The Science of Beauty - Anatomy of Beauty
The idea of beauty
Beauty is a vast and deep concept that involves the combination of intellectual, emotional, historical, and evolutionary aspects of the human experience. However, we can begin to delve into the concept of beauty by starting with its definition. The oxford dictionary defines beauty as ‘a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, and form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight’. While this statement sufficiently summarizes the tip of the iceberg, we will begin today’s article by separating the concept of beauty into two major categories: subjective beauty and objective beauty.
Subjective beauty represents an individual’s preference in physical appearance. It originates from a complex amalgam of one’s life experiences, media influence, relationship with the subject, relationship with other individuals, environmental surroundings, social circle, and many more. This will be the topic of discussion for another day.
Objective beauty represents a set of physical characteristics that the general public would agree as aesthetically pleasing. While this statement essentially contradicts the well known catchphrase ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder’, there is actually quite of a bit of societal evidence suggesting that this concept is true. So let’s jump right into it.
What characterizes objective beauty?
There are many fine details to the face that can contribute to its aesthetics. Herein, we will discuss several of the key components.
If you want this to be a bit more interactive, grab any beauty magazine and see if these concepts apply!
Symmetry, that the left is a mirror image of the right, is the simplest of these concepts. Yet, many have argued that not only is it directly correlated with beauty, it is also the single greatest determinant of beauty. The theories for symmetry’s importance in physical attractiveness have mostly been correlated to evolution and genetics. Essentially, those with symmetric faces are more likely to have healthy development, carry healthy genetics, and have good physical health. You probably noticed that the recurrent theme is health. While this may sound silly, if you think about it from an evolutionary perspective, physical attractiveness, among other factors, is essentially a form of self advertisement for finding mates (just look at peacocks) and mates with good health are generally more desirable. Hence, the fact that one of the most important determinants of beauty is a reflection of health actually makes a lot of sense.
Proportions and ratios
There are many theories for what defines the perfect ratio of the face with the Theory of Thirds and the Golden Ratio being the 2 most popular. The Theory of Thirds suggest that if the face is divided into 3 sections vertically, the perfect face is supposed to have the 2 lines of separation at the eyebrows and the bottom of the nose. Furthermore, the width of the eye should equal the distance between the eyes. The golden ratio uses Fibonacci ratio (Phi = 1.618...) to define the perfect organization of facial anatomy. While these theories have their respective bodies of supporting literature, neither is all encompassing. However, they do offer interesting food for thought.
Homogeneity of texture and color
While the reality is that the skin is almost always heterogeneous in texture, color, contour, and oiliness, homogeneous skin is generally considered to be more attractive. If you flip through a beauty magazine and look carefully at each model’s face, you will notice that the color is very similar across the entire face. Not only that, you will also find it very difficult to identify any textural imperfections, like moles, zits, scars, unwanted facial hair, etc. Yes, I know that the models probably don’t actually look that perfect in reality and that it’s partially just an effect of makeup and Photoshop, but you get the idea. The editing was done in that specific way to maximize the features of their objective beauty.
The ideal face has distinct features on a plain background and the concept of gradient contours refers to the latter (AKA your skin). Basically, you want the contours of the face to be smooth. Some would argue that on the ideal face, it should be difficult to tell exactly where one part ends and another starts. Another way of looking at it is that the ideal face should not have distinct lines that separate its components. However, there are natural lines that anyone will have when they make facial expressions, such as nasolabial folds, forehead wrinkles, temple wrinkles, and nasal bridge wrinkles. One theory for why distinct lines are not physically attractive suggests that it is because they are a sign of age. While age has been historically correlated with positive traits such as wisdom and authority, it is generally not correlated with fertility or health. Once again, health is a recurrent determinant of objective beauty.
If you think of the skin as a canvas, then the eyes, the brows, the nose, the lips, the hair, and the ears are the features that complete the painting. While homogeneity is emphasized for the skin, distinct, clear, and symmetrical facial components are generally more desirable.
It sounds counterintuitive, but there is good evidence that looking average is considered beautiful. This concept was accidentally pioneered in the 1800’s when Sir Francis Galton overlapped films of criminals and soldiers in an attempt to identify common facial features for these groups. However, what he found was that the composite photos were generally considered more attractive than their individual components. Since then, this experiment has been repeated numerous times, yielding the time-tested conclusion that having facial features similar to the population’s average is objectively beautiful.
How does objective beauty affect cosmetic practice?
The six principles listed above can be applied to almost all cosmetic practices, including makeup and cosmetic procedures. To illustrate this, we listed some of the most common cosmetic products and procedures and which of these principles they correlate to.
While we listed several key objective characteristics that contribute to beauty, to perceive beauty is a subjective experience. Afterall, the world is the model but the mind paints the picture. We hope you found this article helpful and please look forward to the next installment in our series The Science of Beauty!
That’s all for today folks! See you next time!