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.
“Beauty can be quantified by mathematical measurements and ratios,” says Cohen-Or. “It can be defined as average distances between features, which a majority of people agree are the most beautiful,” he said. “I don’t claim to know much about beauty. For us, every picture in this research project is just a collection of numbers.”
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.
This computer software draws on that tendency by applying mathematical modeling to automatically adjust the distances between features like the mouth and the chin or the eyes and the nose. The result is greater facial symmetry, something humans are proven to find beautiful. So in a purely biological sense, it’s hard to deny that the faces shown in this story are more beautiful. We love symmetry.
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.
Here’s a shocking revelation: men like physically beautiful women. And if reinforcing one stereotype isn’t enough for you, here’s another: apparently, women are attracted to wealth. So says Indiana University cognitive scientist Peter Todd and colleagues from Germany, England and Scotland, who used a speed dating session in Germany to compare what men and women said they wanted in a mate with whom they actually chose. The results of the study will be published shortly in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Now, we’re not sure how scientific speed dating—where people have “mini dates” of 3 to 5 minutes with as many as 30 other singles—really is, and the sample size of only 46 people isn’t exactly conclusive, but the results are certainly in line with what we’ve said in our book, The Beauty Prescription. The researchers say that when they were surveyed before the speed dating, participants gave socially acceptable answers to what they wanted in a significant other—intellect, sense of humor, and so on. But when it came to selecting people in a face-to-face setting, the men went for physical attractiveness most often, and the women were drawn to material wealth and security.
This isn’t surprising to us. We’ve written about it, and the results of this study are in line with the predictions of evolutionary psychology, which say that based on our desire for survival, ancient men were attracted to clear skin, glossy hair and physical symmetry because women with those features were more likely to be healthy and thus more successfully bear lots of children. As for the women, who were physically weaker, they were drawn to men with a greater ability to provide, protect and provide security for the family. As Todd said, ancient males and females who chose mates in this way would have had a better chance of producing lots of offspring, giving them an evolutionary advantage.
Reductive? Sure, but it illustrates that at first glance, we’re still driven by our sense of innate beauty, that hard-wired ideal that’s a product of millennia of evolution. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s part of who and what we are as men and women. But the limit of studies like this is that we should take them at face value and no more, because they don’t measure the other aspect our beauty sense, evolving beauty. Speed dating is about instant impressions, and when we have nothing else to go on, it makes sense to choose the guy with the $3,000 Rolex or the woman with the great cheekbones and dazzling smile. What this study doesn’t do is follow up to see what happened after these men and women spent more time together, after they got to know each other and saw the more subtle aspects of each other’s beauty: wit, spirituality, sex appeal, physical surroundings, relationships, career and so on. Time changes how we perceive beauty, which is why women who are not supermodels usually find their own Prince Charmings. Once we start to see the entire person, not just the facsimile that we see in 3 to 5 minutes, we find that beauty exists at many subtle, intriguing levels, inside and out.
Something to be aware of if you ever decide to speed date. For our part, we’ll stick to the slow version.
You may recall, a few weeks back, a political uproar over a certain “lipstick on a pig” comment. We’re not going to go into the political side of things because, frankly, that’s not what we’re about. Instead, we want to talk about the power of lipstick. This blend of many different kinds of oils—including a great deal of castor oil (one more good reason not to eat your lipstick)—along with pigments and moisturizers, vitamin E, aloe vera, collagen, amino acids, and sunscreen has its origins in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Women would decorate their lips with either crushed precious stones or (yuck) the red color from the crushed shells of carmine beetles and red ants. Later, in the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I popularized the more recognizable form of lipstick, made in those days from animal tallow.
But it’s not the natural or social history of lipstick that interests us. It’s the effect. Why is lipstick above all other facial adornments associated with feminity and sex appeal? Why do we feel more attractive when we have shiny, deeply colored lips? In part, it’s because of the nature of how we perceive beauty. The smile is the banner of beauty, the only part of the face that’s constantly changing from moment to moment. We begin an encounter with someone by looking at their eyes, but the smile quickly takes over from there. The lips are the exquisite frame for teeth, laughter, and speech. The more alluring and sensual that frame, the more attracted people are to the face around it and the person that lies behind it.
Lipstick has power because it’s the most vibrant color on the face, pulling our attention to the mouth. When it’s richly colored and glossy, it stimulates the hard-wired male attraction to beauty. Evolution has designed men to be drawn to vivid color and shine in hair and skin because in ancient times they were signs of health, youth and fertility. So when you put on that deep ruby shade, you’re speaking in a sexual lingua franca that goes back thousands of years.
And because color also carries subtle messages about personality, you’re also broadcasting something about who you are. What does your lipstick color say about you? We’ll tell you:
Deep red—This one doesn’t take much figuring out. Red is the color of sexuality, passion and intense emotion. It’s no accident that red is the color of the power suit or power tie, and that red roses represent romance.
Pink—Pink (as well as coral, salmon, and fuschia) is a softer color that represents femininity, girlishness, or playfulness. It’s better suited for a casual affair than a formal dinner or social event, though if a pink shade works for your coloring, always go with what makes you look ravishing.
Purple—Purple seems bold and exotic, and indeed it can work best for women with dramatic coloring, but there’s no reason any woman can’t make it work for her. Purple suggests sophistication, regal bearing, and an independent spirit.
Yellow—Yellow? Not so fast. Yellow family colors include amber and orange, which are certainly colors you can try. In general, this family of colors speaks of energy, caution, warmth, cheer and friendliness.
Brown—Whether you’re talking about a russet or a leather hue, brown is the color of melanin, the body’s natural pigment, and so brown shades suggest a natural, earthy quality.
As makeup guru Bobbi Brown says, never choose a lipstick shade based on your skin or hair color. Base your choice on the natural color of your lips. Of course, there’s a lot more to this topic, from SPF protection to lip liners and glosses to the many variations within each color family based on the minerals the color was made with, and so on. If you really want to dig into the topic, we suggest talking with a professional, certified makeup artist. Then let the color of your lips do the talking.