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Is beauty in the eye of the beho ...

Posted Jun 10 2009 6:43pm

Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Possibly, but research suggests that there is a pattern to determining physical beauty.


Facial symmetry is commonly used to determine facial beauty. A symmetrical face was deemed to have beauty, and harmony. To compare symmetry, a line is drawn down the centre of the face to bisect the face into half, and the right and left sides compared against each other. Rarely are the two sides perfectly symmetrical. Often one side of the face is larger than the other. The degree of symmetry is also affected by the bone structure and development, fat deposition, and facial muscle activity on either side.

Research has shown that symmetrical faces are more attractive to the opposite sex.  Aside, it also claims that women coupled with men having symmetrical bodies experience more orgasms, and women with symmetrical breasts are more fertile! A symmetrical face is also suggested to be linked to better health.  

Just why is facial symmetry so attractive?

According to Charles Darwin, who wrote about evolution and coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’, animals chose a mate through mate competition (usually by a bigger male size, and evolution of defensive and attack weapons such as antlers and horns), and also the evolution of traits such as colour (peacock tails, colourful bodies), and different animal calls. Similarly, humans consider more attractive secondary sexual characteristics as a gauge of better health and fertility, explaining the natural selection to be more attracted to symmetrical, and hence, more beautiful faces.

Well known celebrities with symmetrical faces include Cate Blanchett, Kate Moss, Michelle Pfieffer, Tom Cruise and Natelie Portman. If you’re curious how symmetrical the two halves of your face is, you can go to this website Symmeter, where they have free online software to create and compare your own facial symmetry. 


In art, there rules of facial proportions have been taught since classical Greek times, and till today still stand firm and are used in art, paintings and sculptures.  It is also not surprising that many of them lay the foundation to the measurements that are used in cosmetic surgery today. To calculate perfect facial proportions, scientific and cosmetic surgery divides the face up horizontally and vertically.

Facial Proportions

Horizontal Proportions

The face is first divided into three horizontal equal parts and its components:

  • Upper third- from the hairline down to the eyebrows, consisting of the forehead, glabella (area between the eyebrows) and eyebrows
  • Middle third- the midface, eyes, nose
  • Lower third- lower cheeks, jawline, neck

The lower third may be further broken down into an upper third, which consists of the upper lip, and the lower two-thirds, which consists the lower lip and chin.

Vertical Proportions

Vertically, the face is divided into equal fifths, each approximating the width of the eye. If we number the fifths in order from right to left in the picture,

  • Outermost (1st and last)fifths- from the edge of the ear to the outer corner of the eye
  • 2nd and 4th fifths- the eyes
  • Middle (3rd) fifth- the nose and mouth

The neck should also fall within the lines falling vertically from the outer corners of both eyes. The lines falling from the inner corners of both eyes should also touch the outside corners of the nose.

Another line, known as the Frankfort line, which joins the uppermost point of the hole of both and the edge of the lower rim of the eye socket should be parallel to the ground. A line perpendicular to the Frankfort line dropped from the centre of the nose should touch the centre of the forehead, lips and chin. The tip of the nose should lie approximately 1-2mm above the base of the nose (where the flares of the nose join the face), and 2-4mm of the nasal columella (the column separating both nostrils) should be visible below the rim of the nostrils.

Further more, each facial feature also has ideal anatomical proportions, which I shall cover in subsequent posts. These include the eye brow, eyelid, eye, nose, mouth, jaw, ears and neck.


Another factor of attractiveness for humans is the overall sexual development of the face. Males prefer females with more feminine features, while females have a preference for more masculine features. Masculine features include a larger jawbone, more prominent cheekbones, thinner cheeks, thick eyebrows. Feminine features display prominent cheekbones, relative hairlessness (compared to males), a shorter, narrower lower jaw, wide eyes, lip fullness.

Some people have asymmetric faces, yet they are still regarded as beautiful. How does this asymmetry play a role in defining beauty? According to research by Springer, asymmetries nearer the midline are significantly less attractive than asymmetries affecting the outer aspects of the face. For example, a facial mole located on the outer cheek is more attractive than a mole closer to the midline.


What’s the big deal regarding attractiveness in today’s society?

According to a review published in the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, numerous studies have shown that facial attractiveness has the ‘halo effect’. The halo effect associates attractiveness to many positive characteristics. Attractive children and adults are deemed nicer, better, healthier, and more intelligent. People are also imclined to treat the attractive more positively, by helping or performing altruistic acts. They are also more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt. In the working world, the attractive applicant is also perceived more qualified for a job (all other qualifications being equal), and is more likely to be recommended and be hired, predicted to be more successful, and better compensated. In life in general, attractive people experience more positive outcomes. They have more occupational success, are more popular, have more self confidence and self-esteem, are more assertive, have greater dating and sexual experiences, and enjoy better mental and physical health.

To many, beauty is more than skin deep, and often more than they care to admit. However, whatever research shows, cosmetic procedures is not necessarily the answer to a better life. It is more important to have a  positive attitude, and to lead a healthy and fulfilling life.

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