“You have beautiful eyes” – Examining notions of shallow vs. non-shallow admiration for physical beauty

In today’s culture, there are body parts which are acceptable to admire, and there are body parts which are more taboo.  You would never, for example, have a main character in a young children’s cartoon admire another characters breasts or butt, but it is plenty common for them to admire eyes or the face.  In the same way, classic chivalric love will tend to focus on the face or general form over features which are generally considered more sexually charged (at least it today’s modern cultural context).

There is, I think, a generally inclination to consider the admiration of eyes or face as more mature or respectable, while the admiration of features further south is generally considered more shallow.  It seems to me, however, that this dichotomy is a false one.  I’m not sure how features of the body can be meaningfully divided into shallow vs. non shallow because any bodily admiration seems like it is the same act.  There is, perhaps, different levels of will required to not focus on particular features.  In this sense, maybe, some sort of division can be made.  However, if this is the feature being lauded, then in a sense what is being encouraged is a kind of deception – those who are admirable are those who can disguise their true interests by admiring different features. That being said, there is evidence that suggests that a beautiful face is of significant importance for general impressions of beauty – when watching porn men spend a considerable amount of time admiring faces (Where Men and Women Look).  Where women look is somewhat contingent on whether they are on contraceptives; when on contraceptives they focus more on genitalia, when not they focus more on features of the environment.  The differences are kind of irrelevant to me when talking about shallowness.

The core notion of shallowness, to me, seems to be that admiring the body is less then the mind.  I’m inclined to concede this general point, appearance I think is the lesser aspect of a person’s identity.  I do not think, however, that there can truly be more or less shallow physical admiration.  I also think that physical admiration is an essential part of romance – sexual admiration is pretty much built into the definition of romantic love.  It seems to me that physical admiration becomes shallow when it is the primary focus.  This in itself is not inherently bad in any sense I can tell – people can, I think, enjoy mainly physical relationships.  It does mean, however, that the other person is fairly exchangeable (to the extent that attractive bodies are more interchangeable then identities).

Let me know what you think,


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9 thoughts on ““You have beautiful eyes” – Examining notions of shallow vs. non-shallow admiration for physical beauty

  1. There’s that old saying that “the eyes are the windows to the soul”, so I tend to think that complimenting one’s eyes is an attempt to compliment someone’s character. A lot of times a person will remark on the brightness of another’s eyes, which is getting at the attractive aspects of their charisma and enthusiasm for life. So I do think it is less shallow to compliment someone’s eyes.

    • The eyes are probably the most expressive part of our body, and an essential part of communication. I think they are called ‘windows to the soul’ for good reason. However, to the extent that you are actually admiring someone’s eyes when you compliment their eyes, I’d say it is not more or less shallow then other compliments. To the extent that it is about their charisma and enthusiasm, it doesn’t seem to me that you are actually commenting on their eyes. Then again, I think I’ve somewhat simplified the mind/body relationship – they interpenetrate each other I think to a large degree.

      • Fair enough; I suppose we can distinguish between compliments of a person’s eyes where we are complimenting their character, and when we are quite truly complimenting their eyes, i.e. “you have pretty eyes [because they are an enchanting green”]. But the latter does seem less shallow to me than complimenting a person’s butt or breasts. The curves of a voluptuous woman are naturally attracting for men, but the beautifulness of a woman’s eyes, though perfectly perceivable, are not so naturally attracting for men. It takes maturity and sophistication to be literally attracted to a person by their eyes, while it takes nothing of the sort to be attracted to a woman for her body. There is much more personal depth to a person who can appreciate such things; such a compliment coming from this perspective is less shallow than one coming from a perspective of only appreciating features easy to lust after.

      • I’m not sure I buy that. For example, we can easily imagine someone who is just naturally more attracted to eyes – we wouldn’t call this natural attraction less shallow. Also, as I noted before, men generally like to look at faces while watching porn. I don’t want to demonize sexual attraction in any way, note, I’m just not sure if it makes sense that one kind of attraction is somehow more laudable. To put it another way, even if we concede your point that eyes are harder to lust after, I’m not sure what kind of depth a person gains by succeeding in appreciating the eyes (Also, this is a weird conversation heh).

  2. Lol yeah it is.

    My point was not that by learning to appreciate the attractiveness of someones eyes that that person becomes less shallow; my point was that a person who values many things and thus, has a greater appreciation for higher pleasures (in the sense noted by John Stuart Mill) is less shallow than a person who does not appreciate higher pleasures, and is more likely to appreciate the eyes, such that the shallowness of a compliment is determined by the maturity of the speaker — this is done to get around the problem that a person can compliment a person’s eyes when really complimenting their character, so this theory is meant to address the different senses that the same proposition can have by locating shallowness in mature sophistication. Likewise, the fetishist (the person with the natural sexual attraction to eyes) that you first note does not appreciate the eyes due to mature sophistication of appreciation of the myriad desirable things in life, so my view can account for why we think that person is no less shallow than the man who is beckoned by the female form.

    • So, to make sure I understand you correctly…
      Some things are higher pleasures. The definition of higher pleasure is that which is harder to appreciate then other pleasures (these other pleasures, those easy to enjoy, are therefore lower or shallow pleasures).
      The eyes, generally being a pleasure that is harder to appreciate, are a higher pleasure (though higher and lower pleasures are ultimately determined by the subject).
      Does that about sum your proposal up?

      • With Mill I think higher pleasures and lower pleasures are not subjective in the sense that they are determined by the ease of enjoyment by the subjects. Lower pleasures are carnal, bodily, and animalistic fleeting pleasures, while higher pleasures are intellectual and enduring. With these criteria we can set aside lower from higher pleasures in an objective fashion; sex and eating food are lower pleasures, while reading a book or having a discussion on capital punishment with friends are higher pleasures. If appreciating the attractiveness of a person’s eye is not a higher pleasure, then it is at least something to be enjoyed by a person who does have a greater appreciation for higher pleasures than a shallow person — this is the idea of maturity that I was speaking of.

      • I think a large part of my hesitation is the question whether higher pleasures are more ‘admirable’ in some sense. Higher is a term with normative weight, but I’m not sure if I think the person who admires the eyes is a better person. Or, to put it another way, I don’t think that one person who engages in both activities is somehow being a better person in one scenario over the other. Would you say that higher pleasures are normative pleasures?

      • Interesting question. Mill didn’t think that lower pleasures were bad or immoral, but he did think that higher pleasures make life more valuable than lower pleasures, such that lower pleasures counted for less in his utilitarian theory. So, I think there are effects as to the value of actions, but I’m not sure if there are effects as to the moral character of a person.

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