Beauty is an uncertain science to most people, but like quality, people do know it when they see it. Ask anyone at an art gallery or in a supermarket if they’re enjoying themselves and you’ll usually get positive answers for the gallery and less positive answers for the supermarket. What is ugly about a supermarket? Is it the lack of space, the queues, the utilitarian focus, i.e. ‘We’re not here to create beauty, we’re here to answer a need?’
In the time of the Ancient Greeks, the artists and philosophers evolved the Golden Section or the Golden Mean. Some years ago I had a wonderful book called the Power of Limits, which dwelt on this subject in detail and at length. It’s similar to my discussion of Fractal Geometry a month or several back, and basically it brings mathematics to bear on beauty and how perfect proportions are to be found everywhere in nature.
Pericles, the Greek sculptor, brought the art of proportions to a pinnacle in the Golden Age of Greece. What he managed to achieve was something new: one could almost call it a science of beauty. Some years ago I took it into my head that plastic surgeons would be delighted to offer their clients a service showing how they could look after surgery. And so I manipulated my face using Corelpaint and in a presentation to several of them, we discussed the possibilities.
Turned out, surprise, surprise, they wanted to do this themselves. Still, worth a shot. But what I took away from that meeting was a great deal of valuable knowledge. I learned that these sculptors too, have their perfect proportions they work to; for instance:
The angle between the line of the bottom of the nose and the upper lip is ideally ninety degrees.
The ideal width between eyes is the width of one eye.
The distance between the crease of the upper eyelid and the beginning of the eyebrow is ideally at least one centimetre in women.
The face is ideally divided horizontally into thirds, starting at the hairline.
The more symmetrical a face is, the more perfect it is considered to be.
There is a certain relationship between the upper and lower lip, the upper being such and so much thinner than the lower lip.
And so on…
Fortunately, many beautiful people everywhere do not conform to these rigid sculptural measurements; they are interesting as well as beautiful, and often a beautiful face lacking animation is less beautiful than a blazing spirit surging through features that, taken through the sifting process of perfect proportions, would not crack the nod.
There’s even a website (sorry, no idea) where one can have one’s appearance rated by (one hopes) impartial judges – the millions of netizens who care to vote on these weighty matters. Again, isn’t it strange how people agree on who is beautiful and who isn’t? Even given a small margin for personal preferences, results are remarkably similar.
Currently on Facebook there are images being passed around of ugly people. And they’re being held up to scorn and ridicule for being ugly. In almost every case, one could say these people are poor. The dental side is not good. Usually there are weight issues, but often it’s a case of ‘This is me, take it or leave it.’ They look a certain way, and they don’t care or they do care but are too poverty-stricken to worry about their appearance right now.
A certain local family I know of, is cursed with an appearance considered unlovely by the society they are part of. Now these people have done nothing to anyone. They look unusual in different ways and they are not wealthy. But children used to throw stones at the father when he was young, and now it’s the son and daughter’s turn to be attacked too. In desperation they put aside their natural desire for privacy and turned to the local community newspaper to discuss their plight. So there was a story about them. Thus, when I saw the father walking down the street pushing a trolley to the supermarket a great distance away, I knew who it was. And I’m glad the newspapers published that story, because in the bright sunlight, the poor man’s face had a truly villainous appearance and it helped to know that this was a gentle, harmless man who was just wanting to be left alone to live his life in peace without being attacked by people who feared him.
It’s heartbreaking how important a good appearance is. Never judge a book by its cover – I don’t know why that saying exists. We all do just that. It’s all we have to go on, and we don’t have days and months to get to know people. Hence the popularity of make-over shows like ‘Style by Jury’ which exposes some hapless individual each week to the scrutiny of a highly critical jury sitting behind one-way glass. In many ways, this show does wonders for people and changes their lives for good, and for the better. But there were two women (and so far only two) who vehemently resisted changing certain details to fit in with the envisaged goal of the show’s producers.
One was a female lawyer, who was urged to cut off her waist-long braids. She adamantly refused, and to my great joy, a compromise was reached – the braids were put up in a bun and she looked more upmarket (MY DEAR, the image consultant had exclaimed, YOU LOOK POVERTY-STRICKEN!) but she still retained her sense of who she was. The other was a woman with long teeth and a gummy smile. Instead of the perfect teeth other candidates for renovation had been embellished with, she insisted on keeping her teeth as they were. She didn’t want to have them any different. I loved this. I admired the self-esteem of these two rare individuals. Most women and men on these shows get clipped and varnished into an image that is reflected in our magazines. Often, they really do need help, often also their dress-sense is terrible. And original.
And lo and behold – suddenly the Goth gets into pink and paisley, the motorbike leather guy is in a suit, the hippie is corporate…. and now they are acceptable. They can look forward to finding a better-paid job, people will help them more eagerly in shops, other parents are happy to let their kids come and play at their house and on and on. The jury at the end of the show (a different jury) has only kind things to say…strangely, these misfits usually already have boyfriends or girlfriends or are happily married… but it seems that a good appearance is something that reflects success. Clearly it isn’t enough to have someone who loves you as you are. You are nothing in our civilisation unless you’re a certain level of beautiful and you reflect the norm. Sadly the River Normal seems to be rather narrow all too often. Still, there are places where it’s the width of a needle, so things could be a whole lot worse.
Eddie Izzard has a great skit where he talks about laundry, and the blue underpants that sneak themselves into a washing machine disguised as a white shirt. With great cunning the mission is successfully accomplished and the entire load turns light blue so that ‘Everyone knows you’ve had a laundry accident. And then they stab you.’ Great hilarity from the audience and from the depths of the couch of course. But there’s a grain of truth in that.
Google People of Walmart and you’ll experience that dismembering of the unbeautiful and the different at full throttle. Yes, I’m talking chainsaws, forget the long knives.