A Mathematically Beautiful Face
When I was younger I wanted to grow up to be an artist, but my mother told me I would starve and die. I opted to make my ancestors proud and became a doctor.
While becoming a doctor killed my social life, it certainly didn’t kill my interest in artistry. I always fussed over aesthetics even if it meant spending unprecedented amounts of time composing visually pleasing instagram photos. So it’s no surprise that I took to medical aesthetics like a bee to honey.
It’s both a science and an art. More of what we find beautiful is down to science than we think. You might say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and yes, I won’t dispute that But if 5 million people agree that Scarlett Johansson is beautiful, is it just by chance that all these beholders have the same eye?
You might say it’s down to her features, and “she has beautiful eyes” or “she has beautiful lips”. But what specifically about her eyes or lips are beautiful?
What about Keira Knightley, who’s features aren’t anything like those of Scarlett Johansson. How many here think Keira Knightley is beautiful?
Could anyone who put their hand up tell me specifically what makes her beautiful?
In reality the science of beauty is so complex I couldn’t condense it in one talk, but over the next few minutes I’ll try to help shed some light on why some human faces are considered more pleasing to look at than others.
Let’s start with basic facial proportions. This has nothing to do with the exact features of our face like our eyes, nose, or mouth, but just the proportions and distances between features.
I don’t have any visual aids so we can use my face as an example, since I happen to be perfectly proportioned….
Picture two imaginary lines running horizontally across my face: one across my brow (a region called the glabella) and another at the base of my nose. This divides my face into three sections: forehead, central face, and lower face. The more exactly equal, these three sections of a face are, the more visually pleasing a face is to look at.
Next, imagine four lines that run vertically down my face, each line intersecting both corners of both my eyes. My face should now be divided into 5 sections: from the edge of my face (including ear edge) to my eye, the width of my eye, the distance between my eyes, and the same on the other side. Once again the more exactly equal, these five sections of a face are, the more visually pleasing a face is to look at.
You wouldn’t be amiss to notice that for a face to fulfill these measurements they would have to be perfectly symmetrical in every direction. Our minds and eye are naturally attracted to symmetry and orders of proportion. But that’s not to say an asymmetrical face is unattractive. Sometimes asymmetries create interest in a face, or the asymmetries themselves happen to follow a pleasing mathematical proportion, in which case it could enhance the aesthetic.
Moving on from general proportions, let’s talk about some specific features, starting with the lips. This is where it starts to get quite complex. Angelina Jolie and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley have universally acknowledged beautiful lips and if I ask you why you will tell me they’re full or “luscious”. Why do we all agree that full lips are attractive? And how full is the right amount of full?
Biologically, we like full lips because they symbolise youth and vitality. As we age, we naturally lose hydration and volume in the lips, and the lips widen and thin, making us associate thin lips with older age. We also like pouty lips because the ridges connecting our nose to our cupid’s bows, called the philtrum, are short and strong in youth. They lift and evert the lip exposing more upper lip mucosa. Again as we age, the connective tissue supporting this structure weakens, and the distance between our nose and upper lip border elongates, causing our upper lip to droop.
Lip shape is what makes a lip “luscious” rather than just “full. Some lips have a more pronounced cupids bow than others, and this is where I’m most willing to say it comes down to personal preference. Kate Winslet is someone with an example of a very pronounced cupid’s bow and Julia Roberts someone with subtle or no discernable cupids bow. Within the lip body we have 5 natural bumps or cushions, that we call tubercules. Three in the upper lip and two in the lower lip: the more distinct each of these cushions within the lip are, the more “luscious” we tend to find the lips. Angelina Jolie aren’t just full, but she has very distinct tubercles. This is why during lip augmentation it’s very important to be respectful of the natural anatomy of lips.
Let’s quickly talk about proportions: The natural proportion of upper lip thickness to lower lip in white caucasians, regardless of overall size or fullness, is 1:1.6. For African and Caribbean ethnic groups the natural proportion is 1:1. Other Asian ethnicities tend to fall somewhere in between. A common question I get from patients, apart from “Are you sure you’re old enough to be a doctor?” is “Can you make my thinner upper lip the same size as my bottom lip?” Now in the age of big Kylie Jenner lips it’s fashionable to break these ratios in favour of 1:1 for everyone. Even so, there is a right way and a wrong way to do that.
With just this tiny window into the dynamic anatomy of lips, I’m sure you can now all appreciate why there is such a difference between the quality of lip augmentations we see walking the streets.
I could talk about medical aesthetics all day but we don’t have the time so I’ll be back with more in my next speech. I hope you found that educational and enjoyable.
The Science of Beauty – Part II
In the nose, it’s all about angles: We know that in men it’s considered attractive to have a strong nose, and this generally translates into sharp angles. The first key angle is called the Nasofrontal angle, where the nose meets the forehead. This is usually between 115 – 130 degrees, with a wider angle being more attractive in women, and an acute (smaller) angle more attractive in men.
The second most important angle is the Nasolabial angle, between the nose and mouth. In men, 90 degrees is the norm and considered attractive. In women, angles can go up to 120 with 106 calculated to be the most attractive.
In the nose alone there are 6 more angles and plenty more features I could talk about, 7 minutes only gets us so far.