Cultural Perceptions of Beauty


By now, most people are familiar with the above video, Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty." In watching this, ask yourselves, what changes are made to the model, and why? One thing that strikes me in watching the video is the lengthening of the model's neck. Who knew that a longer neck equates to beauty? Where does this come from? I did some research and found a couple theories. One is that since women tend to have more slender necks than men, further elongating one's neck exaggerates the "sexual dimorphism" (the physical differences between sexes of the same species). In nature, a greater differentiation between sexes increases the odds of finding a mate.

Another theory is that in certain cultures, an elongated neck gives the woman the appearance of a dragon. I don't know why this is considered attractive, but I can't say that it is not attractive, as I am not from one of those cultures.

In either case, the practice of neck stretching does occur in several cultures. To the left is an example from the Kayan people of Northern Thailand.

In actuality, this practice does not stretch the neck, but compresses the collarbone and ribcage slowly over time as illustrated here:



What is Beautiful?
Are the ideals of beauty the same for everyone (Universalism)?
Are perceptions of what is beautiful different for every person based on their experiences (Cultural Relativism)?

The idea that there is only one notion of beauty is considered a universalistic approach. If one considers that every culture has a different standard of beauty based on that culture's particular values, traditions and environment is considered to be "cultural relativism."

The Western theory of beauty derives from the work of early Greek philosophers who believed that the proportions of something called the "Golden Ratio" were innately aesthetically pleasing. Ancient Greek architecture is based on this view of symmetry and proportion. The Golden Ratio can be applied to facial features and much research has shown that faces that fall within the symmetry and proportion of the Golden Ratio are largely considered more attractive than those that do not.

Symmetry is also important in the study of beauty because it suggests the absence of genetic or acquired defects. Although style and fashion vary widely, cross-cultural research has found a variety of commonalities in people's perception of beauty. Large eyes and a clear complexion, for example, are considered beautiful in both men and women in all cultures. Neonatal features are inherently attractive and youthfulness in general is associated with beauty.

Here's a link with interesting information and a fun experiment on the measurement of faces using the Golden Ratio.

Click to take a look at the following images. What do you find beautiful about them? If you can't find anything beautiful about them, think about how someone from a different culture or generation may find them beautiful.

"The foundations laid by Greek and Roman artists have also supplied the standard for male beauty in western civilization. The ideal Roman was defined as tall, muscular, long-legged, with a full head of thick hair, a high and wide forehead – a sign of intelligence – wide-set eyes, a strong browline, a strong perfect nose and profile, a smaller mouth, and a strong jaw line. This combination of factors would, as it does today, produce an impressive "grand" look of handsome masculinity."

sexual dimoprhism

Cultural Ideal of Beauty Assignment

1. Pick a culture or sub-culture and research that culture's ideals of beauty. What are the specific traits that are considered desirable and why? Be very specific in the explanation of your findings. Find several images to illustrate your research.

Proposal guidelines

Here are some research topics to get you started:
The Wodaabe
Plastic Surgery Addiction
Peter Paul Rubens
Heroin Chic
Jocelyn Wildenstein
Geisha Girls
Body Art
sexual dimoprhism

2. Take a photographic self-portrait of your face.

3. Using Photoshop or an image manipulation application of your choice, manipulate your image to conform to the standards of beauty of the culture you researched. You will need to conduct searches to find tutorials for in-depth instructions on how to perform very specific tasks in Photoshop, such as: adding tattoos, changing skin tone/color, changing hair color, morphing the shape of eyes, elongating the neck, etc. This is very high-level work you will be doing -- you will stretch you boundaries of both your comfort and skill levels. Patience and determination will be very valuable assets for this project.

4. Write a paper to accompany your before and after images. In your paper, describe what cultural standards of beauty you are emulating, what changes you made, and why those changes are considered to be traits of beauty.

5. Create a 8" X 10" layout. Your before and after images should be 4" X 6". Add a title centered under the images (18 pt Helvetica), and your description (Helvetica 14) Justified last left. Print out a test copy in B&W before printing to color.

See following examples:

6. Place your final images and page in "Rosskof Shared" Beauty Finals.

Helpful Links:

Eyelash brushes -

Change Skin Tone -

Change Hair color -

Tatts & Piercings -

Changing Face Structure -

Beauty Retouching -

Remove Wrinkles -

Whiten teeth and eyes -

smooth skin -