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How do scientists define beauty

Posted by Dr Ash Dutta on 21 December 2018

How often have you heard the saying ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?’ Well, it’s not easy to judge and only then one thinks about the saying ‘opposites attract’. If we look closely enough, then more than likely we can see examples of both amongst our family and friends. However, this is not a criticism of our own values or taste but by simply trying to put the totally subjective question out there; ‘what is beauty?’. 

This age old question is thought to have originated from the term ‘The Golden Ratio’ which actually has a mathematical value of 1.618 and is derived when ¨the sum of two equal values equals the ratio of a bigger value divided by the smallest.¨ 

This ratio is repeated through many aspects of nature and has been studied over the years by luminaries from Pythagoras to Penrose; and then applied to the proportions of the human face in contemporary times. Plastic surgeon Dr. Stephen Marquard created a model mask called the ´Golden Decagon´ which according to those mathematical proportions derives what a perfect face ´should´ look like. 

It would appear that the quest for beauty has been applied using everything from wire form diagrams (in architectural concepts of building construction) to sophisticated computer programming. This notion is now taken very seriously by the beauty industry - which if we realise it or not, use the ratio in everything from advertising to the manufacturing of their top selling products. 

Computer algorithms analyse everything about a subject’s face from the position of the nose, the tone of skin and hair, the position of the eyes and mouth and even the smile and curvature of the lips. Could it be that, especially with the availability of cheaper computing and the blitz of media advertising, we are all ´drip fed´ what the media thinks is the ´perfect´ face  for us all to aspire to, and how is this reflected in the real world? 

In 2012, the UK beauty industry tested the waters with a contest to find ‘Britain’s Perfect Face’, with the winner being based totally on these mathematical constructs of symmetry and perfection of image. While potential aesthetic beauty practitioners must tire of being asked by clients to “make me look like so and so”, I suspect there is a more deeper and philosophical answer to the question - what is beauty? Astronomers would say that biologically, we are all composed uniquely in the heart from distant stars and it is our basic strands of DNA that manufacture us all as unique beings in our own right. Maybe then that’s the true beauty, and why it comes from within.