What Makes a Face Seem Really Beautiful? What science tells us.
By Maven & Jamie
Philosophy or Science?
Beauty has long been a topic of interest to scientists as well as writers, artists and photographers. In recent decades, it’s also of interest to the Plastic Surgeons who are sought out to help rectify appearance concerns, such as performing reconstructive surgery, revising scars or performing corrective Rhinoplasty procedures.
So are our views about what is beautiful whimsical, superficial and fleeting; or do our interpretations of beauty stem from deeper drives?
We have all heard that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” – meaning everyone has a different standard of what they’d describe as ‘beautiful’ – and suggesting that perceptions of beauty are rarely shared. But that’s simply not proving to be the case.
We do know that for every human culture and race, people have always held their own unique perception of ‘what makes a face or body “beautiful.”
It makes sense, then, that our perceptions of facial attractiveness or “beauty” would vary between different cultures and regions.
It also seems these perceptions would be likely to change over time, as happens with other visual preferences such as body or facial piercings or tattoos.
What’s interesting is that our perceptions of beauty ARE quite similar across different regions, and show stability as much as they show potential for change.
So even though our descriptions of what is ‘beautiful’ or ‘appealing’ may change over time (with larger upper lips and darker eyebrows being quite on trend at the moment) – many of our perceptions about “what makes a face beautiful” seem to remain unchanged, and even relatively stable across different cultures.
Despite social media meaning we are more susceptible than ever to learning about what our friends, celebrities or neighbours think about a particular visual trend!
But is beauty really important – and if so, why?
If you ask 100 people what “beauty” is – or how they define it – chances are you’ll get 100 different answers.
MAVEN on what she sees as BEAUTIFUL:
To me, beauty is a form of energy rather than a feature or physical attribute.
My definition of beauty involves the ‘vibe’ that a person seems to reflect. This ideally includes a reflection of their internal traits, integrated with their more visible traits, and often – a bit of character along the way – in other words, my definition of BEAUTIFUL is a vibrant energy that a person has when they walk into, or across, a room. It’s holistic, and physical is only part of it.
But I know that this view of ‘what is beautiful’ may not be the case with others.
As social creatures, I fully understand that we DO evaluate others based on our own perceptions of ‘beauty,’ as illusive as they are to define – and as susceptible to the latest social media trends as they may be in our digital worlds.
And I’m aware that Social Media & What is Considered Attractive MAY Change Significantly over Future Decades because we’re increasingly being influenced by our VISUAL social media & constant SELFIE sharing. But I also know that the deeper brain processes that influence ‘what we think is beautiful’ are not so readily altered.
Perhaps SELFIE posting has amplified the fact that we are now more susceptible than ever to being influenced by the opinions of what our friends, peers & celebrities think of as being ‘beautiful’ – but if we look closer, we’ll find some stability in what people seem to rate as being ‘attractive’ – and it’s primarily linked with healthy looking skin and balanced facial features.
Career, Relationships and Appearance are interlinked
It’s not fair, but it does seem to be the reality for most cultures: some people just seem to look a bit more attractive to others, often for quite subtle reasons.
But when a person appears ‘more attractive’ to others, this can give them a competitive edge in certain environments.
Studies repeatedly affirm that people who are thought of as ‘beautiful’ (attractive, confident or powerful are words that also apply) seem to have a competitive social edge in terms of getting better jobs or higher pay rates, as well as having choices in their partners.
And perhaps wanting the social advantages of being able to PRESENT or LOOK your best is likely one of the factors behind the growing SELFIE phenomenon.
But again, perceptions of beauty is quite unique to each and every individual – but some of these perceptions are widely shared, and science seems to back this up quite strongly.
Beauty isn’t as fleeting as one might think
So whilst we each have our own opinions about what is beautiful – there are some seemingly universal perceptions of beauty. These perceptions of beauty also seem to remain somewhat consistent across different cultures, regions and passing time.
From a biological & social perspective, this means that it has become apparent that perceptions of facial beauty is not a fleeting phenomenon.
