Definition of Beauty in Different Parts of the World
What is beauty? Is it entirely “in the eye of the beholder,” as the saying goes? Is it something we can measure, test, rate, and evaluate objectively? Can you solve it with math, science, or physics? Is it subjective, quantifiable, or even worth pursuing? Throughout history—and even today—each country, continent, or civilization has defined beauty in its own unique way. Open any copy of National Geographic and you will see beauty in all its various forms; facial and body modification, tattoos, piercings, and other depictions of unconventional (to us, anyway) beauty leap off the page.
How do we feel when we see bones piercing ears and necks elongated from a dozen brass rings that have been worn since birth? That is why it is said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” What is beautiful to some is shocking to others—and vice versa. As children, we know little of beauty. Our parents are beautiful, our siblings are beautiful, our own reflections are beautiful. It is only when we enter the so-called real world that the social structure can affect our own perceptions of beauty.
What is beautiful to some is shocking to others
According to a study published in the June 2001 issue of Archives of Dermatology, many factors go into our self-perception of beauty:
Ironically, most people seem unable to accurately judge their own attractiveness. Correlations between self-ratings and objective measures of individual attractiveness are remarkably low. . . . Only high self-ratings of physical attractiveness are generated among those with relatively greater self-esteem, emotional stability, and capacity for dominance.
Favorable ratings by others are more likely when the individual being rated has good social skills and is not self-conscious. Popular, sexually experienced people are rated as attractive by both themselves and others. Clearly, those who feel more beautiful tend to rate themselves as more attractive. Where does this positive self-perception come from—and how can the rest of us get it? Quite often, the societies we live in dictate what most of us perceive as perfection or beauty.
Those who feel more beautiful tend to rate themselves as more attractive
The handsome athlete, the supermodel, the square-jawed actor, and the blond actress are the images with which we in modern America are bombarded every day. After such constant bombardment, it is almost inevitable that we eventually come to see them as beautiful. Yet only rarely do we stop to realize that these celebrities are in the minority, not the majority, that they are the exception, not the norm.
Although we may sugarcoat such findings with laboratories and press releases, the research indicates that we are not as far removed from our Neanderthal ancestors as we like to think. Attractive features meant that a couple was more likely to reproduce; more reproduction meant more children; more children meant that a society was more likely to survive.
Attractive features meant that a woman was more likely to reproduce
Can beauty be that simple and that prehistoric? Even now, dressed in bangles and bows and buffed with Bowflex, can we still be responding to the primal urges that tell us that a more beautiful person is likely to be a more healthy person or a better mating, hunting, or life partner? Does our quest for beauty really come down to nothing more than wanting to be with someone who is more likely to succeed in surviving, hunting, and gathering than all the other Average Joes and Janes at the bus stop?
Scientific studies indicate that from its very beginning, the ideal of beauty has always been about fertility and the survival of the species. The specimens who were deemed most beautiful often found the most mates, leading to more offspring and the notion of “survival of the fittest.” This is no less true in humans than it is in animals, for whom various stripes or plumage signify a more attractive, and thus more highly desirable, mate.
The ideal of beauty has always been about fertility and the survival of the species
What “plumage” did the ancients prefer? How do different cultures view beauty? Research indicates that in every culture—regardless of race, religion, or geographic region—there is a preference by men for women with full lips, clean skin, lustrous hair, good muscle tone, a youthful gait, animated facial expressions, and a high energy level.
As for the qualities that women want in their mates, facial symmetry seems as important as body size. Although ancient women viewed large pectoral muscles and biceps as desirable weapons of war, it has also been discovered that in modern times, men with symmetrical faces have sex four years earlier than their asymmetrical counterparts and have two to three times as many partners during their sexual prime.
“What Is Beautiful Is Good”
The Greek poet Sappho once wrote, “What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful.” Since then, much has been written about beauty and, not surprisingly, Sappho’s quote has proven to be quite astute—at least the first part, “What is beautiful is good.” Indeed, from better grades to more room on the sidewalk, the people we consider to be more attractive receive preferential treatment in almost every area of life.
In an article in the July 1983 issue of the American Journal of Sociology, authors Murray Webster and James E. Driskell combine several previous studies to determine that “the most general conclusion from research is that the world must be a more pleasant and satisfying place for attractive people because they possess almost all types of social advantages that can be measured.”
