The Beauty Denominator

February 7, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Though it is seldom acknowledged as one, Beauty is a Power. Over 50000 years ago, man changed his relationship with beauty forever, from one of awe and worship to one that is a product of our innovation. How has this change transformed us?


Beauty Denomnator Penthrall

Image Courtesy wikimedia

There is evidence that perceptions of beauty are evolutionarily determined, that things, aspects of people and landscapes considered beautiful are typically found in situations likely to give enhanced survival of the perceiving human’s genes. – Dennis Dutton

Beauty has been one of the most important philosophical concepts that has captivated our collective thought. It finds its place in almost every field of study. We have even tried to simplify it and understand it in terms of basic symmetry. But there is something about beauty that is still very intangible. As much as we have tried to quantify it and pin it down, we haven’t really acquainted ourselves with its many manifestations.

The vital thing to understand about beauty is that it is a concept, it is divisive and it has an aspirational quality to it. These three qualities have contributed in creating a very crippling relationship with beauty.

Beauty is a concept: As human beings we use concepts and abstractions because they help us understand things better. We break down the complex world we inhabit into simpler segments that we can wrap our minds around. A downfall with this approach is that we soon get blind to our abstractions. Over time we start believing that the abstraction is real and we fail to see what is really out there. This causes a viscous circle of a strange kind because we soon start emulating what we think we are seeing.

Beauty is divisive by nature: It separates the perceived good from the rest. We live in a crazy world where everything around us, from a pencil sharpener to a paper bag needs to be beautiful. Why? Because if it isn’t we won’t desire it and if we don’t desire it we will not buy it. We live in houses that have designated areas for beautiful things to be placed. Our relationship with beauty dates back to the days when we lived in caves and built beautiful hand-axes to attract mates. It was as divisive then as it continues to be now. Back then it helped in evolution by selecting the most intelligent and skilled man to start a family with. Have you ever thought about what it selects now?

How much money a person earns may also be influenced by physical beauty. One study found that people low in physical attractiveness earn 5 to 10 percent less than ordinary looking people, who in turn earn 3 to 8 percent less than those who are considered good looking. – Kate Lorenz

Conversely, being very unattractive increases the individual’s propensity for criminal activity for a number of crimes ranging from burglary to theft to selling illicit drugs. – Stephen J. Dubner and Dave Berri, Freakonomics Podcast

This makes two things very clear. One, a scenario such as the one in Ocean’s Eleven is never going to happen in reality. The probability of the existence of a whole team of robbers with perfectly symmetrical faces is highly unlikely. Second, our unending obsession with beauty has a deeper psychological impact on us. It gets deeply entwined with our self worth. It makes us divide and segment our personalities and analyze which ones would appeal to the society and which wouldn’t.

While this segmenting results in a facade being projected, it also results in a shadow. We suppress that which we choose to hide. This makes us live incomplete lives as we fail to acknowledge portions of us that we are afraid to show. We walk around being incomplete and hope that a product or a brand can complete us. At least that is what we are made to believe. We are forever broken and are too scared to fix ourselves. In fact we refuse to even acknowledge it. This is where we fail to recognize beauty as a concept and get blind to the abstractions we create. We believe this is who we are. We have forgotten that something is beautiful only because we said so. We are so blinded by it that we have become an abstract concept to ourselves, something that we can segment, divide and analyze in our minds.

Beauty makes us aspire: Beauty and perfection are two concepts that are so close together that the vast majority of us confuse one with the other. Beauty creates a standard that everything else is measured against. Even our Gods are created in the most beautiful image of man. That is the pinnacle of course, but we have a hierarchy of standards trickling down from there. The impact of this is both obvious and invisible. We say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This would mean that beauty is subjective. But is it? If you found something beautiful and everyone around you thought it was hideous would you continue to think it was beautiful? I wouldn’t bet on it. We have been coerced to adopt a universal concept of beauty and not have a subjective one. We have been taught to agree on the established hierarchy of standards. This agreement makes one thing possible. Beauty can now be packaged and sold to us. A long time before men and women were commoditized, beauty was. This is how it must have started.

We now have singular authorities that grade beauty and award it. They create celebrities and use them to sell beauty to us through products. But let us look closer at our relationship with celebrities. We are in awe of them but we also love seeing the ugly, hidden side of them. Somehow the experience of breaking the illusion of beauty around them makes them more human. It makes them one if us. We do this because as a people we harbor an innate craving to access the shadow, to access the parts of us that have been hidden and deprived. It externalizes our need to access our own shadows. It shows us our inner desire to be whole. We need to recognize this craving and not shut it up by buying something to fill the void.

A strong indicator of physical beauty is “averageness”, or “koinophilia”. When images of human faces are averaged together to form a composite image, they become progressively closer to the “ideal” image and are perceived as more attractive compared to any of the individual images. – Sir Francis Galton, Cousin of Charles Darwin

When we become whole we average all the parts of us instead of projecting what is perceived to be the best. This average of who we are, in any way measurable is bound to be better than its components. I am not suggesting we do this to become more attractive, but we do this to satisfy our need to become whole, to not be broken and incomplete parts of ourselves.

The study by Sir Francis Galton reveals how we have been fooled by beauty. Everybody pales to a shade of grey once they unite their shadows with their facades. That is who we are, the pretty and the ugly all rolled in one. We can be both, generous and thrifty, smart and dumb, and it’s OK. We are many faced and that is how the world was as well, before we started compartmentalizing and branding it. Let us stop expecting a perfect, beautiful, fairy-tale world with perfect beautiful people. We are all imperfect and no one is all good or all bad. It is acceptable to be grey. It’s alright to not ‘always’ be beautiful.

Though we seldom acknowledge it as one, ‘the ordinary‘ is a power too. While beauty is divisive, the ordinary is unifying.

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