[By Kelly Wong Van-Genderen]

What has mathematics got to do with beauty? Evidently quite a lot.

Our attraction to another person’s body increases if that body is symmetrical and in proportion. Likewise, if the features on a face fall within certain proportions of one another, we are more likely to notice that face and find it beautiful.

Hence physical attraction depends on proportions and ratios. The reason for this, scientists believe, is that we perceive proportional bodies to be healthier.

“The golden ratio (1:1.61), Fibbonacci’s numbers, Marquedt’s beauty mask, facial symmetry, triangular facial shapes… these are all tools that we use to assess facial beauty” says Dr Kenneth Lee from the Sloane Clinic. “It also helps us guage to what degree we may need to contour a jawline, augment a nose or volumize a chin in order to beautify the entire face.

This is certainly not a new principle, it has been applied for thousands of years in the works of many famous Renaissance artists (including Leonardo Davinci’s Mona Lisa), famous buildings (such as the Parthenon in Athens) and perhaps even in the construction of the pyramids.

Face the Facts

In order to measure facial perfection, first Dr Lee measures the length and width of the face. Then, he divides the length by the width. The ideal result—as defined by the golden ratio—is roughly 1.6, which means a beautiful person’s face is about 1 1/2 times longer than it is wide.

Dr Lee goes on to measure three segments of the face—from the forehead hairline to a spot between the eyes, from between the eyes to the bottom of the nose, and from the bottom of the nose to the bottom of the chin. If the numbers are equal, a person is considered more beautiful.

Finally, on a perfect face, Dr Lee says the length of an ear is equal to the length the nose, and the width of an eye is equal to the distance between the eyes.

How about the Body

“Men have a preference for women with a low waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) – A waist that is relatively thin and hips that are relatively broad” according to Dr Lee. “The magic ratio is 0.7.”

Marilyn Monroe famously had a waist hip ratio of a perfect 0.7, and this ratio is consistent in beauty icons across time and culture.  Audrey Hepburn had it, the average Playboy centerfold is 0.68: Even Venus de Milo has a WHR close to 0.7. A study of English and Chinese literature consistently found references to thin waists in descriptions of women considered beautiful at that time.

So what’s the attraction to this particular shape?  It’s because a favourable WHR suggests that a woman is young, healthy, and fertile.  It’s a signal of genetic fitness and a good choice for a mate. Women whose fertility has been impaired tend to have higher WHRs, and unhealthy, starving women cannot maintain large buttocks and breasts – they need to use this fat as fuel.

Not surprisingly then, the magic 0.7 ratio is a preference shared in almost all cultures studied.  WHR provides very important information to a species whose main drives are to survive and reproduce.  Although there is some controversy over just how universal the 0.7 WHR preference is, there is reason to believe that even if fads and fashions change, this preference would remain – to so some extent.


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