit above, as our way of apologizing, here is a video of some “Kaloskagathos”, which is Ancient Greek for eye candy.

https://youtu.be/tneKwarw1Yk