Scientific Beauty


I have always had trouble will telling which girls/women counted as beautiful. I asked a lot of people (mostly girls) about this, and I think I only found two who agreed (Leah and Spoorthy, who both said it was a meaningless compliment). Eventually, I sort of gave up. But today, I have science!

Disclaimer: Here I am only considering the physical traits that human males find attractive in human females. I would assume that most of this also applies in reverse, but I have no real knowledge on the subject. I also do not want to imply that these are the most important traits to look for in a mate; I suspect they are the least important (although see below). All the same, the question is still interesting.

Previously, I had collected the following guiding principles: I have also found a couple more points I rejected as describing everyone equally: big eyes (everyone's look the same to me), and a body containing curves (the human body is practically made of curves and everyone's got the same number). There is also at least one theory basing beauty on the golden number (the Marquardt Beauty Mask), which I have tentatively rejected as nutty.

The new science comes from the facial changes produced by domesticating foxes, as studied by Dr. Irene Elia. Sadly, she appears to have talked to The Economist but not written a paper - at least not one I could find. The amazing results:
  1. People find the same traits attractive in domesticated animals as in potential mates.
  2. This recognition/attractiveness is innate instead of cultural (i.e. possessed by babies only a few days old) and operates subconsciously even in people who think they are not being affected by it (e.g. parents in relation to their children).
  3. Attractive people (and presumably attractive foxes) have, on average, more offspring, so beauty is evolutionarily selected for.
  4. The attractive traits are produced by the same hormones that regulate behavior and development.
When I put this all together, I reach the following conclusion: If you instinctively recognize someone as beautiful, this is your body telling you that she is (probably) friendly, intelligent, and fertile by its empirically determined tests. In over-simplified terms, we don't like people because they are beautiful, we see beauty because they are likable.

I admit that bodies are know to be wrong (mine hates spices for some reason) and modern beauty technology (make-up, plastic surgery, Photoshop, etc.) is generally designed to fool them. So I wouldn't recommend trusting the automated system too far; but it is still interesting. It is amazing how much of what seems arbitrary in the world turns out to be useful.

If we add a few points I know from elsewhere, it gets even more interesting.
  1. All domesticated animals (i.e. animals selectively bred for behavioral traits) have a similar set of facial changes (physical traits) from their wild counterparts. The people do not deliberately breed for them, they just happen. These same traits developed in the newly-domesticated foxes.
  2. Modern humans, when compared to Bronze Age (I think it was) skeletons, have undergone the same changes. We have, in effect, domesticated own race. Which is kind of creepy, although also probably good, as domesticated animals tend to be much less violent.
The conclusion I get when I put these together is that the human race really is improving with time. Score one for the Victorians!

For the sake of people like me who have trouble with beauty, the list of desirable traits developed by foxes includes: Apparently there are more traits, but my source didn't include them because "what men look for in the faces of women, and vice versa, is so well known". Darn.

In any case, the myth that "beauty is only skin deep" is hereby busted.


This one got two angry responses. I think that's a record for me.
  1. I think if you have trouble recognizing if people fit traditional definitions of beauty you should count yourself as very fortunate, and give up any quest to obtain this ability. "Attractive" people get far too many advantages in society as it is. If you can look beyond this to a person's actual character, so much the better.
  2. Evaluating people for something that they naturally(by birth) have very little control on is not fair. I would say we should all learn to overlook the skin and body features and if you already have that skill in you, it is a good thing.To be social, topics such as sports, video games and baking are better.
My responses to these were:
  1. The big reason I would like to know who counts as beautiful (by traditional definitions) is that I miss social stuff. I can't tell which girls are trying to look beautiful (I assume they succeed, given the power of modern technology) or which ones other guys think are beautiful. I think that movies (and TV shows with significantly varying casts) uses this to subtly single who the good guys are (which I assume is part of why even CG aliens look so human). Sadly, in a society with condemned stereotypes it is generally necessary to know the stereotypes because, if you don't, you can get in quite a lot of trouble if you accidentally express an opinion that supports the forbidden view. I learned this the hard way in the high school English unit where you study how the evil white men horribly oppressed the noble first nations people (or whatever we are calling them now). Analyzing the stories provided by normal English techniques lead to conclusions like "these people are unambitious ignorant lay-abouts and the root cause is their culture" (in the opinion of the author, but you are supposed to not mention that). It turned out the correct responses were "I should feel guilty over things that people with my skin colour once did" and "the authors were racists and thus they and all who agrees with them are evil". It is not enough to ignore stereotypes; society expects you to actively avoid them. Disclaimer: I do not consider the depictions of any people group in fiction a reliable guide to what they are like in reality.
  2. I could say that in an ideal world people would be judged on their actions, not on things like appearance, but that we sadly do not live in such a world. There is a lot of truth to that. But I do not think it is the whole truth: a lot of other qualities we judge people on (e.g. intelligence, athletic ability, ability to relate to people) are also innate. They can be improved with time and effort, but the same thing can be said about appearance (I assume that ditzy girls wouldn't spend so long on it if it wasn't working). It is not clear to me why we should single out that one trait and forbid thinking about it while we still use all the others. It's not like we can scare nature into making the whole species identical (and it would be boring). I think beauty is not important because it doesn't do anything useful.
However, you two have missed my main point. I used to think that I could ignore beauty because it was just some arbitrary (but probably partially genetic) standard. But science seems to have now proven me wrong: the standard is not arbitrary. And thus, my conclusion - that beauty has no significance - is wrong. And since "beauty is meaningless" is one of the often-repeated claims of the modern world, I thought this would be of interest to other people as well.

And to support myself in my normal unscientific fashion, I have a couple quotations from people who (as far as I know) know nothing about the subject.
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