The characterization of a person as “beautiful”, whether on an individual basis or by community consensus, is often based on some combination of Inner Beauty, which includes psychological factors such as personality, intelligence, grace, politeness, charisma, integrity, congruence and elegance, and Outer Beauty, (i.e. physical attractiveness) which includes physical factors, such as health, youthfulness, facial symmetry, averageness, and complexion.
Standards of beauty are always evolving, based on what a culture considers valuable. Historical paintings show a wide range of different standards for beauty. However, humans who are relatively young, with smooth skin, well-proportioned bodies, and regular features, have traditionally been considered to be the most beautiful throughout history.
A strong indicator of physical beauty is “averageness“, or “koinophilia“. When images of human faces are averaged together to form a composite image, they become progressively closer to the “ideal” image and are perceived as more attractive. This was first noticed in 1883, when Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, overlaid photographic composite images of the faces of vegetarians and criminals to see if there was a typical facial appearance for each. When doing this, he noticed that the composite images were more attractive compared to any of the individual images.
Researchers have replicated the result under more controlled conditions and found that the computer generated, mathematical average of a series of faces is rated more favorably than individual faces. Evolutionarily it makes logical sense that sexual creatures should be attracted to mates who possess predominantly common or average features.
A feature of beautiful women that has been explored by researchers is a waist-to-hip ratio of approximately 0.70. Physiologists have shown that women with hourglass figures are more fertile than other women due to higher levels of certain female hormones, a fact that may subconsciously condition males choosing mates.
People are influenced by the images they see in the media to determine what is or is not beautiful. Feminists and doctors have suggested that the ultra-skinny models featured in magazines promote eating disorders, and others have argued that the predominance of white women featured in movies and advertising leads to a Eurocentric concept of beauty, feelings of inferiority in women of color, and internalized racism.
The black is beautiful cultural movement sought to dispel this notion. Conversely, beauty ideals may also promote racial unity. Mixed race children are often perceived to be more attractive than their parents because their genetic diversity protects them from the inherited errors of their individual parents.
The concept of beauty in men is known as ‘bishōnen‘ in Japan. Bishōnen refers to males with distinctly feminine features, physical characteristics establishing the standard of beauty in Japan and typically exhibited in their pop culture idols.
Effects on Society.
Beauty presents a standard of comparison, and it can cause resentment and dissatisfaction when not achieved. People who do not fit the “beauty ideal” may be ostracized within their communities. The television sitcom Ugly Betty portrays the life of a girl faced with hardships due to society’s unwelcoming attitudes toward those they deem unattractive. However, a person may also be targeted for harassment because of their beauty. In Malèna, a strikingly beautiful Italian woman is forced into poverty by the women of the community who refuse to give her work for fear that she may “woo” their husbands.
Researchers have found that good looking students get higher grades from their teachers than students with an ordinary appearance. Furthermore, attractive patients receive more personalized care from their doctors.Studies have even shown that handsome criminals receive lighter sentences than less attractive convicts.
How much money a person earns may also be influenced by physical beauty. One study found that people low in physical attractiveness earn 5 to 10 percent less than ordinary looking people, who in turn earn 3 to 8 percent less than those who are considered good looking. Discrimination against others based on their appearance is known as lookism.
St. Augustine said of beauty “Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked.”