Every now and then, someone tries to make a case for objective beauty–the notion that there is a quasi-scientific way to judge whether a person is attractive or not. They will bang on about facial symmetry and the golden mean . Or they will note early man’s sexual predilections, trumpeting “natural” attraction to youth and child-bearing hips. They (poorly) analyze survey data. In the end, all this so-called objectivity simply serves to uphold white, Western standards of beauty. After witnessing the sturm und drang following a host of allegedly objective pronouncements about beauty, I’m convinced they’re all bunk. Beauty, as we all learned as children, is in the eye of the beholder. It is subjective–always and forever.

The latest minor storm over beauty standards came this week when several news outlets took a contest sponsored by a British chat show seriously. The ITV program , “Lorraine,” pronounced 18-year-old Florence Colgate (above) a perfect, natural beauty and “Britain’s most beautiful face.” American news outlets, including ABC’s “Good Morning America” and the Gawker network online jumped on the story of the lovely Ms. Colgate, touting her “perfect” dimensions. It was no surprise to many that a young, white, blonde and blue-eyed woman would be held up as the face of beauty. This is the (racially-biased) standard, after all, that Western women of all races are judged against. Indeed, one Carmen Lefèvre, from the University of St Andrews perception laboratory in the School of Psychology, gave the game away when she was quoted in The Daily Mail. She said, “Florence has all the classic signs of beauty. She has large eyes, high cheekbones, full lips and a fair complexion.” (Bold mine.)

And that’s the thing. Facial symmetry and other measurable factors may influence what we find attractive, but I’d wager that nurture (societal and personal bias) has more to do what we like than nature. Consider if Florence Colgate’s face possessed the same proportions, yet was a rich, cocoa brown, rather than pale white. What if she wore a teenie weenie afro rather than long, loose blonde hair? What if her face was fatter? Will people still find this young woman beautiful 40 years from now, when her face has wrinkled and perhaps her hair has grayed? Chances are, any of these factors would change our perceptions of her attractiveness. We are a culture that, for now, worships whiteness, thinness and youth–especially for women. Women of color, fat women and older women are generally left out of the beauty paradigm.

But beauty standards change (which should be a big sign that they are subjective). Compare the body types revered during the mid-20th century to the ones championed today. Just last year, Allure magazine declared the “All-American Beauty” dead. When asked to rate a bunch of non-celebrity models, the magazine’s readers chose a Latina woman and a South Asian man as ideals. This week, Beyonce became the second black woman to be named People magazine’s “most beautiful.” Who knows what the future of beauty holds. It’s a safe bet what we find beautiful 20 years from now will be based, in great part, on a host of things more abstract than measured space between brow and hairline.

This discussion should not be a referendum on whether Florence Colgate is attractive or not. Weigh in on beauty standards and whether you think they are objective or subjective.

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  • BFDuster

    She’s very beautiful and I have nothing against her, but again, she’s just another White Beauty(tm) jammed down everyone’s throats.

  • Alexandra

    Somewhat agreeing with the comment left by Hmm…
    I do find the constant shoving of Blond/Blue to be suffocating, but please don’t dismiss that there are people that indeed do not find those traits to be attractive or either they don’t find it attractive on this particular woman.The woman in the photo is no where near ugly in my opinion, but she is not as gorgeous as (a blond) Alena Shiskkova.

    And Dreaming, I agree with your comment as well. There are a lot of good-looking redheads contrary to popular belief. Some people also feel that very pale or very dark skin in unattractive. But I find the very pale, redheaded Deborah Ann Woll to be very attractive. In that same sense, her ‘True Blood’ co-star Rutina Wesley who is very dark, is also attractive to me. Indeed beauty is subjective.

    • Dreaming

      I had to Google Alena Shishkova. Eh, she doesn’t do it for me. She’s too Blonde. She looks like a real life doll.

      I’ve always thought Harry (Prince Harry and Prince William) was the better looking brother.

    • Yb

      I agree with Dreaming. I don’t find the model Alexandra suggested that beautiful either. Though far more attractive than the woman in this article.

    • Logic

      @Dreaming: I agree; I also think Prince Harry is way better looking.

    • Alexandra

      Yeah, that’s how subjective our perceptions are. I showed her pic to some of my co-workers, and they were also annoyed by her blond-ness; it’s all a matter of taste though. I don’t find all blonds attractive.

      While on the doll topic, here’s one: http://valeria-lukyanova.tumblr.com/

      And yes, Prince Harry is the better looking brother, no contest. Haha.
      His brother is dopey looking to me.

    • Agree with Dreaming about Alena Shishkova, she’s too fake p0r.n star looking for my taste. If you want to post about Russian beauty queens don’t forget Oxana Fedorova.

      Miss World(via Nigeria) Agbani Darego is freaking lovely so darn beautiful. Another Blk beauty queen Vanessa Alexandra Mendoza Bustos is a real stunner. Her face and figure sits hontea! Miss Ghana Akuba Cudjoe was very pretty as well, she’s like the very pretty girl in the neighborhood .

  • I would just like to add that I agree with Tami, beauty is subjective but deeply influenced by the media.

    All you have to do is look at some documentaries of small tribal groups who don’t have much interaction with the outside world to see how beauty is subjective. Sagging boobs, sharpened teeth, very short hair, very large women etc… are all things that are found beautiful among some small tribal group.

    P.S. I’ve seen studies where a young Christie Turlington is held up as the universal face of beauty but I guess she was too dark for these folks .

    P.S.S. Whoopi Goldberg’s face is very symmetrical but you know darn well the MSN ain’t trying to talk too much about that.

    • Alexandra

      “P.S.S. Whoopi Goldberg’s face is very symmetrical but you know darn well the MSN ain’t trying to talk too much about that.”

      So right, that made me chuckle. They would have to discuss skin color (and features), so of course not. I noticed over the years people always held up Whoopi (esp. her Celie character) as an example of un-attractiveness; for subjective reasons obviously. She’s average to me though.

      Jessica Simpson had a reality a few years ago about beauty standards across the world. It was nothing groundbreaking, but it was amazing to hear the different perceptions. Imagine how dramatic those standards could change if they were exposed to rampant Western television….

    • Oh I saw that Jessica Simpson show Alexandra. I think I saw a National Geographic special once that really broke it down.

      Yea and you see Whoopi never let it stop her from enjoying life. There is a clip on Youtube of Arsenio Hall asking Whoopi Goldberg why she dates only White men. Whoopi’s response… ” I date the men who ask me out. The brothers don’t ask me out.”

      So funny how people think she should sit around the house crying cause blk men didn’t ask her out. Whoopi dated those who found her beautiful.

  • Weigh in on beauty standards and whether you think they are objective or subjective.

    Well standards of beauty change over time or at least those concerning body type are prone to change over time. Aninta Ekberg and Sophia Loren would be too portly for Hollywood today.

  • HopeChest

    She does nothing for me. At all.

    Her look is so run-of-mill, done-to-death, and forced down our throats that it’s easy for me to reject the notion that she’s ‘the fairest of them all.’

    Beauty is subjective, so this scientific study is nothing more than another Satoshi.