What a Beauty


Love Is Blind?

Hatred is blind, as well as love.

- Oscar Wilde

Whoever said love is blind is dead wrong.
Love is the only thing that lets us see each other with the remotest accuracy.

- Martha Beck

It is not love, but lack of love, which is blind.

- Glenway Wescott


If everyone were suddenly struck blind (perhaps because the quality of light had altered when the earth went through an unexpected aerosol cloud), then our concepts of beauty and probably even morality would change.

Presumably nudity would no longer warrant legislation, but zones for acceptable skin contact would suddenly become heavily legislated.  (Only your intimate friends would know whether or not you needed a face lift or to lose 10 kilos.  There would be separate elevators for men and women.)  A new industry - that of keeping your voice young sounding - would probably spring up.

But apparently this would work only if everyone were blind...

Love at No Sight

In a looks-obsessed world, are blind people immune to appearances when they fall in love?  As a new film looks at how sight-impaired people find romance, Damon Rose who is blind, says you don't have to be sighted to be shallow.

There are many questions that blind people find themselves fielding regularly.  There's the one about whether you can see in your dreams, the one about how you know where your mouth is when eating ... but the other, and possibly most surprising of all, is the one that goes: "How do you fancy someone if you can't see them?"  To answer the question simply and directly, blind people will tell you that it's the voice, brain and personality which initially catch the eye, or in this case, ear.  It's a good understandable answer.  Everyone hears attractive voices on the radio.  Voices are powerful organs that convey humour, quirkiness, intelligence, sweetness and attitude.

Your voice is the mouthpiece for the brain, it communicates your personality very effectively.  Though love at first sight may happen for people blessed with eyes, love after first discussion is the closest you'll get to it if you can't see.  I've often thought that "sighties" might be just a little bit disabled by having vision.  I've seen friends chasing people for their looks yet getting hurt very badly because their beauty is only skin deep, their personality somewhat rotten.

But good looks and attraction can be complex for blind people.  And oh how I'd love to be able to sit here and tell you that blind people are without prejudice: not caring if you' re a prince or whether you're plug ugly and that we don't care about such superficial matters.  Sadly, that's just not true.  It's impossible to live in the UK and not soak up discussions about beauty and presentability.  It matters to everyone else, so of course it matters to us by proxy.

When I was a teenager, I went to a boarding school for blind children where the sound of wildly rushing male and female hormones could be heard on every corridor. I particularly remember a new girl arriving. No one took much notice in her first few weeks... until one lad said they'd heard she was blonde. She may have been a quiet shrinking violet but she suddenly started getting a lot of attention after her hair colour was made known. Of course, few of her admirers could see her crowning glory, or even knew that blonde was a kind of light yellowy brown, but because "blondes" are talked about as desirable, and dare I say thought more attractive than darker haired people, she became very popular.

Shallow, isn't it?  But beautifully so.

Similarly, a blind friend of mine fell completely head over heels in love with a girl he thought the world of.  They started dating.  He talked about her all the time and, as mates do, he stopped going down the pub and started to prefer homemade meals and a nice bottle of wine with his loved one.  I remember him saying how much he liked her soft voice and her perfume.  They had similar politics, liked the same films, read the same books - a match made in heaven.

Then, his brother met her, unpleasantly told him she looked "a right dog" and my friend dumped her.  She was devastated... and he started going to the Red Lion again.

I found it terribly sad but half understood where he was coming from.  So insecure was he about the world and what image and attractiveness meant, that he felt he had to get rid of someone who could reflect badly on him because he didn't know any better.  And on this occasion, he deferred to his brother who can see, after all.

Beauty is power.  Attractive people have an air about them.  They're often very confident.  As the phrase goes ... they can walk into a room and own it.  But if the room has blind people in it, the "power" of their looks goes out of the window.  This can be confusing for people whose good looks usually count for a lot more than I'm giving them.  Let me give you an example.  I'm at a party.  I start talking to someone.  I have no idea whether they're good looking or not until this happens: "I just thought I'd better tell you what I look like.  I'm 5 feet 5 inches, I've got shoulder-length blonde hair, my eyes are a deep brown colour and my skin tones are very light.  If anyone asks who was the petite one you were talking to, that'll be me."

Huh?  What?  Hello?  How am I supposed to react to this?

