Posted by: Daisy | January 7, 2009

Mathematical Beauty

What makes people beautiful are very much subjective on the whole and based on the individual’s tastes.  However, it is also true that if you ask hundreds of people from all walks of life to rank faces, you’ll find that what we find beautiful is surprisingly similar.

Unfortunately, I’m too lazy to dredge up the research to get the details perfect, however, much of this is what I remember from one of the psychology courses I took over a decade ago, so some details may be sketchy at best.

Studies were done to try to determine the standards for beauty.  I’m sure some postulated that what is considered beautiful changes depending on ethnicity, geography, time, etc.  For instance, North Americans seem to find thinner more beautiful now than they did decades ago.  Multiple studies across continents have surprisingly shown that beauty can be quite universal.  When people are shown pictures of real faces, or even drawn faces, the one absolute that determines beauty is symmetry.  And that makes sense.  Symmetry is about biology.  Someone with a very symmetrical face is likely to have ‘good genetics’ and unlikely to have gone through diseases during their growing stages that would have affected one side over the other.  Ultimately, we are attracted to healthy faces.

Then there are things like proportions.  And here’s where my memory takes a real downturn.  Some, like Dr. Marquardt have gone so far as to determine a beauty ‘mask’ that lays out proportions including distance from pupils of eyes to end of teeth is equivalent to… well, you get the idea.  Some say it’s Phi (1.618) and the idea is pretty interesting – of being able to determine how beautiful you are based on your proportions.. because sometimes, beauty can be just about the math.

Let’s go back to the idea about what people in all walks of life consider beautiful.  One of the many studies got people to rate photos of faces.  What is interesting is that they began manipulating the photos.  The scientists began to morph the photos in fact, as they took photos of two individuals and began showing composite photos and asking for a rating.  Then, of course, the most interesting is that photo’s with the most morphing (the averaging of the most number of individuals) were deemed the most beautiful on a scale.  They were consistently rated the most beautiful though they were not any one individual.  It’s as though the ‘averaging’ of those photos took out all the caricatures – photos left with no blemishes, average proportions, average everything – they were the most beautiful.

Beauty was about taking the best of everyone, and in this exercise, probably went back to the first rule, which was about symmetry and familiarity.  Here’s another strange study – these guys decided to take the photos of their respondents and actually morphed their photo.  So, for instance, if I were a respondent – they would have taken my photo, then digitally morphed that photo to make it a male version of me.  They’d gave the male me qualities like a stronger jawline, thinner lips, thicker, lower eyebrows.  When Respondents came in to rate photos, they tended to rate their male or female version (depending on their own sex) significantly higher than chance.  Respondents were attracted to symmetry and familiarity.

But again, I say BAH.  What a crock.  Because I’d like to think I’m attracted to uniqueness, because afterall, beauty is oh so subjective.  Besides, underneath it all, physical beauty is only skin deep and I find inner beauty so much more attractive.

– Daisy, who will likely write at least a few more posts on beauty cuz she’s not quite done yet…


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