Nor are perceptions of beauty subject to as much change as people might anticipate, even though fashions and decorating preferences change regularly.
Here’s a brief overview of recent discussions in this area:
- Fashion, technology, decorating and colour preferences, as well as other visual preferences, DO tend to change quite drastically over time
- Even body shapes and tattoos may be highly influenced by other’s opinions
- But Facial physical attractiveness, it would seem, appears to have some elements that are quite consistent over time and between cultures that would otherwise appear diverse
Facial features (ratios) and Perception of Attractiveness Experiments
Several experiments designed to measure the attractiveness of faces – and these are extensive studies involving numerous images of human faces – supports that there is far MORE agreement across cultures (versus disagreement) as to what is viewed as beautiful or not.
Surprisingly, people coming from different races & cultures who viewed these facial images AGREED on what they thought was BEAUTIFUL – and what they viewed was NOT.
Facial recognition research is involved in these studies, and is, apparently, quite a complex process. So are the processes our brains go through in evaluating someone else’s attractiveness.
Our brains seem to do MUCH MORE than simply recognize a beautiful face based on what we’ve been taught to see as beautiful.
According to studies, when we recognize a face as beautiful, we are actually judging one’s health and vitality.
In visual situations, our brains actually interpret facial symmetry (the balance of the right & left halves of a face) – along with the smoothness of the skin – to indicate that a person is FREE from any illnesses and also has good genes. In contrast, our brains are wired to believe that a person with an asymmetrical face MIGHT have a genetic disturbance or a diseases. And somewhere deep in the brain, we think this matters, even if we’re past the age of reproduction.
But even our own perceptions of beauty are not static over time
Despite consistencies, there are also changes in our perceptions of beauty. Scientific experiments have also shown that we form OPINIONS about beauty based on certain criteria – with the criteria itself varying over time.
This essentially means that our OWN perceptions of what is beautiful can change over time, depending on several factors including ageing or hormonal fluctuations.
So if some days you really LIKE what you see in the mirror (or see in someone else’s face) but on other days you don’t, there MIGHT be more to the feelings than just a ‘bad hair’ or ‘bad skin’ day.
Even lifestyle factors such as getting enough sleep or eating good nutrition can influence your mood and perception of what is, or isn’t, considered beautiful, on any given day – as well as how you look and feel.
That said, in general, your facial appearance preferences are more apt to stay stable than they are to suddenly drastically change.
This also supports the common statement so many people make about finding a romantic partner: that they need to be visually attracted to a person to become interested in them. And perhaps it’s also why so many of us go out of our way to try to look our best. There’s a social advantage to doing so.
So despite rather idealistic views that it’s only what’s inside a person that should count, appearance seems to matter to many of us. It comes from an area of our brains that we can’t always override, even when we really want to do so.
The Common Components of Evaluating Beauty: 12 Things that make a Face Seem Really Beautiful
When discussing perceptions of beauty and the feminine face, many people of different cultures seem to rate the following features as being attractive.
- golden ratio proportions – a triangular face (slimmer on the lower face than on the upper face)
- larger eyes
- wider-set eyes
- eye framing eyebrows
- medium, well-groomed brows that don’t meet in the middle
- a slim face
- distinctive jawline
- fuller lips
- arched brows
- slim nose
- smooth skin with a healthy skin tone
There is an indication that there is a genetically-driven ‘golden ratio’ that is relevant to culturally-shared perceptions of beauty.
Sometimes even subtle features, such as the arch, width and shape of the eyebrows, the shape or length of a nose, or a distinctive chin and jawline – are considered key to our perceptions of ‘what makes a face beautiful.’
Some of the things people rate as being less attractive on a face seem to include:
- Short, indistinctive eye lashes (longer darker lashes seem to be preferred)
- Very wide or broad face
- An indistinctive jawline or double chin
- Sagging eye brows or eyelids that hang over the iris
- Upside-down triangle dimensions (narrow forehead/broad or hanging jowls)
To read more about what makes a face beautiful, search Google for information on the Golden Ratio.