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Beauty Is Not Mysterious

This post is also available in: German

Which of these two women is more attractive? (UPDATE below.)

Reader “potato” sent me a link to a story in the New York Times about a new software program known as a “beautification engine”:

The photograph on the right was doctored by the “beautification engine” of a new computer program that uses a mathematical formula to alter the original form into a theoretically more attractive version, while maintaining what programmers call an “unmistakable similarity” to the original. […]

Scientists took the data and applied an algorithm involving 234 measurements between facial features, including the distances between lips and chin, the forehead and the eyes, or between the eyes.

Essentially, they trained a computer to determine, for each individual face, the most attractive set of distances and then choose the ideal closest to the original face.

If you are honest in your assessment and not trying to score dorm room debate points on your not-so-humble narrator, then I predict 95% of my readers, male and female, will agree that the girl on the right is more attractive. The two photos are of the same woman. The girl on the right has been “beautified” by the software algorithm.

As I have been saying all along, beauty, especially female beauty, is not in the eye of the beholder. It is objectively measureable. And now, science is proving me right.

Studies have shown that there is surprising agreement about what makes a face attractive. Symmetry is at the core, along with youthfulness; clarity or smoothness of skin; and vivid color, say, in the eyes and hair. There is little dissent among people of different cultures, ethnicities, races, ages and gender.

Beauty is not only objective, it is universally agreed upon across cultures.

Yet, like the many other attempts to use objective principles or even mathematical formulas to define beauty, this software program raises what psychologists, philosophers and feminists say are complex, even disturbing, questions about the perception of beauty and a beauty ideal.

Let’s run this paragraph through the patented Poon Translator:

“Yet, like the many other attempts to use objective principles or even mathematical formulas to define beauty, this software program raises what Freudian holdovers, blank slate believers and ugly women say are personally disturbing truths about the perception of beauty and a beauty ideal they’d rather sweep under the rug or obfuscate with all manner of sophistry.”

Much clearer!

“How can they prove it?” said Lois W. Banner, a historian who has studied changing beauty standards, referring to scientific efforts to define attractiveness. “They are never going to locate it on a gene. They are never going to get away from the cultural influence.”

The problem with reading the New York Times is that it needs to be run through the Poon Translator in its entirety to get at the nuggets of truth buried under the mounds of evasive bullshit. For example, the above quote should read:

“How can they prove it?” said Lois W. Banner, an insulated ivory tower inculcated leftwing pseudo-historian who has studied Reubens the lone fatty fucker and thinks that proves there were changing beauty standards, referring to scientific efforts to define attractiveness. “I’m praying to my atheistic god that they will never locate it on a gene. My pointless career, and my fragile feminist ego, is on the line so I will tirelessly obstruct real science to ensure they never get away from the comforting cultural influence explanation.”

The Poon Translator — Serving the Truth since 2007.

So what did the above woman think of her new, scientifically beautified, face?

She said she was struck by how different she looked in the second shot.

“I think the after picture looks great, but it doesn’t really look like me at all,” she said in an e-mail message. “My entire bone structure, face shape and eye size is different, and my lip color looks changed as well.”

She added, “I would like to keep my original face.”

Imagine seeing a better-looking version of yourself as calculated by a computer program. What a soulkilling ego rape that would be. I can almost feel the shiver that must’ve run down her spine.

While several psychological studies over the last few decades also suggest that perceptions of beauty and attractiveness tend to be universal, critics of that work say it is debatable whether a person’s beauty is actually enhanced by such changes. Character can be lost. A blandness can set in. The quirky may become plain.

The Poon Translator is working overtime:

“While several psychological studies over the last few decades also suggest that perceptions of beauty and attractiveness tend to be universal, critics of that work prefer to stick their heads in the sand. Ugliness can be lost. Attractiveness can set in. Warpigs may have a chance at love.”

After viewing the before and after photographs of anonymous subjects in Mr. Leyvand’s research paper, Dr. Banner, who is a professor of history at the University of Southern California, said the original faces were more attractive.

I’m sure the good professor has deconstructed the term “attractive” to mean whatever the hell he feels it should mean to support his equalist worldview, so that he could say the above with a straight face.

“Irregular beauty is the real beauty,” said Dr. Banner, adding that such attempts to measure beauty are driven culturally by sameness, making everyone look alike.

This is incorrect. Liv Tyler and Bar Raefeli are both beautiful and yet no one would confuse them for the same person. “All look same” is a common meme among the anti-objective beauty brigade, but reality proves that the definable parameters of beauty can coexist with individual distinctiveness.

“We have always had a huge industry to make people look better,” Dr. Etcoff said. “Everyone wants to look better. And we keep taking it further and further to all these images that have been doctored. There is a whole generation of girls growing up who think it’s normal not to look the way they really look.”

Whenever I hear “a whole generation of girls” I know a torrent of mushheaded muddle is on the way. How about a more parsimonious explanation: There have always been less attractive girls who wished they were more attractive because they intrinsically understand that their beauty is the most important trait they can barter on the sexual market.

I say bring on the beautification engines and genetic enhancements. If morality is the promulgation of happiness to the greatest number of people, then my opinion in this matter makes me the most moral fucking bastard in the world.

UPDATE

Here is the PDF of the study referenced in the New York Times article:

http://www.cs.tau.ac.il/~tommer/beautification2008/attractiveness2008.pdf

The test subjects are pictured in that report. I stand by my conclusion that the trend is obvious: Most of the subjects experienced a 0.5 to 3 point bump up the looks scale. Bardot and Brando would seem to be odd outliers. I suspect very extreme beauties, like famous actors and actresses, could suffer a hit from a beautification algorithm because the software doesn’t take into account the tail ends of the beauty bell curve where particularly unique facial features like Bardot’s lips might scramble the software processing.

[crypto-donation-box]

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