Creative Destruction

December 16, 2006

Beauty: I don’t get it

Filed under: Content-lite — Ampersand @ 5:44 pm

A recent Miss America ((Katie Harmon, surgeon in training, classical singer, and proud Republican.)) is performing at my workplace all week, which has me thinking about a topic I usually don’t think about: beautiful women. I’ve gotta say: I just don’t get it.

Having seen someone who is Officially One Of The Most Beautiful Woman In The USA up close, I can report that she’s pretty. But I see don’t see anything that makes her prettier than other thin women with clear skin, big eyes and even features. ((“Thin, clear skin, big eyes and even features” seems to me to be the basic requirements of being conventionally pretty in our culture, for men and women. Edited to add: Actually, I guess big eyes aren’t manditory for men; David Boreanaz, for example, is considered unusually good-looking, but his eyes are if anything on the small side.)) Yet this person was officially certified the beautifulist of all (at least, among women). It this one of those things you have to be an expert on to be able to tell the difference?

(She can really sing, by the way.)

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21 Comments »

  1. [...] [Crossposted at Creative Destruction, where we all parade in gowns 24-7.] Katie Harmon, surgeon in training, classical singer, and proud Republican. (back)”Thin, clear skin, big eyes and even features” seems to me to be the basic requirements of being conventionally pretty in our culture, for men and women. Edited to add: Actually, I guess big eyes aren’t manditory for men; David Boreanaz, for example, is considered unusually good-looking, but his eyes are if anything on the small side. (back) [...]

    Pingback by Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Beauty: I don’t get it — December 16, 2006 @ 5:45 pm | Reply

  2. I don’t get it either. But then, I don’t understand why tall/blonde/white is the archetype of beauty in our culture. Just not my type.

    As for big eyes, my impression is that they are considered beautiful in a feminine way. That is why they are usually considered attractive on women. On a guy, small eyes are more manly, while big eyes are more “cute” or “pretty boy.”

    Comment by Aegis — December 16, 2006 @ 6:44 pm | Reply

  3. Me thinks you are a bit confused as to where exactly the size matters.
    When it comes to the eyes, very different qualities define beauty(try – expressive? soulful? indicative that someone is home?
    Having these qualities, there’s nothing hard to understand about David Boreanaz’s beauty, although it is unusual.
    Archetypes are boring – and I tend to mix all the pretty faces on the screen or in magazines- men or women. Most of them have empty eyes so I scan over their faces without even stopping.I am however blessed with real beauty – most people around me – none of them an archetype, all a joy to look at.

    Comment by Edgeoforever — December 18, 2006 @ 12:01 am | Reply

  4. I would say that thin doesn’t quite cut it, either, especially for men. Non-fat would be more accurate — many a conventionally attractive man can be quite non-thin by being athletic and muscular.

    For women, it is also somewhat relative, as non-curvy thin isn’t idealized outside high fashion. However, BMI-wise many of the curvy-thin women are underweight by small or average amount.

    I also think that even features and clear skin* are quite universal beauty standards, I’m incapable of thinking of an exception there.

    * = Not counting body mods on skin such as tattoos on some cultures, they are IMO ambigious as related to beauty in the West, but usually carry a classist or assumption on personality stigma.

    Comment by Tuomas — December 18, 2006 @ 3:57 am | Reply

  5. but usually carry a classist or assumption on personality stigma.

    The saying goes that not everybody with a tattoo is in prison, but everybody in prison has a tattoo.

    Comment by bobhayes — December 18, 2006 @ 4:21 am | Reply

  6. The eye thing has to do with the eyebrows. Women’s are supposed to be high and arch, which makes the eye appear bigger. The manly trait is low eyebrows which closes the eyes off.

    Comment by Up — December 18, 2006 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

  7. There are multiple standards of beauty that most people don’t even realize that they have.

    Studies have shown that people who know women in real life consistently rank them differently when asked about raw physical beauty than people who don’t know them and rely on photographs only. Personality has a strong subconscious impact on perceived physical beauty.

    Comment by ohwilleke — December 18, 2006 @ 6:36 pm | Reply

  8. I can’t say I get the whole thing myself. What I really don’t get is the fixation (the fashion industry, mostly) on the rail-thinness thing. If I were a designer, I really would not be interested in how Ann Coulter looks in the clothes I design. Now J Lo? Different story…

    Comment by ebbtide — December 18, 2006 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

  9. Why would people in the fashion industry find the women who have the bodies of teenage boys the most attractive? That’s a real puzzler.

