The delicate colors of the sky at dawn – the love between a mother and her child – the brilliance of a mathematical formula – the architecture of a majestic palace – the soulful performance of a singer.
Beauty is all around us.
Philosophers have long spoken about it. What is it that makes something beautiful? Whether it’s an abstract idea such as the script of a Shakespearean play, or the natural beauty of a snowy mountain range, it’s not quite something you can put your finger on, and yet it gives us so much pleasure. What appears plain to one person might be beautiful to the next. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What about human beauty? Where does that come into play and what does it mean for someone to be beautiful? Are we talking about inner or outer beauty?
At first glance, we are taken by the physical attractiveness of another human being. We can’t help but be drawn to look at and observe each other. A large percentage of our brain is dedicated to deciphering facial cues such as emotions or watching where other people’s eyes are looking. As touchy of a topic as it may be, physical attractiveness has been important to humanity since prehistory. It is part of our elaborate courting behavior to make ourselves look more physically attractive with clothing or make-up. While we may not know what exactly makes something or someone beautiful, there are have been recent attempts to scientifically study what makes someone physically attractive.
Some researchers say there are agreed-upon qualities across cultures that are attractive. For example, height in men is seen as attractive in all societies, and neotenous – that is, youthful – features in women display the least variability of attraction throughout the world. Interestingly, composite faces that display the average features tend to be rated as more attractive than real people’s faces. Maybe that means familiarity and our personal ability to digest all the information our brain’s receive when we’re looking at someone is what defines beauty. It is speculated that more symmetrical faces, signaling more even development in the body, are considered more attractive because they reflect a healthier growth. As an example of this, some researchers claim that beauty and intelligence are linked, although this hasn’t yet been proven.
Stepping away from ‘looks’, or at least putting on the blindfold for a moment, it has been shown that the level of physical attractiveness can be determined from the sound of someone’s voice or the scent of their clothing. This leads us to the question: can physical beauty be seen in the creativity of someone’s ideas or the charm of their character?
Physical beauty can only take us so far. Our society would not be where it is today if Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein had spent as much time on their beauty as they did on their theories. We have to go further than skin-deep to see if someone is truly a beautiful person, for their beauty may not be in the shape of their skull, but rather in the shape of their ideas. There is always the unknown something you can’t put your finger on behind that which is beautiful, and that it’s so personal is a thing of beauty, in and of itself.