What is it that makes one person beautiful and another just average? Is there a universal code or a consensus about what real beauty is, or is beauty really in the eye of the beholder? Why do we become weak in the knees when we meet one shape and size of human being, and just go meh when we meet another? The majority of us are just average looking people. As such, should we simply be doomed to skulk around in the shadows of our more beautiful brothers and sisters? Or can beauty be bought or modified?
During the Renaissance, artists liked to paint portraits of well-fed homely women. These pictures show us that heavier women were the beauty standard in the 16th century. Today, however, it seems that this has been completely reversed and we now generally prefer women with a body the shape of an artist’s paintbrush. The media, magazines, TV channels and online ads bombard us with images of what they consider beautiful until after staring for hours at these images, a general consensus is formed. What is beautiful and what is average is possibly just a result of this continual bombardment of these repetitive images of supposed beauty, yet around the world the understanding of beauty is not completely clear cut.
Evolutionary speaking, beauty is an indication of health, fitness and fertility. We are naturally attracted to the type of person who we consider to be a good potential mate. There is a universal bias towards facial symmetry and balanced features. A straight nose, balanced jawline, and high forehead are all indications that the person has had a normal disease free childhood and will therefore make an ideal life partner. Instability in growth and stunted development in childhood are, on the other hand, manifested in unbalanced features, a lopsided face, a sleepy eye, or a crooked nose, and people with these types of features are less likely to be considered the ideal mate with whom to procreate. In 2014, a study was undertaken whereby images of 5000 teenagers were shown, and the subjects were asked about their medical history – those with the most symmetrical features were fitter and healthier than those with flawed features and therefore considered more ideal mating partners.
We also prefer men that exude manliness and women who radiate femininity. These feature definitions are obviously fluid, but generally men should have strongly defined features whereas women’s features should be more delicate, and well, like, feminine. Most people prefer long legs in women and shorter legs in men. Women should supposedly have an hour-glass figure while men should have V-shaped shoulders, and only in the countries where starvation is a real threat are larger people considered more attractive. The concept of beauty is really a combination of healthy living, vitality, and good genes. We are attracted to people who we wish to be like, as most of us strive to be primarily fit, fertile, and healthy. We want the same for our children so we endeavor to find partners who can produce the most healthy, happy kids, in the hope that our children will do likewise and the cycle of beautiful people will be repeated again and again.
Around the world we have different ideas of beauty. In parts of northern Thailand and Burma (aka Myanmar), a woman with a long neck is considered desirable. This practice, considered barbaric in other parts of the world, involves the attachment of a series of brass rings around the neck causing the woman to have a long giraffe style neck that’s considered a sign of beauty and wealth in tribal circles. Although the neck appears long, this is in fact an illusion as the rings push the collar bone down, giving the appearance of a long neck.
In Kenya, women who wear heavy ear jewelry that weigh down and expand their earlobes have an edge in the romance stakes. Masai women adorn their expanded earlobes with brightly colored beads and stones. This fashion trend also became popular in the western world with tribal earrings becoming envogue in the 21st century. In other parts of Africa, body modification for beautification can involve the removal of the two front teeth and the insertion of a clay or wooden disk. Similar to the Kenyan ear stretching, this practice widens the lower lip and is considered beautiful, and the wider and larger the lip becomes, the more beautiful it is to the members of body modification subscribing tribes.
And what about cosmetic surgery in the West? To avoid looking average, we can have our tummies tucked, our faces lifted, our breasts enlarged, reduced, or removed. We can have our eyebrows lifted or have implants in our buttocks. We can lift our thighs and have our noses reshaped. In fact, just about anything can be done by a plastic or cosmetic surgeon in this billion dollar business but which countries enjoy the most plastic surgery? Followed by Brazil, Japan, Italy, and Mexico, the USA takes the prize for the most surgeries with 4.29 million procedures and over 17% of the world’s total operations.
So while most of us are just simply average looking, it doesn’t look like we are comfortable staying that way, and as long as biology and media tell us what the gold beauty standard is, it looks like we will keep chasing the dream. But isnt beauty just being happy in our own skin? Or are you 1 of the millions of people that would consider going under the knife just to appear more beautiful? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
- What Men find attractive in different parts of the world, Pam Wright:
- The universal art of beauty, BBC.
- Renaissance art. Wiki.