    Comment by Glaivester — December 19, 2006 @ 5:36 pm | Reply

  10. Why would people in the fashion industry find the women who have the bodies of teenage boys the most attractive? That’s a real puzzler.

    I assume the implication is “because it’s full of gays” (with some straight women in the mix), therefore they see thin women as the closest substitute to what they really like.

    Not convinced, for various reasons (one being the power of free market — if rail-thin women had no marketing appeal they would have been replaced). I think it has to do with negative views on sexuality overall — curvy women are more “sexed-up” and invoke carnal (and thus lowbrow and opposite of “high art”) thoughts and thus are not seen as suited to high fashion. Such women should just pose for those unrefined men’s magazines.

    It is conspicious consumerism of sorts, the women are rail-thin not necessarily because that is considered attractive, but because it is as far away as possible from the lower classes and their tastes. And when it comes to aesthetic, high-brow tastes, heterosexual men are pretty much counted as low class.

    Comment by Tuomas — December 19, 2006 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

  11. It is conspicious consumerism of sorts, the women are rail-thin not because it is considered sexy, but because it is as far away as possible from the lower classes and their tastes. And when it comes to aesthetic, high-brow tastes, heterosexual men are pretty much counted as low class.

    You know, that is a very interesting perspective. Never thought of it in that way. I’m not entirely convinced however, primarily because of the spillover of the phenomenon into areas which must attract the masses of horny slobbering men, like the movie industry.

    I frequently see movie stars looking as though they have raging meth addictions, when certainly they must know, or have agents who know, that their success is at least partly dependent on how they promote themselves in public. So either the crack-addict look is popular, for reasons which continue to elude me, or movie stars just don’t give a shit.

    Comment by ebbtide — December 19, 2006 @ 6:48 pm | Reply

  12. I’m not entirely convinced however, primarily because of the spillover of the phenomenon into areas which must attract the masses of horny slobbering men, like the movie industry.

    When analyzing what gets men off sexually, one should analyze their private consumption habits. Pron (for the seach engines…) is a good candidate, and one notes that it offers a wide variety in addition to the impossible silicone boob norm.

    And spillover doesn’t contradict it, the phenomenon is simply the most extreme (to the point of morbidity, literally) in high fashion.

    And come to think of it — haven’t the movie stars who have curves often been cast into stereotypical “sexy woman” roles, while the meg ryans get the girl-next-door roles? Raquel Welch? Marilyn Monroe? Salma Hayek (okay, she has done lot of others)?

    So either the crack-addict look is popular, for reasons which continue to elude me, or movie stars just don’t give a shit.

    Thinness for women is a class marker, and why wouldn’t average movie-goers want to see ‘glamorous(=upper class)-looking’ people in the movies?

    But then, I have to agree that we are going through a particularly extreme “thin phase” when it comes to women’s beauty. (And I can’t understand or explain it all).

    Comment by Tuomas — December 19, 2006 @ 7:06 pm | Reply

  13. So I suppose I’m trying to say about the movie stars that they know (and their agents know) that getting too much ‘sex bomb’ would reduce the variety of roles.

    Comment by Tuomas — December 19, 2006 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

  14. Thinness for women is a class marker, and why wouldn’t average movie-goers want to see ‘glamorous(=upper class)-looking’ people in the movies?

    I guess, but for me thinness has always been a malnutrition-marker. I don’t think I can ever bring myself to understand this. I’ll have to be content to be a low-brow beer-guzzling prole….LOL, but I’ll take Salma over Kate Moss any day.

    Comment by ebbtide — December 19, 2006 @ 7:21 pm | Reply

  15. Individuals don’t (by and large) choose the body type they have. However, industries (movies, fashion, politics) do choose individuals who embody certain physical ideals. So the fashion industry has been in a phase where clothes are hung on models who look like a bag of antlers, whereas the movie industry tends to favor voluptuous sex bombs even when the role doesn’t call for it. In some respects, there is no accounting for taste.

    Comment by Brutus — December 20, 2006 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

  16. I think fashion designers and advertisers aren’t looking for “beauty” as such – they are interested in creating a striking image that will stand out in a magazine or on the catwalk. They want to be the one that is remembered.