This is a situation that a number of blind friends have reported happens to them too.  In the early days I mistakenly thought I was being chatted up.  As I got a older though, I began to realise that this was more of a case study in egotism.  Some people just can't bear the idea that the blind person in the room won't consider them special or even worth talking to... until they tell you how good looking they are.  The irony is that blind people tend to think less of them for doing it.

Of course, Lionel Richie has taught us that blind people are even more soulful than his music.  The video which accompanied his 1984 hit Hello featured a storyline where teacher Lionel had a seemingly unrequited love for a blind student in his art class.  At the end of the video, we discover she has feelings for him too because she modelled a likeness of his face.  Her soul touched his in a way that meant she didn't need to be able to see him to know what he looked like.  I guess the biggest insight into what blind people think is attractive is to hurl a lump of clay at them and see what they turn it into.

Damon Rose is editor of the BBC disability site Ouch!

Source: news.bbc.co.uk 27 May 2009

There's a reason why physical appearances matter - even the blind.  Beauty is the ultimate average - blend 200 faces together and the result is seen as beautiful - an indication (through symmetry) that a person has good genes, is "fit."  It signifies.

See also:

bulletThe Mile High Couple (on a page earlier in this section) - If everyone on the plane were blind, would this couple still have committed a crime?  If no one knew what they had done, would they still have learned the same lesson?
bulletBlind Leading the "Blind" - The Videothèque also offers "dinners in the darkness" where diners often have difficulty recognising what they are eating, or short music concerts and braille reading sessions all in the dark.

Bad News for the Plain and Ordinary

by Robert Uhlig

Beauty makes the world an unhappier place, say two mathematicians who have calculated the ideal way to match lonely hearts to their soulmates. Conventionally good-looking people such as Kate Moss, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lopez, may be pleasing to the eye but their very presence makes the world a less contented place, the research suggests.

At fault is the so-called Vogue factor, a measure of how much influence beauty has in society.  The higher the Vogue factor, the mathematicians say, the more dissatisfied and miserable we are with our sexual partners.

"When the concept of the most beautiful in the world tends to be the same for everyone, it becomes more and more difficult to make more people happy," says Guido Caldarelli, a physicist at Rome University who conducted the research.  With television, cinema and magazines such as Vogue bombarding us with images of beautiful women and good-Iooking men conforming to a standardised concept of beauty, overall levels of dissatisfaction are likely to increase.

Working with Andrea Capocci of Fribourg University in Switzerland, Caldarelli updated the stable marriage problem, a mathematical puzzle first examined in 1962 by two University of California researchers.  David Gale and Lloyd Shapley's study found that provided the criteria for choosing partners - wit, beauty, intelligence, wealth or whatever - had no intrinsic value in society, then everybody should end up with a partner with whom they were reasonably happy.

The best outcome, of everyone getting their number one choice, was mathematically unlikely.  Instead, Gale and Shapley determined that a more likely outcome was that everyone would match up to a reasonable overall level of happiness.  However, global happiness sunk through the floor when Caldarelli and Capocci introduced beauty.

Caldarelli and Capocci gave each person an intrinsic beauty which was weighted by multiplying it by the Vogue factor.  When the Vogue factor was zero, beauty played no part, and each person was ranked by potential mates in the random way as before.  Every one of the 1,000 men in Caldarelli's puzzle landed a partner ranked better than 70 out of the 1,000 women on his list.

But when the Vogue factor was only slightly greater than zero, beauty outweighed the random factor and the intrinsically beautiful people rose to the top of everyone's wish lists.

With every man vying for the attention of the most beautiful women, an averagely attractive man was almost as likely to be lumbered with Miss 900 as he was to get Miss 200 in his top 1,000 list.

"The result of this makes distressing reading for the plain and ordinary," New Scientist reports. - Daily Telegraph

Source: The Dominion Thursday 28 December 2000

Ugly Children May Get Parental Short Shrift

by Nicholas Bakalar

Parents would certainly deny it, but Canadian researchers have made a startling assertion: parents take better care of pretty children than they do ugly ones.

Researchers at the University of Alberta carefully observed how parents treated their children during trips to the supermarket.  They found that physical attractiveness made a big difference.  The researchers noted if the parents belted their youngsters into the grocery cart seat, how often the parents' attention lapsed and the number of times the children were allowed to engage in potentially dangerous activities like standing up in the shopping cart.  They also rated each child's physical attractiveness on a 10-point scale.  The findings, not yet published, were presented at the Warren E Kalbach Population Conference in Edmonton, Alberta.

