Some enduring concepts of beauty exist, though these are often subconscious and influence our behaviors is more subtle ways. Some of these eternal truths have been supported by relatively recent, and rigorous, scientific inquiry. A good example is facial symmetry: the more symmetric a face is judged by an observer, the more beautiful the face is considered. In the field of sociological anthropology or evolutionary biology, tendencies like this are typically explained in terms of mating behavior – meaning that the symmetry of a potential mate’s face can be used as a proxy for “good genes” or fertility. This is difficult to prove because the supposed effects are subconscious (and there aren’t a lot of cavemen around to use in experiments), but it seems to make sense in a primitive way. (Warning: this post is pretty nerdy.)
More recently, in terms of human history, mathematicians and philosophers first and artists and scientists later, became interested in the innate beauty of shapes and proportions. Out of this inquiry came the concept of the Golden Ratio or, later in Renaissance Europe, the Divine Proportion. The first references to this idea are found in writings of the ancient Greeks (notably Pythagoras and Aristotle), and the definition is often attributed to Euclid (the founder of geometry). Using the example of a line, this definition states that, for a line of length equal to a plus b, the ratio of a + b to the length a is equal to the ratio of a to b. Make sense? (Check out the diagram below.)
The integer value of this relationship is about 1.62, and it is constant (like its cousin pi [π], or about 3.14, which is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter). Over time, the Golden Ratio has become associated with beauty or an ideal relationship between forms or features – including shapes and measurements of the head or body (cephalometrics or physiognomy). Eventually, the quantity represented above was given a name, the Greek letter phi (φ), which corresponds to the first letter in the surname of a sculptor named Phidias who is said to have used this concept during the construction of the Parthenon – a great temple in ancient Athens. In the next Blog post, we’ll finish this discussion with some present day research and examples.
More recently, the concept of facial symmetry and ideal proportions has been put to use in social science research. Scientists who study human relationships, interpersonal behavior, attraction and mating choices have begun a rigorous and quantitative inquiry into the subconscious factors that play a part in our perception of others. It turns out that the more symmetric a person’s face is, the more attractive it is judged. And physical attractiveness predicts a variety of other (fair or not) treatment in social situations (everything from getting a loan to the verdict in a courtroom). In addition, the particular relationships between parts of the face (eyes, nose, mouth, lips, chin, etc.) contribute to judgments of beauty – the close these come to phi (φ) the better.
The Golden Ratio was used by Canadian oral-maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Stephen Marquardt to create what he called a Phi Mask. This “mask” is really a series of ideal measurements and proportions of facial features according to the Golden Ratio. It turns out that, overlaying the mask on faces of people considered beautiful, these faces conform very nearly to the ideal as described by phi (φ). Interestingly, this has changed very little since antiquity – as demonstrated by applying the mask to statues and human likenesses from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, and other cultures. Check out this YouTube video to see the Dr. Marquardt’s mask at work in Photoshop (www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4fUjzqCC-8); this is a bit of an extreme example, but a good demonstration nonetheless. You can also try out the mask on a photo of your face by visiting this website: www.beautifulphi.com. (Note: I have no association with this site, and there is a $2.99 charge to use the mask, as of my last visit.)
While it is interesting and thought-provoking to use the Golden Ratio as a starting point for discussion of facial beauty and cosmetic surgery, it is also very important to remember another eternal truth: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In every case, I always strive to identify what features my patients most appreciate about their faces, as well as those that they would like to change. In fact, this is the philosophy my practice – helping you look and feel better, while staying uniquely you!