'Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder': Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on November 28, 2023

Have you ever heard someone say, 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder'? If you have, you might have wondered what it means. If that's the case, then you're in the right place. In this article, we'll learn the meaning of this popular idiom, its origins, and how to use it in a sentence.

If you just want to know what it means, though, here's the quick version:

  • When someone says, 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,' they mean that beauty is subjective and everyone has different opinions. What might be beautiful to one might not be for another.

What Does 'Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder' Mean?

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" means that the perception of beauty is subjective and varies from one person to another. What one person finds beautiful or attractive, another person may not.

It's a perfect example of how idioms can't be interpreted literally. Don't worry; there isn't actually something in your eye. What is meant here is that we all see things differently.

It highlights the idea that there is no universal standard for beauty, and what is considered beautiful can be highly individual and influenced by personal preferences, cultural background, and personal experiences. This idiom is often used to emphasize that people have different tastes and opinions when it comes to aesthetics and that there is no single definition of beauty that applies to everyone.

Imagine, for example, that you're at the museum with a friend, and they mention that a particular painting is very appealing, but it's not to your taste.

You might say:

I really don't know what you see in this painting; I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. 

It might be helpful for you to know what 'beholder' means if you don't already.

The dictionary defines it this way:

The beholder of something is the person who is looking at it.

It's quite an old-fashioned word and isn't used much nowadays.

Because it contains a verb ('is'), you might sometimes see it in alternative forms, although that's quite rare. But you could see it in the past indefinite form if the sentence is past tense.

For example:

Even then she knew that beauty was in the eye of the beholder. 

Where Does 'Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder' Come From?

The phrase 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder' is often attributed to the 19th-century author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, who wrote under the pseudonym "The Duchess" in her 1878 work Molly Bawn. And while she might have been the first to use the phrase in this form, the same idea had been expressed in different forms since much earlier.

One of the earliest examples was in playwright John Lyly's 1580 play Euphues and his England, where he said:

...as neere is Fancie to Beautie, as the pricke to the Rose, as the stalke to the rynde, as the earth to the roote.

As you can see, it's not exactly the same sentence, but it has the same meaning. A more obvious example is Shakespeare's 1588 Love's Labours Lost:

Good Lord Boyet, my beauty, though but mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,
Not utter'd by base sale of chapmen's tongues

You might find sources that attribute the origin of this idiom to Ancient Greece around the 3rd century BC and notably to Plato. However, many disagree with this finding because Plato actually contested the subjective idea of beauty. If you're interested in philosophy, you might enjoy researching this. His ideas were interesting, to say the least.

Examples in Sentences

Now that we've covered the meaning of this idiom and its origins, here are some example sentences that use it.

Some people may not find abstract art appealing, but remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The old, weathered barn had a rustic charm that I found beautiful, but others thought it was an eyesore. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.

The fashion industry often promotes unrealistic beauty standards, but it's essential to remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

While some may prefer the modern architecture of the city, I think the historic district's buildings have a unique charm. It just goes to show that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

She may not fit conventional standards of beauty, but her confidence and personality make her truly attractive. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

Tastes in music vary widely, and what one person considers beautiful melodies, another might find cacophonous. It's a perfect example of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

When it comes to pets, one person might find dogs adorable while another person thinks cats are the cutest. Beauty, even in pets, is in the eye of the beholder.

He saw the beauty in the overgrown garden and spent months restoring it to its former glory. It's a reminder that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

In the world of food, some people relish spicy dishes, while others prefer milder flavors. It's a clear illustration that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, even in cuisine.

Literature and art often divide critics and audiences; what one person considers a masterpiece, another might find uninspiring. It just goes to show that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. 

Other Ways to Say 'Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder'

There are plenty of other ways to say that beauty is objective. They're great to use if you're looking for alternative phrases.

  • One person's trash is another person's treasure.
  • Different strokes for different folks.
  • What's beautiful to you may not be beautiful to me.
  • Beauty is a matter of personal taste.
  • There's no accounting for taste.
  • Each to their own when it comes to beauty.
  • In matters of beauty, opinions vary.
  • Beauty is a matter of individual interpretation.
  • It's all about personal preference.

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article about this popular idiom. To summarize, when someone says, 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,' they mean that the idea of beauty is subjective, and not all people have the same opinions about it.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!  

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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