When it came to buckling up, pretty and ugly children were treated in starkly different ways, with seat belt use increasing in direct proportion to attractiveness.  When a woman was in charge, 4% of the homeliest children were strapped in compared with 13.3% of the most attractive children.  The difference was even more acute when fathers led the shopping expedition - in those cases, none of the least attractive children were secured with seat belts, while 12.5% of the prettiest children were.  Homely children were also more often out of sight of their parents, and they were more often allowed to wander more than 10 feet away.

Age - of parent and child - also played a role.  Younger adults were more likely to buckle their children into the seat, and younger children were more often buckled in.  Older adults, in contrast, were inclined to let children wander out of sight and more likely to allow them to engage in physically dangerous activities.

Although the researchers were unsure why, good-looking boys were usually kept in closer proximity to the adults taking care of them than were pretty girls.  The researchers speculated that girls might be considered more competent and better able to act independently than boys of the same age.  The researchers made more than 400 observations of child-parent interactions in 14 supermarkets.

Dr W Andrew Harrell, executive director of the Population Research Laboratory at the University of Alberta and the leader of the research team, sees an evolutionary reason for the findings: pretty children, he says, represent the best genetic legacy, and therefore they get more care.  Not all experts agree.  Dr Frans de Waal, a professor of psychology at Emory University, said he was skeptical.  "The question," he said, "is whether ugly people have fewer offspring than handsome people.  I doubt it very much.  If the number of offspring are the same for these two categories, there's absolutely no evolutionary reason for parents to invest less in ugly kids."

Dr Robert Sternberg, professor of psychology and education at Yale, said he saw problems in Dr Harrell's method and conclusions, for example, not considering socioeconomic status.  "Wealthier parents can feed, clothe and take care of their children better due to greater resources," Dr Sternberg said, possibly making them more attractive.  "The link to evolutionary theory is speculative."  But Dr Harrell said the importance of physical attractiveness "cuts across social class, income and education.  Like lots of animals, we tend to parcel out our resources on the basis of value," he said.  "Maybe we can't always articulate that, but in fact we do it. There are a lot of things that make a person more valuable, and physical attractiveness may be one of them."

Source: nytimes.com 3 May 2005

The Nature of Normal Human Variety: A Talk with Armand Leroi


Many people think that beauty is a certificate of health; this is an idea that comes out of sociobiology.  But it is more obvious than than that.  It's simply the idea that beautiful people are healthy people and we search for healthy mates.  And that's probably true.  Or at least it was.  But is it still?

In the past, health was primarily a matter of environmental conditions - your exposure to contagious diseases and the amount of food that you had when you were growing up.  Rich people had better environments, hence the positive association between beauty and wealth.  But what of modern economically egalitarian societies such as Holland?  In such societies, does the ancient association still obtain?  If the variance in beauty is due to the variance in the quality of the rearing environment then it must be the case that the Dutch - who all eat much the same good food, live in much the same well-designed houses, and have access to much the same excellent health-care - must all be equivalently beautiful.  But is this so?  The answer is, of course, no.  Among the Dutch you can find good-looking and not so good-looking people.  And the question is then, why?

I would argue that the reason for this is that there is and will always be variance in beauty is because there is variance in mutational load.  What is beauty fundamentally about?  I would argue - and this is really just a postulate at this time, but it is one that interests me a great deal - that the fundamental reason why some of us are more beautiful than others is because of those deleterious mutations that we all carry.  We may carry 300 deleterious mutations on average, but there is of course a variance associated with that.  Not everybody has 300.  Some people have more, some people have fewer.  If this is true - and statistically it must be true - then someone in the world has the fewest mutations of all.  Someone in the world is the least mutant human of all.  Indeed, we can actually calculate, making some assumptions about the shape of the distribution, how many mutations that person has - and it turns out to be 191 versus the average of 300.  This, to my mind, is surprisingly many.  I would suggest that if we could find that person, he or she would be a good candidate for being the most beautiful person in the world.  At least she would be, assuming she did not grow up in some impoverished underdeveloped nation.  Which, statistically, she will have done since most people do.

