Fools for beauty

Lubna Abdel-Aziz , Tuesday 20 Sep 2022

The funeral of Queen Elisabeth II

We automatically exhibit preference for visual beauty in nature or in humans.

It is effortless, immediate, universal.

Beauty elicits our highest affects and stimulates our deepest longings.

The notion of physical attractiveness is a natural tendency towards beauty, encoded intrinsically in the human brain.

Science has recently backed that concept through the aid of binocular rivalry, which is a phenomenon of visual perception between different images presented to each eye, through a special stereoscope.

Binocular rivalry is nothing new. The special stereoscope was invented by British physicist Charles Wheatstone in 1808, so that others could view dissimilar pictures with ease. His mirror stereoscope is exhibited at the Science Museum in London.

In recent years the method has been successfully used in determining beauty.

At the University of Montreal, scientists Ce Mo, Tiansheng Xia, Kaixim Qin, and Lee Mo authored an article published in PLoS One, in which they presented two dissimilar objects to each eye and perception alternates, between each one.

The conclusion of their extensive study definitely states the dominance for physically attractive human images.

This is undisputed scientific evidence that facial attractiveness had dominance enhancement.

All that labour and trouble by worthy scientists to prove what we have always known for ages: beauty is omnipotent.

Therefore it absolves men (and women) from being accused of triviality or frivolity. The penchant for beauty is an innate behavioural preference driven by an inherent, natural inclination towards beauty, rather than an explicit social process.

Our audio-visual perception of beauty refers to our sense of pleasure to the eyes and ears that is directly faced upon the auditory or visual pathway, which is our perceptual experience of the world.

A recent example is the majestic funeral of the much-loved Queen Elisabeth II of Britain. Despite the deep sorrow, all the beauty, the pomp, the pageantry was afforded the late queen. Magnificent flowers, jewels, uniforms, medals, flags adorned the nation’s salute and farewell. Millions were glued to their TVs to watch beauty on display.

There are various aspects to beauty and we are by no means over-looking the qualities of moral beauty such as kindness, loyalty, courage, self-sacrifice, humility, etc. Such virtues are based on understanding, on social mores and highly developed social recognition. This takes time and discovery, whereas the visual strikes instantly.

Beauty has many facets — biological, psychological, cultural and social that influence how we perceive beauty. However, researchers now believe that beauty preferences are part of a rudimentary cognitive process that appears quite early in life with humans having seemingly automatic ability to recognise beauty or the lack thereof.

Scientific literature supports several features as universal criteria for human beauty.

Even month-old babies’ eyes detect and follow beautiful people or objects. Most probably those are the ones who, as adults, give wolf-howls to a pair of beautiful legs.

History has introduced us to beauties forever etched in our hearts, mythical or real we idolise Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in history.

Plutarch said Cleopatra was not beautiful, but who cares what Plutarch said. She was a love goddess who conquered the hearts of Roman emperors.

Royalty gave us universal beauties from Princess Fawzia of Egypt to Princess Diana of Britain.

A century ago, cinema came along to be a showcase for global beauties which age could not wither. The world embraced the likes of Hedy Lamar, Vivien Leigh, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Elisabeth Taylor or Robert Taylor, Richard Burton, Clark Gable, and Tyrone Power. Death could neither deny nor erase their beauty.

Are we slaves to beauty? We are. The beautiful have been blessed by the gods. They get the glamorous jobs, the whistles, the service, the smiles, the oohs and aahs, the odes to beauty.

Beauty standards are not stationary, except for the few classics that live on and on.

Fortunately we live in an age when everyone can be beautiful. Disregarding the surgeon’s knife. The gym provides beauty mostly for the male figure that women swoon over.

 Then there is the cosmetic industry. Everything you need to be beautiful comes in a jar, maybe a flacon.

In 2021 beauty products total expenditure globally reached $511 billion, for both sexes. It is expected to top $716 billion in 2025. What are you waiting for? Beauty is knocking.

Women have a heavier burden to carry, for there are products from top to toe that the industry insists you need. The irony is that you do.

A survey by University of Texas’ David Buss, PhD and researchers, found that 75 per cent of men prefer women with make-up. Women wearing make-up were approached faster by men. The effects of make-up have been found to be as high and as potent as facial structural features.

So, do forget that soap-washed face au naturel. Get the make-up and use it lightly if you wish, and get that handsome guy with large eyes, small to medium nose and sharp jaw, according to the article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Michael Cunningham of the University of Louisville.

Concentrate on eyes, eyes, eyes, then lips, the two most important features for both sexes.

Better still, wear a smile. We are drawn to positive emotions and nothing is more attractive than a smile. It produces more activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, more attractive than neutral expressions.

Moreover, a smile makes us happy. Beauty makes us happy.

A good night’s sleep will give us both.

   *A version of this article appears in print in the 22 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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