When technology and beauty intersect, interesting things happen. In this case, a group of software engineers has developed a technology that, among other effects, reveals quite a lot about how our biology affects how we perceive what is beautiful. Daniel Cohen-Or of the Blavatnik School of Computer Sciences at Tel Aviv University headed up a team that created a “beauty machine” that can take anyone’s face and, by applying a set of mathematical principles, supposedly make it more beautiful. You can read the story here.
Reductive? Maybe, but there’s some truth to that statement, and let’s address. First of all, it’s true that humans are hard-wired to be attracted to certain physical qualities that suggest physical health and therefore the ability to either bear or father children. That’s “innate beauty,” the appreciation of certain characteristics that is woven into our DNA.
We think this kind of thing is really cool. Its developers say that it could be useful to plastic surgeons by showing them the ways they can make their patients as attractive as possible. Now, before you tell us that computer modeling of the perfect face has all sorts of unhealthy implications, we know. After all, the core of the technology is changing the distance between facial features, and as far as we know, there’s no surgical technique that will allow a surgeon to move your eyes farther apart or widen the lower half your face. It’s true that we don’t want to promote the idea that one needs a perfect face to be truly beautiful; that’s antithetical to who we are as doctors and as women. But at the same time, it’s a good thing to be more aware of why certain qualities strike us as beautiful.
Gravity and trauma decrease symmetry and make us less attractive. Perhaps this technology can be used to help women experiencing reduced facial symmetry (for whatever reason) to work with their plastic surgeons to identify small changes that would help them increase their self-perception of their own beauty—and as we know, feeling beautiful is the most important part of being beautiful to others. We might not even be talking about surgical interventions here; as we age symmetry is decreased due to the reduced elasticity of the skin, and non-invasive procedures such as Thermage can improve that symmetry by tightening the underlying skin structures. But making important changes all starts with knowledge, and if this amazing software provides that knowledge, bravo to the engineers.
The key is to do the best we can with what we have and not become preoccupied with a “perfect” face that doesn’t exist and can’t exist. In the end, it doesn’t matter as much as we think: we (and you) know many women who are far from the beauty ideal who have paired off with partners who adore them for their total beauty—not just their face and body, but their kindness, intellect, wit, passion, sexiness, creativity, the whole package. Here’s hoping that this technology finds its rightful place in the beauty firmament: helping surgeons reconstruct severely damaged faces, guiding women toward small improvements that will enhance their lives, and teaching computer modeling to design, animation and special effects professionals, while letting the rest of us glory in our marvelous imperfection.
Debi & Eva