Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

by Sunshine Chen ’23

In 1878, Sir Francis Galton tried to identify what the average criminal looked like by compiling and piecing together millions of mug shots. Surprisingly, the final photo curated using  composited photographs looked beautiful and not threatening at all. This social study aimed to target crimes turned out to be a science research into beauty. 

What exactly makes a person beautiful? First and foremost, Proportions. Celebrities like Kate Moss, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe are known by most as beauties because of the proportions of their body. Phi, the divine ratio of 1:1.618, is the basis of beauty. The proportions of the width of mouth to cheek, nose to cheek, nose to mouth, and eyes to chin should roughly be 1:1.618 for a face to be considered beautiful. This, in real life scenarios, would be the combination of big eyes, a full mouth and a small nose. These are all the characteristics of someone with a baby face, or indications for youth and health. 

Ever wonder why curvier women fascinate people? According to Dr. Victor Johnstone of the University of New Mexico, if the waist to hip ratio is 0.7, then women are generally considered attractive. This ratio is linked to womens’ estrogen and fertility level. Typically speaking, if women have higher amounts of estrogen, a sex hormone responsible for reproduction and fertility, then their waists tend to be much smaller than their hips and thighs. Due to humans’ innate desire to survive and reproduce, we have been wired to be attracted to curvier bodies.

Is normality good? Galton also found that average faces are more attractive since they invoke a sense of familiarity and safety. Additionally, Hanne C. Lie from the School of Psychology has shown that people with average faces have more genetic diversity that leads to a stronger immune system. So what exactly is an average face? The vertical distance from the eyes to the mouth has to be 36% of the face’s length and the horizontal distance between the eyes should be 46% of the face’s width. 

What about mixed races? Since “half-bloods” is evidence for a greater genetic diversity and adaptability, humans in general find inbred families less attractive than mixed-raced humans.

Developmental abnormalities are associated with asymmetrical faces.Wired in our brains are instincts to survive and reproduce the so-called healthy babies. Down syndrome, Lyme disease, and Bell’s palsy might result in facial asymmetry. This not only applies to humans but also for plants. For example, asymmetries in plants are usually a result of parasitic infections.Intrinsically, is beauty only related to a human’s survival instincts? This doesn’t seem to be the case as standards are fluid. In the middle ages, chubbiness was considered a sign of beauty and wealth. However, in modern times, social media and ads repeatedly reinforce the idea that skinniness is beauty. Even though scientifically there might be some basic underlying “formulas” for beauty, beauty is a subjective perception that differs from person to person and from time to time. It is, ultimately, in the eye of the beholder.