This question has been simmering in my head the past few days probably because I don't think I've ever seriously given it a thought. I knew it's different from person to person, as Emily Bronte wrote: "It is in the eye of the beholder". So I know that it is not what is there that matters, but how someone else perceives it to be and attaches desire to it.
More often than not, what is desired is what is hard to find or hard to be. Kind of like looking for the man/woman who has it all, which leads to more dead ends than any real deal breakers. It could be fair skin, a fit figure, flawless skin, long smooth tresses. Most of these are desired because they're not easy to have.
Fair skin darkens in the sun, many hours of work in the gym leads to a fit figure, flawless skin and smooth hair requires healthy eating habits and good maintenance. It is difficult to have for many, and for some it can be impossible to have.
What if I am born brown, I know I can never be fair. What if I'm born with big hips, that cannot be reduced? What if I had acne, because no matter what I did or what I used, my skin would break out? And what if I have thinning hair, because genetically I'm disadvantaged that way.
Then the cliche hit me to be true. Real beauty is the ability to perceive and desire what you have. It's the ability to have the power to become a change advocate. To not reduce oneself to a sum of body parts, but to showcase the strength that can be found in all these so called flaws. And recognizing what you have for what it is, knowing what can be altered and what is you. And desiring that truth.
The first man to say the earth was round and not flat, would've been ridiculed and laughed at. Had he not believed his thoughts, we may still be afraid of falling off the face of the world by swimming too far. That was him then, this is you now.
For more thoughts on the topic: Yahoo! Real Beauty Page