Source: edge.org

A Beautiful Combination: Researchers Link Œstrogen to Looks

These are composite images of the faces of 10 women with both the highest and lowest levels of œstrogen.
Can you guess which is which?  (Answer below.)  Men chose the one with the highest levels as most attractive...

by Christopher Hutsul

Beauty, as it turns out, isn't skin deep.  A study at the University of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland, has shown that attractiveness in females relates to the hormonal composition of blood.  Researchers found that men tend to be attracted to women who have high levels of œstrogen, a naturally occurring sex hormone linked to fertility.  The report also found that women with high œstrogen levels had more feminine features, such as bigger eyes, fuller lips and smoother skin.

The researchers photographed 59 women between 18 and 25, who were wearing no makeup, and took a urine sample from each subject for hormone analysis.  A group of men then rated the women in the photographs for health, femininity and attractiveness.  The results showed that men were most attracted to the women who tested for high levels of œstrogen.  Miriam Law Smith, who helped carry out the research, says men were, in effect, choosing the women best poised to bear children.  "From an evolutionary point of view, it would now make sense that men prefer feminine female faces because those are the women who have higher œstrogen levels, and who are ultimately more fertile," says Law Smith.  "In our evolutionary past, men who favoured women with feminine features would be choosing the more fertile female, thus would have had more babies and be passing on more of their genes."

The study also suggests cosmetics do much more than merely add a touch of colour to a woman's face.  Law Smith believes women wear makeup to mimic the facial cues that allude to heightened fertility.  A woman with low levels of œstrogen, then, would be more likely to wear more makeup.  "What we think is happening here is that women are using makeup to cover up the cues of low fertility that would normally be found in the face," she says.

It seems to work.  In an alternate test, photographs were taken of the same women, this time wearing makeup.  The rankings showed no correlation between beauty and œstrogen levels.  The women had successfully mimicked the facial fertility cues.  Law Smith has been asked repeatedly if the study will result in new beauty treatments.  The point of the experiment, she says, was not to find a way to enhance female beauty but to explore the workings of human attraction.  She points out that while œstrogen supplements have been known to clear up skin, they aren't likely to give a developed woman more feminine features.  "We wouldn't suggest that this research could implicate the use of œstrogen supplements to improving women's (attractiveness)," says Law Smith.  "I would never recommend giving adults or adolescents œstrogen in the hope that it would make them more attractive."

That men are hardwired to be attracted to the women at the peak of fertility - an affinity that doesn't lessen with men's age - seems to paint a bleak picture for older women.  But Smith Law says the test shows only men's initial reaction and doesn't take into consideration the other elements that come into play when choosing a partner.  Interestingly, the phenomenon doesn't appear to apply when the genders are switched.  "Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine-looking faces, but it's different in terms of determining attractiveness because masculine men aren't always found more attractive," says Law Smith.  "Females tend to have a lot more variation on what they find attractive.  A handsome, rugged man might ultimately not make a good father...  Multiple motives contribute to female preference, whereas male preference, across all cultures and time, tend to favour the most feminine-looking females."

Answer: The composite image of 10 women with high œstrogen levels is the one on the left.

Source: thestar.com Toronto Star 13 November 2005 photo credit Miriam J Law Smith

See also:

bulletThe Trouble with Men (in the section on Men) - "There's more to a man than his wallet!  I want a woman who loves me for what I am!"
bulletEven at Work, Pretty People Advance Faster than Plain (in the section on Working) - For decades, psychology research has shown that attractive people have a better chance at getting hired, getting promoted, getting the permission of bosses to embark on ambitious projects, landing more clients and getting a fatter paycheque...
bulletHouston, We Have a Big Problem (in the section on Lifestyles) - "Yes, Houston is fat, but so is every other city.  We are a fat society.  Period."  In fact, 61% of Americans weigh too much, and about 27% of them are obese - 30 pounds or more over a healthy weight, according to federal statistics.
bulletEnhancing Human Traits (in the section on Drugs) - ethical and social implications
bulletRules of Attraction (in the section on Money and Politics) - Is it worthwhile to lose weight?  Consider this: In 1992, the individual net worth of an obese woman (defined as having a "body mass index" of more than 35) was, on average, 40% lower than that of a woman of "normal" weight, after adjusting statistically for factors such as age, education, professional status, marital status and health.  By 1998, the economic penalty for being fat had increased: the net worth of the obese woman was 60% less than that of her slimmer sisters...

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