Cosmetic Medicine: Aesthetics & the perception of beauty.

The current standards for human beauty are not only impossible to reach for the average person, they're impossible for anyone. It appears that we humans are 'hardwired' with what we consider attractive traits. Now technology is allowing us to realize those standards in visual form through digital aids. You can imagine in the not to distant future that computer programs and motion picture digital aids will be able to: Make Tom Cruize taller, take 15 pounds off the female lead, and create hyper exaggerated sexiness. (Perhaps the real life Jessica Rabbit.) But these manifestations of beauty will be confined to the digital and motion picture worlds... At first.

It may be that these hyperbeauty standards will accelerate the move to genetically engineering of human beings. (This is inevitable for many reasons.) With society setting the bar impossibly high, I can imagine that it will increase both the speed and pressure. Gattiaca is not far off.

What we perceive as the perfection of beauty. 

Take a look at the picture to the left, you will 'know' that this is a very beautiful face. But why? Finding answers to why we regard one face as being more beautiful than another is actually not as easy as it seems. 

Nevertheless, at least in the case of this photograph, it's not a big surprise that you think this is an attractive face. Each pixel of that face has been calculated by scientists using a specialized software program, altered in a special way to ensure that you think this is an attractive face. 

The Universities of Regensburg and Rostock in Germany have created a remarkable study on attractiveness and how humans interpret Beauty.

From the study: A remarkable result of our research project is that faces which have been rated as highly attractive do not exist in reality. This became particularly obvious when test subjects (independently of their sex!) favoured women with facial shapes of about 14 year old girls. There is no such woman existing in reality! They are artificial products - results of modern computer technology.

The same applies to the morphed average faces: Faces with such a smooth, pure skin, without any irregularities do not and cannot exist. But it is this kind of perfection that obviously overwhelmed our test subjects. Taking everything together it can be said that the most attractive face does not exist in reality - they are computed according to certain principles by machines. 

Having these results in mind it is also not surprising that a model agency from Munich chose 88% artificial faces (14 out of 16 selected faces) for potentially being interesting as a model for the category “beauty”. Only two natural male faces could keep up with the computer generated ones, within the group of female faces no natural faces have been selected! We also asked test subjects to indicate the most attractive faces found the same pattern: 81% (13 out of 16) of the selected faces had been generated by the computer.

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A selection of faces which have been judged by the model agency as being suitable as a model. All six faces were produced by the computer and don not exist in reality.

Natural faces cannot keep up with their artificial “competitors”. This becomes even clearer when you look at the labels of the rating scale that has been used for the evaluation: Just 3% (!) of the natural faces were rated as "rather attractive" - the judgements "quite attractive" and "very attractive" were never applied to natural faces. However, within the group of morphed faces 30% of all female and 23% of all male faces were perceived as being at least "rather attractive". 
Looking at the negative pole of the judgements is even more worrying: 70% of all natural female faces and 79% of all natural male faces were judged as being "rather unattractive", "quite unattractive" or even "very unattractive". Keep in mind that the average age of the subjects that were depicted on the images was just about 24 years! 

What is it that makes a face look beautiful? What are the differences between very attractive and less appealing faces?

For every historical period and every human culture, people have always had their own ideal of beauty. But this ideal has never been constant and is still subject to changes. In our research project we adopted an empirical approach and created prototypes for unattractive and attractive faces for each sex by using the morphing technique. For example, the prototype for an unattractive face ("unsexy face") was created by blending together four faces that had previously been rated as very unattractive. The "sexy face" was created by blending together four of the most attractive faces, respectively (see report). 

In order to find out the characteristic differences between attractive and unattractive faces, we presented pairs of one  "sexy" and one  "unsexy" image for both sexes to test subjects. The task was to report which facial features were perceived to be different between the two faces. For the results see the list below. 

Female faces:

Prototypic female face of high attractiveness
("sexy face")
   Prototypic female face of low attractiveness
("unsexy face")

Characteristic features of the female "sexy face" in comparison to the "unsexy face":

    • Suntanned skin 
    • Narrower facial shape 
    • Less fat 
    • Fuller lips 
    • Slightly bigger distance of eyes 
    • Darker, narrower eye brows 
    • More, longer and darker lashes 
    • Higher cheek bones 
    • Narrower nose 
    • No eye rings 
    • Thinner lids 

Male faces: 

The prototypic male face of high attractiveness
("sexy face")
    The prototypic male face of low attractiveness
("unsexy face")

Characteristics of the male "Sexy face" in the comparison to the "unsexy face": 

    • Browner skin 
    • Narrower facial shape 
    • Less fat 
    • Fuller and more symmetrical lips 
    • Darker eye brows 
    • More and darker lashes 
    • Upper half of the face broader in relation to the lower 
    • Higher cheek bones 
    • Prominent lower jaw 
    • More prominent chin 
    • No receding brows 
    • Thinner lids 
    • No wrinkles between nose and corner of the mouth

Beauty and pixel pushing

Who is the most beautiful woman in Germany? An official jury tries to answer this question each year. In January 2002 it chose Miss Berlin to be the most attractive woman (left picture). But is she really the most beautiful one? The results of our study suggest - at least in theory - to be far from the ideal. 

For this reason we cooperated with Pro7 (a German television channel) and managed to get portrait photos of all contestants of the final round of this national beauty contest. In contrast to their live evaluation on the catwalk, the beautiful women could not show a particular sexy way of walking or put on a charming smile but had to comply with our scientific requirements: Frontally photographed face, hair tied to the back, neutral facial expression - and especially: no make-up! 

A selection of the 22 contestants of the final round of the contest

Miss North-Rhine/Westphalia 


 Miss Thuringia


 Miss Bavaria


Miss Bremen

Miss South Germany

Miss Baden-Wuerttemberg

Based on our previous research results we computed a new face out of all original faces by using the described morphing software. The resulting “virtual” beauty as well as all other original faces were evaluated with respect to their attractiveness by a representative sample of people in a local shopping center. 

More beautiful than Miss Germany 

The results are clear. The virtual face was rated by far as being most attractive. On a scale reaching from 1 (= very unattractive) to 7 (= very attractive) it obtained the highest score with an average of 6.2 and let Miss Germany lie far behind having an average score of just 2.8. None of the 47 asked test subjects rated the real Miss Germany as being more or at least evenly attractive than the virtual one. The highest score of the real faces obtained Miss Bremen (4.9 points), but also Miss Bremen lies clearly and statistically most significantly behind the computer beauty. 

"Real" and "virtual" Miss Germany in comparison:

On the left: the “real” Miss Germany 2002 (= Miss Berlin) and on the right: the “virtual” Miss Germany, which was computed by blending together all contestants of the final round and was rated as being much more attractive. 

Read the entire study here.