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I found some science.

December 18, 2009

One of these comes out every couple of years–this time, the University of Toronto is the winner! They’ve measured beauty. Researchers have calculated the “ideal” (White) female face. Apparently, it’s Shania Twain. Frankly, I’m more of an Angelina girl myself, but according to the article, she is not up to snuff.

Apparently, the key to beauty is all in the numbers: the spatial arrangement among the facial features. Researchers used photoshop to alter these dimensions on the same photograph and then had subjects rate their attractiveness. Want to be beautiful?

On length, the distance between a woman’s eyes and mouth should be just over a third or 36%, of the overall length of her face, from hairline to chin.

For width, they calculated that the space between a woman’s pupils should be just under half, or 46%, of the width of her face from ear to ear.

The researchers helpfully note that these measurements can, in fact, be found in nature, which I guess is a step up from photoshopped Ralph Lauren ads. Also, they remind us not to resort to extreme measures like plastic surgery to achieve this Scientifically Proven! perfection.

Because I’m writing my MA thesis proposal at the moment, I’m compelled to ask, So what? What broader question does this answer? What does this help us to understand about ourselves, our bodies, our world? Even if we can discover that women with the perfect eye placement have increased fertility or something–better eggs?–what do we do with that? People with unusual noses and beady eyes manage to form loving relationships based on mutual attraction all the time, and probably procreate plenty. (Though I don’t have any Science! to show you on that one.)

As do men and women of color, neither of which were considered (that is, “measured”) in this study. Obviously, the ideal of beauty is a woman, and even more obviously, she is White. While the authors admit that there is likely a great deal of variation across cultures on what constitutes beauty, they seem to ignore the considerable variance in our own culture. That raises an even bigger So What for me. This study shows us the “most attractive” White woman to most of the subjects in a small sample. So what?

As an anthropologist (um, sort of), I can see a valuable social question lurking around in there. After all, what you like says a lot about you. If in American culture, we found that the most attractive female body is White and thin, we might conclude that that general preference reflects a culture in which racism is pervasive and control over women’s bodies is desirable. (And in fact, I’m pretty sure a few people have concluded just that.) But why the numbers?

The kind of research we like says a lot about us, too. Beauty is quantifiable and objective; perfection is measurable. There is a “best.” Which is a profoundly comforting thought in a culture full of people desperately trying to remake themselves into more perfect beings. What would we do without a guidepost?

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 21, 2009 11:34 PM

    I guess that would explain why Shania Twain looks so bland.

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