Beauty, Ballyhoo, and Beholders

“When you’re in love with a beautiful woman…” “You’re beautiful, it’s true…” “… and I saw the most beautiful woman, getting married to a handsome man…”

Song-writers and film-makers appear to equate beauty with love. However, there is a core group of people who equate beauty with, of all things, mathematics. Here, I am not alluding to the rhyme, rhythm and reason behind what we called “sums”.

The arithmetic in these people’s minds exists inasmuch as it is the proportions of, distances between, and other minutiae pertaining to the features that make one “beautiful” rather than homely, “pretty” rather than plain. There are people who are content with what nature has dealt them, albeit it is not judged favourably by these self-styled pundits. Others, who have been tried and found wanting (by themselves as well as by these number-crunchers) are further peeved when they “discover” that their eyes are only a couple of millimetres too close, and their nostrils two more, too wide, for them to be judged “fabulous”.

Friends of mine who have gone under the scalpel, laser, cannula, or syringe, tell me that it is not as much as a wish for a new face, a for a revamped one, that drives them to see surgery. Some of them feared the transition into “old age” (their thirtieth birthday); others wanted to keep their partner’s undivided attention (as if a face were the only important thing in a relationship.

I do not hesitate to say that a good couple of them were much prettier ‘before’. For others the motivation was simply a wish to spend their money (or someone else’s), on something truly personal, rather than a trip abroad or house renovation. But, ironically, when I asked them whether they had consulted any mathematical formulae in between their initial consultations and eventual booking, they thought I was having them on.

We have all seen how those pictures compiled from different features of women typically considered gorgeous, end up proffering homely faces. Recently I read a feature which involved virtually dividing the faces of ‘beautiful’ women down the middle, and presenting the ‘two versions’ of each woman’s face. It has been said that singer Sade is one of the very, very few people whose faces are symmetrical – and indeed this demonstrated in this set of photographs. Yet the minor variations between the left and right sides of Michelle Pfeiffer, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and others, did result in two very different faces.

The term “angle of beauty” was arbitrarily determined in 2005 by Rajiv Grover, a leading consultant in the British cosmetic surgery field.

He determined that for a woman to be beautiful there must be an angle of 81o between the centre of the chin and the outer edge of the cheekbones – such as is extant in the faces of Michelle Pfeiffer and Kate Moss. This he did after he measured the facial angles of (just) 100 women. Like the proverbial lambs to the slaughter, they allowed him to use them in this manner so they he could then capriciously inform them whether they were truly beautiful, or it was that they just imagined they were…. in which case they could resort to filling of their face with something that could make their face more triangular – akin to that of a praying mantis, perhaps.

So, do we blame gravity when our faces begin to sag, and then get on with life? Or do we take drastic action to prop ourselves up physically, and perhaps psychologically and emotionally too? Unconventional beauty afforded by irregular features, uneven teeth, and an air of serendipity that sets the features at peace, was not even given a look in when these measurements and comparisons were made. In similar studies, terms such as “gaunt” and “flat” were bandied about to create a need where none had hitherto existed.

For the fickle decisions about what constitutes beauty were regimented by those who stood to gain – a lot – when the ‘results’ were made public. Over the yeas, people have tried to put their fingers upon what makes a woman feminine, and consequently more attractive to males.

One calculation has it as ‘one-third forehead, one-third mid-face, and one-third lower face’. And Angelina Jolie lips (deemed beautiful only in women with short lower faces) deliver the subliminal message that a woman is fertile, just as a cupid’s bow characterises femininity. A woman, apparently, ‘has’ to have a high, wide forehead. Adult male faces tend to be wide, and have larger, longer lower faces and wider jaws than women.

They also have comparatively longer philtrums. So women with facial features opposite to these would pass muster when it came to the tacit rule of attractiveness. So it’s not for nothing that make-up artistes have learned how to create the “vulnerable look”, which includes large round eyes, without dark circles beneath them, a large curved forehead and a small, short nose and chin, inasmuch as they can, with what they have to work on.

A botoxed forehead, re-threaded eyebrows, dyed and extended eyelashes, a straightened nose and a hairline lift… plumped-up lips and cheeks, filled-in hollows below the eyes… peels to remove acne scars and other ‘imperfections’ – is this the perfect formula for a perfect face, then?

Not necessarily – for the answer could be much simpler. According to American dentist Yosh Jefferson, “Ideal facial proportions are universal regardless of race, sex and age, and are based on divine proportions – i.e. the mathematical ration of 1:1.618.”

In other words, if the width of the face from cheek to cheek is 10 inches (25 centimetres), then the length of the face from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin should be 16.18 inches to be in ideal proportion.

This ratio, for women to be beautiful, must also apply to the proportions between; the width of the mouth to the width of the cheek; the width of the nose to the width of the cheek, and the width of the nose to the width of the mouth. Some mathematicians-turned-beauticians also mention Fibonacci sequences, squares-within-circles, and fractals. And that is where they lose me. For, when I meet someone for the first time, I never mentally split her face into potential slivers of beauty….I just look behind her eyes…


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