Beauty and the Human Face

At a philosophy lecture series address, Professor Joe Parry spoke about the complex reactions the human mind has in determining beauty.

PROVO, Utah (February 28th, 2019) — Every time you consider something beautiful, it is not necessarily the object, but your own physical and emotional state that comes into play. If everything was intrinsically beautiful, then everyone would be able to agree on the definition of beauty; however, there are certain limitations of the eye and so your judgment of beauty isn’t always what is perceived.

An example for this complex reaction is when you are in love. When you are in love, everything seems more beautiful. Or when you look at someone, a forgotten memory stirs in remembrance of a face that looks similar. If you hated the person that this face reminds you of though, you are more apt to say that it is not a beautiful face. As Dr. Parry said “You can love and hate because of your previous experiences that create your judgment of it.” Beauty is inherently subjective to the forces within a person, and so beauty may be something that can’t be understood or normalized. The challenge now is when you see a face you think is beautiful, contemplate the reasons that primed you to already like that face. It could be something about the situation or something you’ve been exposed to previously.

Instead of just experiencing raw pleasure at the sight of something, it is interesting to contemplate all the other decisions that we subconsciously make at the same time.  Within the facial form you can also make judgments based on what you physically perceive to be someone’s character. When looking at a face, do you see arrogance? Or as Dr. Parry said, “is truth, good, and beautiful all the same thing; are those who are beautiful always good?” Research shows that we judge beautiful people differently. We like them better, believe they are more moral, and just assume that they are smarter. Overall, good looking people are judged more positively.

Although we may not want to accept the fact that we have preconceived standards of beauty, empirically it affects us, whether we recognize it or not. A debate has formed around the question of if beauty is really in the eye of the beholder. Dr. Parry conceded, “I have to at least admit that beauty is a response.” This puts beauty in its own class of human response.

With professional photography, though, there are multiple influences other than the actual face that can contribute to a perception of beauty. For example, it is shown that models with long legs are more popular. And yet when it’s commented that she had “nice legs,” is it in a sexual or healthy sort of meaning? The makeup someone has on and the Photoshop that can even out someone’s skin tone all can play a part in creating “beauty”, or at least something that most people consider “beautiful”.  We cab literally see models through rose colored glasses simply due to the alteration of coloring in photographs.

Beauty is a complex subject that perhaps doesn’t have a single right answer, especially since beauty is different for everyone. Although we can’t all agree on what beauty is, we can self-assess how and why we interpret beauty the way we do.

Jessica Mellor (B.A. English ’19)