BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER!
JOHN J. JANC
MINNESOTA STATE UNIVERSITY, MANKATO
A. In order to help our students understand cultural differences and develop awareness and
sensitivity in this area, we need to create activities that allow them to do so.
B. The topic of beauty and its relative nature is a very challenging subject that must be dealt
with most carefully. People, young and old, are very sensitive about their appearance. In
order not to make students feel uneasy, I have chosen to illustrate the topic by using
animals, people whom they do not know and pictures of individuals from the past.
C. This project can be done at all levels. Teachers must create activities and conduct their
classes according to the students’ linguistic abilities.
1. Students who have limited language ability can give one-word answers and lists
2. Students at the ACTFL intermediate level are expected to give full sentence answers.
3. Students who are beyond the intermediate level should provide answers that
demonstrate characteristics of the ACTFL advanced speaker.
1. Prepare a list of vocabulary that describes the physical appearance of an individual.
It will be made up of body parts, appropriate adjectives to describe them
and descriptive adjectives of a general nature: “cute,”
“pretty”“lovely,” “handsome,” “ugly,” “disgusting,” “awful,” etc.
a. Incorporate idiomatic expressions and proverbs that are commonly heard in the
countries where the target language is spoken.
b. The list will need references to breasts, hips and buttocks. The adjectives chosen
should be limited to “big,” “average” and “small.”
2. Students will have to be given explanations of the vocabulary and expressions.
3. Students will need to do written and oral exercises that help them master the
1. Students will need to know the comparative if they are at the appropriate linguistic
level. If they are not, this part would be eliminated.
2. Students will need to do written and oral exercises that prepare them to compare
A. With the students, create a simple definition of physical beauty.
1. Put them into groups and ask them to make four lists. They are to indicate what they
admire and dislike physically in men and women.
2. Ask them to put the results on the board.
3. Based upon their comments, ask them to come up with categories that can be used in a
general definition of beauty: size, form, color and shape.
4. The definition might read as follows: “Beauty consists of the sizes, forms, shapes and
colors that we most the students, study the relative nature of beauty.
1. Show them pictures of different animals, both male and female. Choose both “cute”
and not so attractive animals.
2. Ask them to react to the pictures, using appropriate adjectives: “cute,” “pretty”
“lovely,” “ugly,” “disgusting,” “awful,” etc.
3. Ask them:
a. if they, the students, are not imposing their point of view on the animal world;
b. if the animals see their male/female counterparts in the same fashion as humans do.
c. This should lead to the conclusion that beauty is relative, that “Beauty is in the eye
of the beholder.”
PREPARATORY HOMEWORK ACTIVITIES
A. As homework, ask students to:
1. make a list of two attractive and two unattractive people (singers, movie stars,
2. come up with three or four physical traits per person that explain why they feel the
way they do;
3. compare the people whom they have chosen, using the vocabulary and grammar that
they have learned, They will have two pairs, each one consisting of one attractive and
one unattractive individual.
B. Explain exactly what you want by giving them an example.
C. Make sure that you have adjusted the assignment to the students’ linguistic level.
There are three main activities.
A. The students must come up with conclusions as to what Americans think male and
female beauty and unattractiveness are.
The homework assignment is designed to help students come up with conclusions as
male and female beauty and unattractiveness are.
1. Students can read their findings aloud and the class, as a whole, can draw
conclusions. A student recorder would write them on the board
2. Students can work in groups and draw conclusions which are then reported to the
class. At the class level, the students synthesize their findings and come up with
conclusions that a student recorder would write on the board
B. The students must be helped to understand that beauty was not perceived in the same
fashion in other periods of time and in other cultures.
In order to illustrate the relative nature of beauty, the teacher may now:
1. show paintings by different artists which depict how beauty was perceived at different
times in history.
2. show pictures of Miss Americas, Miss Universes and Mr. Universes across the years.
3. show pictures of different hair styles popular in the twentieth century.
4. produce a list of practices associated with different cultures that illustrate what they
perceive beauty to be. Pictures can also be used here: Africa: neck rings, lip plates,
etc.; China: binding of women’s feet; members of tribes in South America and
Africa with bones in their noses or ears.
5. show pictures of people who were admired when they were young and beautiful or
handsome and who are/were admired when their physical appearance changed:
Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Kathryn Hepburn and other singers,
actors and athletes.
C. The students must arrive at overall conclusions.
1. Beauty is, in fact, relative. The perception of beauty changes according to the period
and the people.
2. We need to be tolerant of others who do not perceive beauty in the same manner.
3. We need to be sensitive to other people’s feelings.
4. Beauty is only skin deep. Interior beauty counts as much or more.
FOLLOW-UP DISCUSSION: GOING BEYOND THE TOPIC
Who decides what beauty is? How do members of society know what the norms for beauty are? How are they enforced or reinforced? Do groups exist that reject the norms? What happens to individuals who do not correspond to the norms? What can we do to change the norms?
Created as webpage: 29 October, 2003 URL: http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/mlwolsey/mnaatf/janc5.htm