Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Beauty is in the Maths

Is there a connection between health, beauty and mating? You bet, writes DR ALBERT LIM KOK HOOI.

THE mating game is as old as the human species. It has been so shaped by culture and tradition that its current form often eludes us. Mating, beauty and health are three sides of an equilateral triangle.

The world’s expenditure in pursuit of beauty runs to billions of ringgit every year.

In Malaysia, beauty salons, hair salons and nail salons have mushroomed. We buy cosmetics, skin care products and shampoo to the tune of hundreds of millions of ringgit.

We pursue yoga and qigong because they bring out our “inner beauty”.
Closely linked to beauty is health. We go for walks and jogs when the weather permits. If not, we hit the gym to pound the treadmill and pump iron.

We witness the convergence of good health and good looks at the upmarket fitness centres that dot the Klang Valley.

Is there a connection between health, beauty and mating?

You bet. In the last two decades, scientific research has shown the inextricable link between these three.

Beautiful women are beautiful universally. One mathematical ratio that determines beauty and health is the waist-hip ratio (WHR).

Professor Devendra Singh, a psychologist at the University of Texas, has studied WHR extensively.

He has noted in his research that women who are recognisably “beautiful” and “attractive” have a WHR of 0.7 or thereabouts.

Tests on men, from Africa to the Azores, was also consistent on this ratio.

Both Twiggy (as thin as a reed) and Marilyn Monroe (as meaty as they come) had a 0.7 waist-hip ratio.

A woman with this ratio has

l minimal abdominal fat signifying high estrogen level and good health and

l a pelvic brim large enough for a baby to pass through the birth canal.

Unconsciously, men are looking for healthy women with good reproductive potential.

Men and women prefer symmetry in their potential mates.

In a study by Professor Thornhill and Steven Gangestad of the University of Mexico, hundreds of college-age women and men had their ears, feet, ankles, hands and elbows measured.

Questionnaires revealed that men who were more symmetrical started having sex three to four years earlier and had more sex partners than their asymmetrical counterparts.

Symmetrical people smell better too. The professors found that women prefer the smell of symmetrical men. Have you ever fallen in love with a date whose smell turns you off?

Complexion counts for a lot. Almost all of beauty therapy is about skincare. We strive for a good complexion. If it comes naturally, all the better. If not, we cough out big bucks for facials.

We use sunscreen lotion (the higher the SPF, the better) and skincare products to show our better face to the world.

A good complexion is a good surrogate measure of good health. Good health underpins fertility. A fertile mate is what we look for (consciously or unconsciously) in our quest to pass on our genes.

Another strong indicator of physical beauty is “averageness” or “koinophilia”.

When shapes of human faces are averaged together (lips that are neither too thick nor knife-edge thin and eyes which are not goldfish-like or slits), they become closer to the ideal image.

They are perceived as attractive. The irony of it all is that the ideal beauty is the average look.

In an experiment, men and women in the United States were asked to put together eyes, nose, lips, chin and facial shape using the ID kits used by the police in composing pictures of suspects.

The ideal man resembles Richard Gere while the ideal woman resembles Winona Ryder.

Is beauty only skin-deep? It seems so. What is inner beauty? It is probably good health. Why all the bother with beauty and good health? To look for the ideal mate, of course.

The pursuit of beautiful women goes back to ancient times.

The oldest reference linking beauty and small waist size (another and perhaps more accurate indicator than the waist-hip ratio) is the epithet of Queen Nefertiri, the favourite wife of Ramses II. “The buttocks are full, but her waist is narrow.... the one for who[m] the sun shines...”

Dr Albert Lim Kok Hooi is a practising oncologist. His eclectic interests include evolutionary biology and philosophy of science. He sees himself as a public educator on science.

Articles taken from the New Straits Times


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...