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How Does Beauty Intersect with Social Justice?

By Janeen Manuel, PhD and Nora F. Murphy Johnson, PhD

While most people think of “beauty” in a superficial way, it is actually a deeply important aspect of social justice. In fact, philosopher Elaine Scarry argues in her book On Beauty and Being Just, beauty has the power to "heal the wounds of injustice." At Inspire to Change, we recognize the role that beauty plays in our lives, and work to cultivate more of it in the world around us as we pursue our goal of creating a more just and equitable world.

As changemakers, we are all too aware of the ways in which our society has become disconnected and fragmented. We see the ways in which systems of oppression have created deep divides between different groups of people. We see how our natural world is being destroyed by the forces of greed and exploitation. And we see the ways in which our culture has become dominated by cynicism, despair, and hopelessness. In the face of these challenges, it is important to recognize the power of beauty.

Because at its core, beauty is about connection. When we encounter something beautiful, we are drawn to it, and we feel a sense of awe and wonder. Beauty inspires us, brings us together, and reminds us of our shared humanity. In a world that is increasingly fragmented and divided, beauty has the potential to serve as a unifying force that brings us back into relationship with one another and with the natural world.

This does not mean that we should prioritize beauty over other social justice concerns. Rather, it means that we should recognize the importance of beauty as a complement to our other efforts. As the artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez has said, "beauty is not a luxury, it is a strategy." By cultivating more beauty in our lives, we can inspire people to care about social justice issues in new and powerful ways.

There are many ways we can cultivate beauty. One way is through art and creativity. By supporting artists and creatives, we can create more opportunities for people to encounter beauty and to be inspired by it. We can also work to create more beautiful public spaces through things like community gardens, public art installations, and urban design that prioritizes human connection and well-being.

In addition, we can create more beauty in the world by celebrating diversity. By celebrating diversity and recognizing the beauty in all cultures, we are more likely to move towards a more just and equitable society. As writer and activist bell hooks has said, "When we can see the beauty in other cultures, we can begin to see the beauty in ourselves."

Finally, we can create more beauty in the world by practicing self-care. In our work, we have found that changemakers tend to focus so much on the needs of others that they neglect their own care. However, self-care is essential if we want to create a more just and beautiful world. Writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde puts it this way: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare." Taking care of ourselves allows us to bring more beauty into our own lives and into the lives of others.

Ultimately, the pursuit of beauty is a deeply important aspect of the social justice movement. By recognizing the power of beauty to inspire, to heal, and to bring us back into connection with one another, we can work to create a world that is more just, equitable, and livable for everyone.


Lorde, A. (2021). “Selfcare as political welfare.” Audre Lorde Now Series. Retrieved from

Rodriguez, F. (2017). “Beauty is a strategy.” TEDxOakland. Retrieved from

Scarry, E. (1999). On beauty and being just. Princeton University Press. (See also Elaine Scarry’s 10-minute talk on this topic at Harvard:

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