Beauty: A Conversation
Bryn Mawr College
April 18, 2005

Mathematical universal? Cultural variety? Or...something else?

Seventeen of you said "no" to the universal mean/the mathematics of human beauty...

Alanna : I had briefly heard of the golden ratio, but I was not really aware how commonplace this number is in various human, animal, and architectural structures....but...What happens if my face doesn't measure up...? What about all of the other people out there... "doomed forever" to be society's misfits? I don't think that's very fair.

Meera: I wanted to see if I had the "perfect golden ratio" but probably would have felt bad if I didn't so I didnt bother.

Marissa: I agree with the comment that "what if your face does not conform?".... I would assume that for every beautiful conforming face there is another one considered just as beautiful that does not fit the golden ratio.

Rachel: I looked at the Golden Ratio site, and I can't say I am particularly surprised that there is a standard of beauty (or maybe just symmetry) that transcends race.

Brittany: After checking out all three "Golden Ratio"-type sites, I have to say I'm not overly impressed....Just biologically, the idea of a "standard human face" doesn't make sense to me. Don't species need biological diversity to survive? Wouldn't humans be pigeon-holing themselves if they all searched for the exact same mate-traits?...does it strike anyone else as odd that the image which these groups are proposing as the "perfect face" is essentially a cold, angular, non-human piece of trigonometry? And that it's actually really creepy looking...? That's the thing about ideals: they're essentially inhuman.

Katy: If you ask me, Dr. Marquardt is a hack....When we ascribe rigid standards of beauty... the result often...makes [the objects] seem unappealing....attempting to explain the phenomenon of beauty by scrutinizing it in terms of esoteric irrational numbers and proportions... I for one find... far too technical and needlessly complicated.

Alice K: Yuck. I adore the golden ratio in the nautilus--it is beautifu to me in theory and in form. But in humans, and shilling the ratio to humans, it is creepy and alien.... What vultures, what jerks.... There is no humanity, there is nothing to inspire my admiration or delight in these plastic looking faces.

Muska: What I found so disturbing about the entire notion of the golden ratio is how it was presented as a unifying principle, when really all it did was elimate any possibility for a diverse range of beauty to be recognized as aesthetically pleasing....the real message is "Regardless of race, the mask fits if your face corresponds to white features of attractive faces."

Mal: The mathematician in me is really excited by Phi and the golden ratio. It is exciting to be able to rationalized things such as the human face in terms of numbers and shapes....The other part of me is disgusted. This is just another standard of beauty. Just because we can calculate the "perfect" face doesn't mean we should. Phi is described as a natural occurrence of symmetry in nature...why do people think that they can change themselves to fit this?

Annabella: I am in the corner with those who found the whole PHI thing a is just a way for someone to make money off of other's insecurities....How twisted is our thinking about the human body...? We hate...the very vessel which is devoted totally to our service. It give us the five senses, it carries us from place to place, and without it we couldn't experience life at all, yet we are...disgusted by it...

Kara: After spending a great deal of time exploring Dr. Marquardt's theories on universal beauty, I still had many qualms with it....I have to question someone who is forcing a theory that one can only be beautiful if they have the exact facial structure of every other beautiful person in the world....It's almost an insult to human perception.... All of that said, I did think it was pretty cool that so many ratios in the human face and body are all consistent with this one "golden ratio." It makes sense...since we all have the same parts in basically the same places, but the fact that they are all the exact same ratio is really fascinating. I wonder why that is.

Megan: I find the whole idea of the "golden ratio" to be quite fascinating but I'm not entirely convinced of its truth. While I will agree that most beautiful faces will fit the mask...the mask itself looks rather grotesque say that there is only one standard by which we judge beauty seems preposterous. ....The fact that the faces could be rated on this scale just based on the mask was frightening and yet somewhat nonsensical to me....

Liz N: With the golden ratio, it seems that we're searching for the face that is the -most- human, the one that fits the golden ratio the best. We hold all other faces up to this subconscious ideal....the golden ratio seems to be arguing for one, universal standard of beauty -- not for cultural relativism....Are we all striving towards one standard?

Krystal: many of the faces used as examples all pretty much fit into conventional ideals of beuaty....I wonder how much the golden ratio plays into that.

Amanda: I love the idea of the Golden Ratio but worry if that is what people think about all the time....We already have enough to struggle with....TO worry that you're not up to par with a number does not help.

Jaya: I really don't like to think that the beauty we find human faces can be that simplified....skeptical towards the idea that beauty can be defined by a system involving universal proportions....Phi has to be a cultural/religious construct itself....

Lauren: this is not about beauty...looking at the mathematical ways in which I might determine the symmetry of my physiognomy....a circle is...perfectly symmetrical shape, but...It's a shape. It's flat. It doesn't move me....I cannot believe that there is any way you can find a formula to explain... the feeling...

"Sex Stimulates Intellect," Pravda 03/30/2004

Five of you were less interested in cultural variety, than in the question about beauty's relationship to the universal desire for sex

Amy: I wonder how the class felt about Robinson's focus on sex as a driving force behind the efforts behind beauty?

Rachel: I don't think beauty is only a product of sexual say that sexuality and beauty are one in the same is an oversimplification.

Meera: we are attracted to people who we want to have sex with....

Tanya: the search of beauty in humans is predominately sex driven....the more sexually stimulating someone was, the more beautiful and sought after they is not because we want to proliferate, but more because we enjoy the pleasure of sex.

Alice S: Our society tells us to be sexy, but not to have sex. I just really appreciate the fact that other cultures do not see sexuality as being so taboo.

"Beauty, Pain: Uncovered," By Jess Feury-- A Washington DC Artist

Eight of you offered a range of other intriguing explanations for "why" beauty is....

Amy: we value the rare--and had me thinking that perhaps the widespread commericiality of beauty has upped the antie...

Rachel: maybe causing ourselves pain is a way of making ourselves vulnerable so we can be receptive to beauty?

Liz P: I like the notion that women and men select for traits that are defining of themselves....Piercings and tattoos and scars...I understand the beauty of these modifications more than the beauty of some removable external plumage. Eventually it comes off and we are all naked. Therefore it is a transicent fleeting beauty and I suppose thats why I don't care much about it.

Rebecca: I was comfortable considering that there was a genetic or biological influence on what people find attractive. I find this idea...assuring because it is just one more way in which nature takes care of itself.

eebs: maybe beauty is "conditioned"...,because we see so much of a certain type....hollywood is the culprit. without...their creating a standard of beauty, no one would be affected by their hm... perfectness(?)

Tanya: beautification tends to be a painful process universally...acquiring beauty required work and strife.

Catie: when we rebel against society's ideal of beauty, are we going against human nature?...Do we really need beauty if we dont plan on reproducing?

Krystal: how many risks people are willing to take in order to make themselves appealing....Risking extreme pain and possibly death to prove to others just how much of an attractive man or woman you are.

Eebs and Sharon: more about Phi?

Liz N and Anne: more about cultural relativism?

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