There may be less science to justify lookism than suggested by many studies in the past. Here’s the truth about common beauty myths according to the Wall Street Journal.
Apparently science produces lots of research about beauty, from ideal waist-to-hip ratio to symmetry in faces, but the conclusions are seldom as simple as they seem
The author of the just-published Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives,” Autumn Whitefield-Madrano wrote this piece for the WSJ in mid-June:
“If you were to create the world’s most gorgeous woman based on the beauty research published each year, she would have quite a checklist to meet.
Odd factors buttress lookism?
For starters, her father should be young: A 2014 study in Evolution and Human Behavior showed that people with older fathers were rated as less attractive. She should have a reddish complexion, according to a February paper in Perception. As for her profile, research published in 2012 in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that her nose should be at an angle to her upper lip of between 95.5 and 100.1 degrees.
People may say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but we all recognize the same conventionally gorgeous people when we see them. We crave hard proof of attractiveness, and scientists devote plenty of energy to discovering it. But the conclusions of all this research are seldom as simple as they seem.
Take the waist-to-hip ratio, one of the best-known findings on female beauty, which proposes that men universally prefer a waist that is in a 0.70 ratio to the circumference of a woman’s hips (say, a 28-inch waist paired with 40-inch hips). The pioneering study on waist-hip ratio, a 1993 survey of the measurements of Playboy centerfolds and Miss America contestants published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that the overwhelming majority of the women’s ratios fell within 0.02 points of 0.70. The supposed evolutionary explanation is that these proportions suggest fertility.
One problem was that the study omitted nearly a third of all centerfolds (the researchers left out the measurements they couldn’t find); once Playboy made all of the measurements available online, subsequent studies found different results. And the measurements had been rounded to the nearest half-inch—insignificant when buying jeans but quite significant when calculating precise ratios. In a paper last year in the Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, researchers used the newly available measurements to analyze the figures of 725 centerfolds from 1953 to 2014 (tough work) and found that over time, the women’s bodies grew taller and thinner, with less of an hourglass shape.
There’s a similar story for facial symmetry, a trait so linked to beauty that more than one woman I know has heard “Your face is so symmetrical!” as a pickup line. The idea goes back to Aristotle, who claimed that “the chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness,” and appeared to be supported by a 1990 study in the journal Psychological Science, which had people rank unnaturally symmetrical, computer-generated composite faces as well as the individual faces used in the composites. The computer-generated faces won.
The researchers never claimed that symmetry was responsible (in fact, they later disputed the notion), but the study has been widely misconstrued. Further research hasn’t found a link between beauty and symmetry: A study in the European Journal of Orthodontics last year of orthodontic patients—whose pre-intervention photographs were measured to the millimeter—found no correlation between perceived beauty and asymmetry. Research in the American Journal of Human Biology reached the same conclusion a year earlier, after participants evaluated photographs of 100 people chosen for various asymmetries in their facial features.
Lookism and long hair.
Another myth involves long hair. Most of the research shows that it makes a woman seem more attractive. A 2004 study in the journal Human Nature found, however, that long hair makes people see conventionally unattractive women as somewhat prettier, but the effect is diminished for women already deemed beautiful. A 2007 report in the Review of Psychology found that women with long hair were seen as being more intelligent and determined, but women with short hair were seen as more honest and emotional—hardly evidence for the straightforward men-love-long-hair narrative.
We usually turn to research to expand our understanding of the world. But in matters of beauty, we are seldom looking to discover anything new; we are looking to justify what we already believe. Our faith still ultimately lies in our own judgment—our own eyes, as beholders. We just want the eye’s conclusions to be ratified by science before we fully trust them.”
Some of the comments generated by this article are quite amusing as you can see below. Why don’t you comment as well?
After careful and frequent study, I have decided that giant, obese women covered in tattoos and piercings wearing tight clothing, excessive makeup and with artificially straightened hair sucking cigarettes outside WalMart are not my type.
Beyond that, I like all kinds of kinds.
I do statistics for a living. It is generally a useless tool for calculating beauty…haha
Interestingly, if you use one of those photo morphing tools, you can morph 20 really ugly women together and the composite will be quite beautiful.
Too complicated, I’ll stick with Playboy