I've noticed that whenever I talk to men (no gender-based offense, please, you know I love you) about beauty, they start digressing on a tangent about how attractiveness is totally subjective and contextual, etc. And yes, duh, for you, it is. Personal, one-on-one attraction is subjective. And (I guess?) it's easy for men to think that's all there is to "beauty." But: news flash: that's not how it is for women. The whole thing about the "male gaze" is that women are forced to see themselves in the third person all the time. And the question of "beauty" or "attractiveness" is always bifold: There's objective attractiveness and subjective attractiveness. It seems that most men think of beauty or attractiveness as being firstly and primarily subjective, and the judgment is in their court, as in, "I get to decide who is attractive, to me; I define the terms." But women, I think, see attractiveness as objective first, and subjective second, because they're always made to hold themselves against cultural standards of beauty -- which, it would seem, have very little if anything to do with what most people find subjectively attractive. Hence that cognitive dissonance -- i.e., I know men find me attractive, but I also know I don't look like the cultural models of beauty.
Now I'm going to drop a bunch of John Berger quotes on you. These are all from Chapter 3 of Ways of Seeing:
A woman must continually watch herself.
Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping.
And so she comes to consider the surveyor and surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman.
She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life.
One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.
The mirror was often used as a symbol of the vanity of women. The moralizing, however, was mostly hypocritical.
You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.
The real function of the mirror was otherwise. It was to make the woman connive in treating herself as, first and foremost, a sight.
Women are depicted in a quite different way from men -- not because the feminine is different from the masculine -- but because the "ideal" spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him.