Beauty. You know it when you see it and everyone wants some. Beauty in our homes. Beauty on the landscape. Beauty on ourselves. Americans spend billions every year to get their share. Beauty is easy to spot, but it’s a difficult to put it into words. What’s your definition of real beauty?

That question –and the responses to it– became a documentary, Beauty in America, produced by Notre Dame of Maryland University students Tya Kelly and Lauren Mlynski and recently screened in their April 30 StuDocs Film Fest.

Spurred by the Dove commercials that feature real women, filmmakers posed the question of women of various ages and hues. Their responses were in some ways predictable. Some women expressed disdain at being portrayed in pop culture as “materialistic and shallow,” at being stereotyped as business women or housewives or even “hot chicks.” One affectionately recalled a time when women had “hips and legs and rear ends.”

So the prevailing definition was of persons feeling comfortable in their own skin, with their own lives and choices and having no need to conform to fleeting styles and trends.

My first definition of beauty was, “Beauty is as beauty does,” an axiom of a foster parent, the repetition of which made me think I must have been really homely. This theory was heavily supported by my uncle, who upon first sight, decided I should be called “George.” No explanation. A 7-year-old girl should be called George and “George” me he did until I was about 13 when he announced that I had become too pretty to be called George any longer.

Anyway, beauty is more than a passing concern that encompasses the outside as well as the inside. The AFRO asked the question, “What’s your definition of beauty?” and received interesting responses.

Well known artist Joyce J. Scott, daughter of the late Elizabeth Talbot Scott, famed quilt maker, said beauty is, “a place so vast a space ship could traverse only a dew drop of continence, a song so sweet , you taste it. Mom’s embrace at day’s end knowing you have spun the biggest spider web, trapping all the joys required for your dream’s consumption.”

“I believe beauty is a feeling and state of mind. A person or image can be beautiful if it uplifts people and makes them feel better than they did before their encounter with that person, “said Mona M. Rock, public relations manager for Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. “ I work every day to be beautiful, not just with my clothes or makeup, but with my energy.”

“It’s something internal that’s compelling. It has a magnetic appeal that draws in audiences unknowingly. It’s more than physical. It exudes in the artistry of poetry. The miraculous birth of a child and in all the creations of Earth,” Latondria Spence said. “Therefore I define beauty as God, God is pure beauty.”

Poets have strained for centuries to craft their own definition.
John Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
Emily Dickinson said, “The Definition of Beauty is…That Definition is none.”
Liv Tyler said, “There is no definition of beauty, but when you can see someone’s spirit coming through, something unexplainable, that’s beautiful to me.

“It is,” said a character in the movie [As Good as It Gets], “why cavemen chiseled on walls.”

Dru Hill sang of their hope to possess beauty.

The defining conversation is ongoing.