What Makes Someone Beautiful, Anyway?
The notion of attractiveness seems simple. When we see a person, we know immediately whether we think he or she is beautiful. We don’t really have to decide; our reaction is involuntary, and it is personal. You might think that a particular person is stunning, while your best friend might not.
Interestingly, studies over the years have shown that most people tend to agree, for the most part, on what constitutes a beautiful face, and that the reason they do relies more on brain science than on preference. Consider the ability of babies to recognize faces and prefer the ones that society deems pretty.
So, how we assess appearance might be more complex than simply liking large eyes better than small ones or full lips rather than thin ones. The brain has the capacity to recognize not only attractiveness, but also emotions, personality traits and fertility. The part of the brain that allows us to do this, the fusiform, is also responsible for our ability to recognize familiar faces. When it is damaged, we can’t recall whom we’ve just met, and we can’t distinguish between plain faces and beautiful ones. When we decide that someone is beautiful, we are really thinking that the person is healthy and vital, studies have shown. Smooth skin and symmetrical facial features, for instance, indicate to our brain that a person has good genetics and is not ill, both of which lead us to think that the person is attractive.
However our perception is formed, appearance–of others and ourselves–has a powerful effect on so many of our emotions.