of that "symmetry"!
Sexual Dimorphism and Facial Symmetry
In my previous riffings on beauty and the attempt to quantify it, we found that a certain symmetry seems to hold. But what is "sexual dimorphism"? Basically: males looking "masculine" and females looking "feminine." For example: a guy with a pronounced brow and square jaw with his arm around the waist of a female with big eyes and full lips. This is a noticeably sexually dimorphic couple. But why are these phenotypic characters attractive? Well, it's a hot topic, and Anthony Little and colleagues think they might have the answer. Do the attractive features you see in another indicate 1.) their genetic quality? 2.) fertility? or maybe it's 3.) visual experience simply; seeing someone hot is simply that: it's not about some "occult" or hidden or unconscious signals from the genotype?
Turns out - according to Little and his team - that it's #1 and #2 above. Symmetry and sexual dimorphism seem linked, too. There seems to be a biological mechanism that links them, not only across cultures, but in primates. Facial symmetry and sexual dimorphism do indeed seem to be markers for health. Another study about females along these lines is HERE. Note this last one has a twist: female facial femininity may be linked to some aspects of disease resistance but not others. There's a test at Little's site and I took it, but it seemed like the silent videos of young people talking, where you rate them on a scale of attractiveness from 1 to 7, loaded far too slowly. His test stuff is HERE.
What about checking out bodies? For going on four years now, 3-D imaging of entire bodies - to more precisely assess symmetries and asymmetries - have been studied at places like Brunel University in London. They developed what they call "body masculinity," which means, roughly and as I understand it: if you're a female you tend to prefer males of greater height, wider shoulders, smaller breasts, and shorter legs; where males look for someone shorter, not wide shoulders, larger breasts (duh?), and longer legs. The researchers there are saying that we may not notice asymmetries, so nature has also plugged in some extra "hints" for us: curvy waist lines, broad shoulders, smooth dance moves, etc.
If you've read Plato, for example, you might be saying to yourself, "What's the big deal with all this hoo-ha about symmetry and beauty and and all that? Plato was writing about it in the 4th century BCE." Yes. But it wasn't a precise "science," as it supposedly is now.
By the way, the bigtime Chinese philosopher Mencius also thought we had an innate feeling for symmetry and beauty. See HERE.
A Dissenting View
Oliver Burkeman of The Guardian says that symmetry and perfection can be disturbing. Yea, but just look at his tiny mug shot next to his column. (Or look at mine, on the right side of this page.) Of course he'd say that, you may be thinking, 'cuz he's no George Clooney/Daniel Craig/nameyourfavoritehunkhere. Right, but I also see his point. Let me elaborate a bit.
I have known women who had big noses and for some reason I found them attractive. I knew a Dutch woman in college who was over 6 feet 2 inches: taller than me, and she had small breasts but she was sort of big-boned and clunky. And I thought she was hot. I could go on with my personal stuff here - a gal with a prominent mole that somehow seemed to improve an average face - but I'll stop. I think I asked myself, "Am I really attracted to these features, or have I picked up a fairly strong vibe that she'd be open to a roll in the hay with me, so I seem to find her flaws 'attractive,' or am I truly attracted to these 'flaws'?"
I don't know, but it seems a good bet that - and this is based on research too - her seeming "open-ness" made me find her flaws engaging.
I've noticed something "disturbing" about my seeming inability to give a beautiful female (stand-up, sketch, sitcom) comic performer the "room" they deserve, as comediennes. I don't like it, it's unfair to Olivia Munn, Aisha Tyler, Laura San Giacomo and a few others. If I find them gorgeous enough, those circuits in my brain seem to inhibit the "hey, that's funny" circuits. It's weird. Every time I see Aisha Tyler, I say to myself, "Now, forget she's that gorgeous. She's funny too. She's hilarious, witty, snide..."
And I fail. Time for another pic, so may as well be Aisha:
The Unit of Measurement of Beauty
It's the Helen. One millihelen is enough to launch a ship; let the math follow from there. I read most of the Wikipedia article I linked to two sentences ago; I didn't see Robert Anton Wilson mentioned; I thought maybe he had coined the "Helen" as a unit of measurement for beauty, but I couldn't confirm. He did make the "Spelvin" the unit of measurement of "sincerity in sexual pleasure," from Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy.
Fashion Models and Barbie
Regardless all this positivistic measurement and biology, there seems at least some aspect of culture that has some gravitational effects on all...this. Let's look at fashion models and how they've changed since 1992. According to this article from Plus Model/Utne Reader, the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average woman in 1992; today she weighs 23% less. Today's models very often meet the criteria for anorexia nervosa. WHO is choosing these models? Is this overweening skinniness being foisted upon the public? Do we really like that look best? Or is the fashion-model business sort of like the Art World: insular and to be admired from outside for their "show"?
Check out the lower half of this article. I find it amusing, but I found almost everything by the late William R. Corliss, amusing. Died in 2011. He was one of the great compilers of information that was representing something against-the-grain, anomalistic, or enlightening in some way. I marvel at a Corliss book. To me, he's right there with Charles Fort. Anyway: Barbie. We have, as a species, selected for these beautiful attributes, and at one long, long time ago, our ancestors were pug-fugly. Ken and Barbie are exteriorizations of our collective yearn for oodles of symmetry and sexual dimorphism. Or something like that. But because of symmetry and sexual choice (mostly by women), we have Barbie (and Ken) as ideals. (There may have been a tricky logical fallacy in there somewhere, so watch out!) And sombunall postmodernist/Culture Studies professors would say Barbie and Ken are about the White Male power structure, but all our symmetry studies say: no...
Because "it's hot in here" only because we have a sense of what "it's cold in here" might be like, I must discuss ugly people - or the non-beautiful, or those with "appearance deficits" - in order to leave this all properly aligned in some way.
Next time. Now go back uptop and do that BBC "Sex I.D. Test" thingy.
Here's Aisha Tyler doing stand-up for 50 seconds, in time for Valentine's Day: