What is Beauty?

what is beauty?Personal beauty

The esteem and pursuit of personal beauty is as old as the human race. The first definite archeological records of makeup use come from Ancient Egyptian and Sumerian tombs dating as far back as around 3500 BC. These people used soot and other natural ingredients to paint their faces and bodies, and even manufactured special tools to apply their makeup. In South Africa, archaeological sites provide evidence that people may have used body paint more than 50,000 years ago, indicating that they painted their bodies before they even wore clothes. Even our nearest relatives, the Neanderthals, may have worn makeup and jewelry to enhance their personal beauty.

Why do we want to look good?

Most men and women would say that when they look good they feel good. Scientists tell us that human beings are ‘hard-wired’ to be attracted to good-looking people. Feeling attractive to others can boost our self-esteem.
Human beings are social animals and by our very nature, it is essential to us to feel accepted and loved; even admired. All in all, life generally seems better when you look your best.
Looking good may make you appear not only more desirable, but also cleverer and more virtuous. In many cases, humans attribute positive characteristics, such as intelligence and honesty, to physically attractive people without consciously realizing it. [1]
From research done in the United States and United Kingdom, it was found that the association between intelligence and physical attractiveness is stronger among men than among women. [2]

What makes a face attractive?

Beauty is said to be ‘in the eye of the beholder’.  But why exactly do we find certain faces attractive? Is it well-defined features, clear skin, wide eyes? Research has shown that we can identify the elements of ‘beauty’.
Why do we consider these elements to be beautiful? Because of human evolution. At a primal level, human beings are ‘programmed’ to seek a healthy mate. A healthy mate will possess good genes to pass on to their children, and the facial elements we perceive as beautiful or handsome can signify good genes.

Symmetry

To the human eye, the ideal beautiful female or handsome male face must be close to symmetrical.  In 2009, a research team from Osaka University tried to discover the most important factors for facial beauty. Their conclusion – a perfectly beautiful face required both symmetry and ‘averageness’. The theory is based on our instinctive desire for survival as a species. When choosing a partner to have children with, our natural (often unconscious) inclination is to choose a healthy person. A fit and healthy partner is more likely to have ‘good genes’ and will therefore be more likely to produce and raise healthy children. [3]
But does a symmetrical face really indicate a healthy body? This controversial theory actually has a wealth of evidence to back it up. Australian psychologist Gillian Rhodes co-authored a ground-breaking study that compared facial symmetry with medical records. She discovered that the most beautiful faces actually belonged to people with the best health. ‘This preference for symmetry,’ she wrote, ‘ may be biologically based.’ [4]
“Symmetry works because the idea is that if you have a history of poor developmental stability—for example, a major illness or a nutrition deficiency early on—then you tend to have asymmetrical features,” researcher Dr. Viren Swami explains. Thus, evolutionary psychologists believe humans have ‘evolved to find healthy facial features attractive, and symmetrical facial features are a good indication of health.’ [5]

Unremarkableness or averageness

Why do we feel attracted to ‘average’ or ‘unremarkable’ faces? The Osaka team found that on some basic and subconscious level, when we see an unusual face we are hard-wired to view the man or woman as ‘unhealthy’, and therefore less attractive. This inbuilt prejudice appears to be common to all human beings, regardless of culture, race or religion.

Smooth skin and even skin color

It’s not just symmetry and averageness that make faces attractive. A luminous, unblemished complexion is another factor. Smooth, evenly-colored skin in both sexes gives the impression of youth and good health. Conversely blotches, discolored patches, blemishes and lesions signal poor health or aging. This is why foundation and cover-up makeup play a big part in making women look more attractive.
‘Both skin topography (smoothness or bumpiness) and skin coloration affect the perception of facial age, health and attractiveness,’ says researcher B. Fink. ‘Skin topography seems to be a strong age cue while skin coloration is a stronger predictor of facial health perception.’
When we’re young and healthy, our skin is flawless. But as we get older, our skin tends to discolor and lose its smooth texture, whether from sun-damage, scars or other kinds of injury. It is no surprise that concealing such imperfections makes us look younger and healthier.
Consciously or not, we all use skin appearance to make judgments about a person’s health. In the study cited, researchers cropped photographs of cheek skin from 170 women and girls, aged 11 to 76. They asked 353 men and women to rate each cheek sample for attractiveness, health and youth. They also asked them to guess (based on nothing more than a cheek image) the age of the person in the photograph. [6]
Raters’ guesses about the ages of the subjects tended to be accurate. The older the subject of the photograph, the less likely they were to be rated healthy, attractive and youthful. Nonetheless, one factor defeated age: The skin samples with even tone and texture were rated as younger, healthier and more attractive. Smooth, even skin tone and texture are signs of good health and minimal sun damage. No wonder human beings find it attractive.
For the survival of the species human beings are ‘wired’ to see skin free from acne, pigmentation disorders or other dermatological issues as indicating healthy genes, and hence better chances of begetting healthy offspring.
The good news is, you have some control over this issue. Your diet and lifestyle play a more vital role in your skin’s appearance than even your genetic inheritance. If you want to have even skintone, wear sunscreen. Most uneven skin color is caused by sun damage. Daily application of sunblock (preferably a zinc oxide formula) is your best protection. A recipe for home-made sunscreen can be found in Beauty: The Ultimate Cosmetic Makeover Guide (Books 1 & 2). For an extra boost to your skin tone choose foods containing carotenoids, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, collard greens and tomatoes.

Other factors that influence our perception of beauty include

  • Certain colors in women’s faces
  • Certain colors in men’s faces
  • Contrast
  • Sexual dimorphism
  • Distribution of facial hair
  • Facial fat distribution

Learn more about these characteristics in Beauty: The Ultimate Cosmetic Makeover Guide (Books 1 & 2)

 References:

[1]     Dion K, Berscheid E, Walster E (December 1972). “What is beautiful is good”. J Pers Soc Psychol 24 (3): 285–90. doi:10.1037/h0033731. PMID 4655540.

[2]     Kanazawa Satoshi (2011). “Intelligence and physical attractiveness”. Intelligence 39 (1): 7–14. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2010.11.003

[3]    Effect of averageness and sexual dimorphism on the judgment of facial attractiveness. Masashi Komoria, Satoru Kawamurab, Shigekazu Ishiharac,  DOI: 10.1016/j.visres.2009.03.005

[4]      Facial symmetry and the perception of beauty. Gillian Rhodes and Fiona Proffitt, Jonathan M. Grady and Alex Sumich. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 1998, 5 (4), 659-669

[5]    Swami, V., and Furnham, A. (2008). The Psychology of physical attraction. London: Routledge.

[6]     Color homogeneity and visual perception of age, health, and attractiveness of female facial skin. P. J. Matts, B. Fink, K. Grammer and M. Burquest. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Vol. 57, pp.977-984, 2007

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