    There’s been quite a lot of research done on what people find attractive in normal life. It varies with culture but some things are consistent across north America and western Europe. All of this of course is about first impressions – and once people get to know someone’s personality their opinions often change.

    1) Symmetry: Experiments have been done in which people are shown 3 photos of the same individual, two of which have been subtly doctored to make their features more or less symmetrical. People consistently pick out the photo in which the subject had been made more symmetrical as the one in which they look most attractive. This may because symmetry is associated with good health (e.g. no serious genetic defects, no child-hood illnesses, good diet, etc.)

    2) Suitability as a father / mother

    Men seem to look for indicators of fertility in women: In women fertility is associated with youth, most children start out fair and hair colour continues to darkens with age after puberty (at least until people go grey!) Blonde hair is therefore associated with youth which is why “gentlemen prefer blondes”. Good skin also looks younger. Children also have large eyes as their bones and bodies don’t bulk out until the they are older – hence wide-eyes look young.

    A waist to hip ratio of 0.7 is subconsciously seen as good by men, possibly because it implies hips wide enough to give birth easily without the woman carrying an unhealthy amount of fat. Breast size makes less of a difference than people might think – the ideal bra-size has varied with fashion over the years, but the hip-to-waist ratio of 0.7 has consistently been seen as attractive no matter how skinny or voluptuous the woman.

    Women look for signs that a man is fertile but also that he will be a good provider: age is a less of an issue for men because their fertility does not decline as dramatically, so dark hair is not a problem. In fact it may be an advantage as it suggests a man who has survived successfully for longer! A person doesn’t get to grow tall and symmetrical without sufficient food, good health and good genes – hence the cliche of “tall, dark and handsome” suggests someone with a track record as a good provider. A strong bone structure and good muscle development are associated with high levels of testosterone which is associated with male fertility – hence men with well-formed muscles, strong features and over-hanging brows (David Boreanaz springs to my mind but then he always does LOL) tend to look more virile.

    Interestingly, research suggests that what women rate as attractive varies throughout their menstrual cycle – again based on studies asking them to rate subtly altered photos for attractiveness. Around the time of ovulation, women tend to pick out the photos in which then men that have been made to look more masculine (i.e. men they subconsciously think will have the best chance of getting them pregnant) two weeks later the same woman will tend to pick out photos of men made to look less masculine (possibly because subconsciously we feel the men will be more caring and supportive).

    As a thirty-something, brunette I’m not sure I like the results, but the research seems pretty thorough! LOL

    Comment by FG — December 21, 2006 @ 8:12 am | Reply

  17. I think it’s unfair that these people are made out to be any more beautiful than other “average” people. Granted they may be more appealing to more people but everyone has their own opinion on what makes a person pretty. Everyone has someone somewhere who will find them to be the most beautiful person in the world.

    Comment by Dani — April 20, 2007 @ 6:34 am | Reply

  18. FG,

    I like your comment but while the shape of runway models have changed over the years, the size of the Playboy centerfolds have not. The image of beauty and the image of sexy seems to be two different things.

    Much like you imply, if you sell diamonds and need a human like form to display the product, you will use a very neutral form and a neutral color.

    Comment by Vilon — April 20, 2007 @ 10:40 am | Reply

  19. “they are interested in creating a striking image that will stand out in a magazine or on the catwalk. They want to be the one that is remembered.”

    Also consider that models are universally taller than average. Any woman under 5’10 can forget about being a fashion model regardless of how beautiful or thin she is. They want tall, extremely thin women with high cheekbones, pouty lips, clear skin, well proportioned noses, bright eyes and shiny hair because these women show the clothes off the best. The clothes take center stage but are associated with high-class beauty. Designers also prefer to make very small test sizes(to save time & money, I suppose, also to be uniform so that multiple models are not needed, they all need to fit the ‘sample size’.)

    Comment by mandy — February 28, 2008 @ 11:45 am | Reply

  20. thin women are preferred in the fashion industry as their bodies are to be used as hangers. The aim is not attract attention to the model but what she wears. models tend to be plain in real life as this gives the make up artist a palette to work on. there are ofcourse exceptions o the rule.

    Comment by jv — December 22, 2008 @ 4:57 pm | Reply

  21. i think that wide eyes, a curvy body ,tanned skin and dark hair is beauty !!!

    Comment by girlly girl — December 2, 2009 @ 8:35 pm | Reply


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