Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Art by one of my dude’s

The first time I heard this phrase was from my fifth grade teacher. I don’t know why I remember it.

She used to read out loud to us and each character had its own voice. It was the coolest thing.

One day a disagreement bubbled up about one of the stories she was reading us. I don’t remember what book it was or what caused the dispute. (The mind keeps what it wants.) But I remember her response.

She said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Do you know what that means?”

Wagging our heads in ignorance she explained that beauty can be determined by the individual. That we didn’t have to agree that the words in the story were beautiful. WOW! I didn’t even know I needed a new point of view. Who does at the age of 9 or 10?

It changed my world. Or better yet … it opened my world wide. It helped me know that art is the artist’s expression but beauty is the observer’s impression. I understand that beauty is as varied and unique as a sea of snowflakes just as we are all different.

Learning such a simple but powerful phrase allowed me to create my own definition of beauty. One that would no longer be limited by popular culture.

It was the start of me being able to decide what beauty looked like. Even I could be beautiful. A girl who didn’t look like “valued beauty”. A girl who didn’t look like Barbie. Even a girl like me could be beauty.


Fifth grade was the year I learned to not just accept everything as it was presented to me, but to challenge myself and my beliefs. It was the year I learned to not just enjoy our school outings to concerts, plays, and the ballet. I learned to search for the beauty and meaning in them. My beauty. What I valued.

Every year at Christmas we had a school field trip to see a production of the Nutcracker Ballet. To this day, The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, is my favorite. But the fifth grade found me wonder what makes it so beautiful to me?

I still don’t know the answer to the question. Maybe the beauty in it was the possibility in it. You see I wanted to be a dancer back than. And I would imagine myself dancing in the Nutcracker.

I hold the memories in my heart like snapshots in a photo album.

Grateful doesn’t describe what I feel for the teacher who shared these words with me. Now I work at helping my boys find what beauty is to them. In our house we have a saying, “Don’t yuck my yum.” It started out a way of teaching our kids to appreciate others food choices but it extends beyond that.

Maybe you have your own phrase as well … feel free to share in the comments.

I am reading the book, Matched, by Ally Condie. A dystopian story where a government structure defines appropriate beauty:  100 poems, 100 songs, 100 books, 100 paintings … All for the sake of control and keeping order.

Could you imagine living in a world where you couldn’t create new artist’s expressions? Or, a world in which you couldn’t share an observer’s impression unless it’s the “appropriate” impression?

There certainly wouldn’t be a blogosphere for you to hang out in. If you’d like, share your favorite poem, song, book, painting, play, etc. that you’d miss if it was no longer available to you …

This post is a round about way of reminding us to value the beauty you see in the world even if no one else values the same thing.


  1. I don’t have a saying that I live by that means to each his own…in fact, I generally tend to like what others like when it comes to beauty (not food – I will absolutely yuck your yum!). Always seems easiest, I suppose, to go with the traditional flow. I wanted to add that I am ever amazed at your ability to recall learning moments from your youth. I envy that!

    I would be devastated if my American Lit works were gone. Items include (in no particular order):

    The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    The Awakening by Kate Chopin
    Walden by Henry David Thoreau
    Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

  2. Loved all of this…from start to finish. : )

  3. Beautiful post! I love this part: It helped me know that art is the artist’s expression but beauty is the observer’s impression. I understand that beauty is as varied and unique as a sea of snowflakes just as we are all different. What a valuable lesson! There is so much I would miss if it was no longer available to me. When we were in Berlin, we saw the memorial to the book-burning in East Berlin and it made my heart hurt to think about all that wisdom destroyed. If you want to see beauty controlled – go to East Berlin! Thanks for making me think, as always!!

    • Thanks Jenni … It’s so hard to believe that people burned books. I couldn’t imagine deliberately doing it. Sadly we have some of that in our history. We’ve even put people to death for touching books because the written word leads to knowledge and of course knowledge is power. I envy you all the travel experiences. That is one area I need to broaden my exposure to. Thanks for reading!

  4. “Maybe you have your own phrase as well … feel free to share in the comments.”
    Well…I’m an unrepentant borrower – I have a gazillion phrases I’ve borrowed from family members and made them my own. One is from my sister, regarding differences in likes, “That’s why they make chocolate and vanilla!” I had to amend that, though, and say, “That’s why they make chocolate, vanilla, and STRAWBERRY!”

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