Beauty, Biology, and Society
What is beauty? How do human beings decide who is attractive and who is not? Society is full of messages telling us what is beautiful, but what are those definitions based on? Do we consciously decide whom we are attracted to, or is biology somehow involved? The issue of beauty and how we define it has been studied for centuries. Scholars from all fields of study have searched for the "formula" for beauty. Darwin in his book The Descent of Man wrote, "It is certainly not true that there is in the mind of man any universal standard of beauty with respect to the human body. It is however, possible that certain tastes in the course of time become inherited, though I have no evidence in favor of this belief." (1) Science has tried to look at beauty beyond the conscious level. It has tried to determine what roles biology plays in human attraction. Scientists have discovered that symmetry and scent play a role in defining human attraction. (3) But while this can begin to explain beauty on the most basic of levels, what accounts for variations in the standard of beauty? The idea of beauty varies within different societies and communities. Do these cultural preferences have a biological basis? What is the relationship between biology and society in relation to the idea of beauty? How do they relate to each other, and how do they differ? In particular what role does science play in the preference that many societies, (in particular South Asian, East Asian, and North American Cultures), have for fairer skin?
Beauty is experienced through visual stimuli. The human being's intake of beauty is through both conscious and unconscious decisions. (4) (4) The question is what motivates our unconscious decisions? Mathematicians have for hundreds of years studied facial structure as a possible explanation for the formula for beauty. ((1)Through an analysis of the human face they have determined that symmetry is involved. The human face is designed symmetrically. While there are variations, in general the human face is symmetric in design. (2) Because the tendency towards symmetry is a dominant trend in physical structure, humans tend to look for symmetry in each other. This desire is often times unconscious. The Golden Ratio, also known as the Phi Ratio, defines human facial structure as following a symmetrical ratio of 1:1.618. (1) Another factor involved in attractiveness is scent and more specifically pheromones. (4) While the intake of human scent may be unconscious is seems to have a positive impact on beauty as well. Pheromones are unconscious indicators that the human body releases. In a study conducted by Anja Rikowski and Karl Grammer the relationship between physical symmetry and scent was conducted. Through the experiment it was determined that individuals with a high level of facial symmetry, also give off high levels of pheromones. (2)
Why are symmetry and scent so important? What does the Golden Ratio and...