The world is a more pleasant and satisfying place for attractive people
Which social advantages are they referring to, exactly? The authors catalog myriad such advantages, beginning as early as childhood: “Attractive schoolchildren are expected by their teachers to achieve higher school marks than unattractive children, and they usually do so; their misdemeanors are judged less serious and it is predicted that they will have more successful careers.”
Attractive children often grow up to become attractive adults, and the benefits continue to multiply: “Attractive adults are thought to have happier marriages than those who are unattractive, and that expectation seems to be fulfilled. Opinions of attractive adults are more likely to be agreed with; attractive adults are perceived as having better mental health. Attractive adults are even granted larger ‘personal space’ on the sidewalk than are the unattractive.”
Attractive adults are perceived as having better mental health
Supermodel Tyra Banks once wore a hidden camera while wearing a fat suit, and it was amazing at how differently she was treated compared to when the suit came off, but research reveals that what she experienced was not an isolated event. Studies prove that thin, attractive people really do earn more money and become more successful—in business and in love—than those who are heavier and considered unattractive. For example, a 2005 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reports that “good-looking, slim, tall people tend to make more money than their plain-Jane counterparts.”
Slim, tall people tend to make more money
Writing in the December 2002 issue of the Journal of Young Investigators, author Charles Feng from Stanford University states, “Psychological research suggests that people generally choose mates with a similar level of attractiveness. The evolutionary theory is that by mating with someone who has similar genes, one’s own genes are conserved. Moreover, a person’s demeanor and personality also influences how others perceive his or her beauty.”
Furthermore, an article by Murad Alam and Jeffrey Dover in the June 2001 issue of Archives of Dermatology boasts research to support the theory that
the best-looking women in high school are 10 times as likely to marry as the least attractive, and they are more likely to marry sooner and marry persons of greater wealth or social status. Sexual encounters are more numerous and varied for attractive people. Better treatment for the better looking extends to the workplace. West Point graduates with facial features more suggestive of dominance are more likely to achieve high rank. In the private sector, the goodlooking are more likely to be hired, given a higher salary, and promoted sooner.
Youth and Beauty
Some people say that youth is beauty. Research indicates that this truism may be more accurate than we ever imagined. Anthropologist Doug Jones studied the subject of youth—or neoteny, which means the “retention of some larval or immature characters in adulthood”—in five populations: Brazilians, Americans, Russians, the Aché Indians of Paraguay, and the Hiwi Indians of Venezuela. The study, which was published in the journal Current Anthropology, found “cross-cultural evidence that males… show an attraction to females with neotenous facial proportions (a combination of large eyes, small noses and full lips) even after female age is controlled for.”
Males show an attraction to females with neotenous facial proportions
Youth and beauty often go hand in hand. Our baby boomer patients almost always mention the words “more youthful” when describing their ideal appearance. Youth is truly fleeting, and there are qualities of youthful skin—its fleshiness, glow, tone, color, and tautness—that have an expiration date as we age. Alam and Dover, in their June 2001 article in Archives of Dermatology, seem to conclude that age is indeed a grave concern for those who seek to define or recapture their own sense of beauty:
Ratings of physical attractiveness decline with advancing age for both men and women, with the decrease more steep for women. Older women are regarded as less feminine. Those who appear aged beyond their years complain of being repeatedly told that they look tired or unwell. As Ambrose Phillips poignantly observed, “The flowers anew, returning seasons bring! But beauty faded has no second spring.”
Older women are regarded as less feminine
It is also true that we live in a youth-oriented society. Most movies are targeted to the young, magazines feature younger and younger models, and beauty products specifically target the youth market. In many instances, the word aging itself is considered less than appealing. Nevertheless, the definition of beauty remains elusive. “I believe being beautiful is a double-edged sword,” says Leslie G. Christin, the founder and creative force behind Cara Cosmetics International, “as I’m more critical of ‘beauty’ compared to someone in another field. Of course, I can make someone look beautiful—yet in TV and film you are not allowed to look bad, unless it is a character role.” She notes, “We define an actress on how old they look.”
You can achieve a more youthful beauty by using creams, lotions and eating healthy
The “beauty” of living in modern times means that through very simple procedures or readily available products, the glow and radiance of youth can be achieved—within reason. Simply by using various creams and lotions and following a daily home regimen, people can often achieve a more youthful beauty in a matter of weeks or months, without surgery or other costly procedures. What they gain in return is more confidence—and that in itself is beauty personified.