from the BBC Media Kit as a followup to Top 20 Hot Female Athletes: Barstool Sports « Snap Judgment
Survival of the Prettiest
What is beauty?
Does the ideal of beauty differ around the world and is it just a matter of taste?
Apparently not, as radical new thinking suggests that there is a single ideal of beauty governed by the reproductive urge. All around the world big eyes, smooth skin, plump lips and symmetrical features are viewed as beautiful as they imply fertility and health. Your appearance affects your life as beauty is proven to be the ticket to a better job, more money, popularity and better sex – known as the “Halo Effect”. Therefore, it is not surprising that people constantly endeavour to make themselves more beautiful – from make-up to extreme plastic surgery.
The episode opens with an extreme close up of a face, showing blocked pores, wrinkles and piles of dead skin. The camera pans back to reveal one of the most beautiful women of our age, Elizabeth Hurley.
Within twenty minutes of leaving the womb, babies are already sizing up and evaluating the adults around them and putting them on a scale of attractiveness. Babies faces also produce a quantifiable physical reaction. The high forehead, large eyes and smooth features draw people towards them and make people want to protect them, as they are extraordinarily vulnerable at this age. These are facts that both Disney and Volkswagen have capitalised on.
In puberty, children’s faces change shape and proportion. This signifies a major change for the bearer of the face and in the responses of others, whose feelings change from the protective to the sexual. The concept of child beauty pageants is genuinely freakish. It is a fundamental distortion of what we should be feeling. Studies show that children who hang onto baby faces into puberty tend to have their first sexual experiences later. There is also a more disturbing corollary – children with more adult faces are more likely to be abused than those with more baby faced proportions.
Our response to adult beauty usually involves feelings that are partly sexual which explains the power beauty has over us and why we are so fascinated by it. For millennia, we have been trying to explain this fascination by attempting to measure beauty – for example, Leonardo applied his mathematical precepts to the depiction of the human form and face. 500 years later, Max Factor, who founded the modern make-up industry, came up with a cage like object that was meant to be in the shape of perfect beauty.The customer tried it on her head, and where it didn’t fit, she needed one of his lotions.
There is a strong connection between facial beauty and perceived health.We like clear eyes and firm soft, smooth skin.The amount of money we spend on make up each year indicates how important that need for young skin is. Make-up was first used about 100,000 years ago for camouflage, and it was taken a step further by the Egyptians who invented eye liner and lipsticks. Moisturisers and tweezers were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Apart from youth, symmetry is also essential to beauty as psychologically we believe an asymmetrical face indicates poor health.
If you average many different faces using a computer, the result is beauty. If we add to these average faces a little bit of those characteristics that we find desirable in each sex, an even more beautiful face emerges. Women want safety and protection – strong jaw lines, heavy brow, big nose, and hair. Men want bimbos.
Ultimately if you continue down this path you end up with pornography – sexual feeling to the exclusion of all else. Hefner’s Playboy Playmates are presented as purely sexual objects – but how attractive are they really? Their identity is subsumed behind something that is a construct and this makes them ultimately unappealing, as they are artificial. Whereas women like Ingrid Bergman seem genuinely attractive as when you look at them you get a sense of the complete person which evokes more complex feelings of beauty.
When we actually meet people other things come into play, such as how they use their features, the expressions on their face, what their voice sound like and what they smell like. Ultimately this whole process is about our need to procreate, and it is the women who make the choice. Women look for kindness, intelligence and status as all these qualities show the ability of the man to nurture and provide a protective background for children.
Fashion also has a role in determining what is perceived as beauty and this can also extend to cosmetic surgery. The trouble with plastic surgery is that even when it is good it doesn’t look right as it robs the face of its character. Do people who are attractive get further? The answer is probably yes.This is known as “The Halo Effect”. Even being near attractive people can make us feel better. Also, beautiful people can learn to use their looks to advance themselves and to get their way. So they don’t develop the other aspects of their personality that others without this gift have to develop in order to get on. This realisation can terrify them and ageing can be both disempowering and frightening for beautiful people.
“The series is a fascinating examination of the human face from every angle – cultural, historical, biological, physiological and, of course, most important of all, psychological. Along the way it shatters many myths, such as our concept of beauty being cultural, and fleshes out others, such as the fact that we like people with large eyes and round faces because they look like children and our instinct is to protect them. ‘
We found that, until you get to ludicrous proportions, the bigger the ‘eyes’ the cuter the thing looks,’ says executive producer Nick Rossiter. And it’s not just humans; it also applies to Mickey Mouse, whose eyes have increased by 60 per cent over the course of the century, as well as things like cars – think of the Volkswagen Beetle. The programme’s second achievement is that it successfully combines every device you can think of – quiz show, spoof soap, mock lecture and standard science doc.” – Time Out
In the eye of the beholder? Or is there something more?
Adults often judge beautiful people to be more able, worthy of higher pay, of higher status, socially at ease, happier and of high morality. This is known as The Halo Effect.We also tend to stereotype physically unattractive people and think they are more likely to be criminals, less able and morally degenerate.We use stereotypes in inferring qualities to beautiful and ugly people which don’t really hold up – but we do this for quite deep biological reasons as deep down we believe there is a link between beauty and fertility.
Despite the fact that our conceptions of beauty change with fashion and to some extent cross-culturally, there is a remarkable level of agreement. Baby faces with symmetrical features are considered beautiful – contemporary models have features that computers recognise as belonging to 6-7 year olds.
“Mirror on the wall….”
But beauty is something more than an interesting sideline, for it is clear that people who are considered more attractive have many advantages in life. These rewards for beauty, while some are more obvious than others, are known intuitively to all of us.We therefore strive to become more beautiful ourselves. ‘Vanity’ got its start in a big way with the invention of the really good mirror, and we describe the story of this invention.We ask what can people tell about you by your looks.
This chapter looks at the myriad ways in which we decorate ourselves to enhance our appearance and to allay the affects ageing – including makeup, jewellery, haircuts, cosmetic dentistry, tattoos, body piercing, facelifts and other plastic surgery procedures, and ending with the story of current surgical research into face transplants.