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.

116 Comments

  1. Yes. It is subjective. But I find that girl extremely gorgeous.

  2. Pseudonym

    So true. Plus- as with all clinical research involving humans- I’m sure the research subject groups they use are not proportionately representative of the world’s population- of which the majority of us are not white.

    That probably goes for the images that are being judged as well.

    I saw a television special on the science of attraction and 99% of the research subjects and judged photographs/people/etc. were white and probably middle class.

    Researcher bias to the max.

  3. Right! Beauty for sure is subjective. In my eyes, this lady is not pretty. She’s plain and none of her facial appearances stands out to me.

  4. Logic

    Besides her incredibly limp hair and its color (I find blond hair to be the least attractive hair color), I think this woman is very beautiful. Regardless of what one finds beautiful, facial symmetry is almost universally priced.

  5. Hmm..

    Somehow I don’t believe the people that say that they don’t think she is beautiful. I think they are just annoyed that only women like her are lifted up as images of beauty, which is reasonable.

    How about my approach: I have a different standards of beauty for different groups of women. So I have no problem being simultaneously mesmerized by the beauty of a slim blond girl and the beauty of a dark skinned curvy girl (polarized things on purpose to make a point). That also means a can see woman as ugly according a standard of beauty that gives her the best chance of being perceived as beautiful. I mean, there is not point in beating around the bush. As long as we are going to consider physical beauty, someone is going to be ugly. Even is societies were only one ethnicity existed, there were ugly women. You just have to learn to love yourself regardless.

    • Logic

      I agree with you somewhat. Just as there are people that can be found universally appealing (i.e. Scarlett Johansson, Halle Berry), there are those that can be found universally unappealing (Carrot Top, Gabourey Sidibe). But I also think it’s a bit presumptuous for you to assume that the people who found this woman unattractive as jealous. Universally appealing does not mean everyone will find you attractive, only that the overwhelming majority will; believe it or not, she might be ugly to someone. And just because someone finds her to be attractive does not automatically mean that they will be attracted to her, either. Both pretty and ugly are highly subjective.

    • Dreaming

      I get tired of the argument that if someone isn’t worshiping someone or something, it’s because they are jealous, broke, hating, or mad.

      As the title says, “Beauty is subjective. Period.”

    • Somehow I don’t believe the people that say that they don’t think she is beautiful.

      No, it’s possible. I don’t think she beautiful either. In my eyes she above average probably cute but not quite pretty.
      For blonde haired, blue eyed women, I think a young Cheryl Ladd, Melissa Theuriau and young Anna Nicole Smith and maybe a young Bridget Bardot are beautiful.

      I have a different standards of beauty for different groups of women.
      I think I do as well.

      Logic- No way Scarlett Johasen she is the same category as the chick in the photo. I think Zoey Deschanel and Felicity Jones are far better looking. Geez a young Sophia Loren would leave Scarlett Johansen in the dust.

      I swear that Sophia Loren looks like a light-skinned sista on screen sometimes.

    • co-signing Dreaming.

    • Logic

      @ChicNoir: “Logic- No way Scarlett Johasen she is the same category as the chick in the photo. I think Zoey Deschanel and Felicity Jones are far better looking. Geez a young Sophia Loren would leave Scarlett Johansen in the dust.”

      I think that Zoey is cute and quirky, but besides her eyes and hair, I don’t see anything stand out about her. But you did prove mine, and the author’s, point: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

      P.S. I feel you on Sophia Loren, but I think young Bridgette Bardot and Raquel Welch were WAY hotter!

    • @Logic

      Oh I can agree on Raquel Welch. I was suppose to do the world’s most beautiful women vanilla edition for my blog but never got around to it. Raquel would most def rank high on my list.

      Raquel had face and body. It’s hard to believe she had two kids before she became a big star.
      It’s a shame movie stars aren’t glamerous anymore.

      http://www.chicnoirhouse.blogspot.com/2010/09/most-beautiful-women-in-world.html

    • Logic

      “Raquel had face and body. It’s hard to believe she had two kids before she became a big star.”

      What?!? *jaw drops* I did not know that! I have a whole new respect for her! Homegirl’s figure was on point! BTW: She’s Panamanian, not white; she “passed” to get better roles.

      “It’s a shame movie stars aren’t glamerous anymore.”
      ITA with that.

    • Logic She’s Panamanian, not white; she “passed” to get better roles.

      Had no idea so we taught each other something new.

    • I don’t find her beautiful. She’s certainly not ugly though. I don’t find white people universally attractive by default anymore. This was my own revelation that I came to watching tv and realizing that the white standard of beauty that was being forced on me had no basis in fact and everything to do with dominance. But then again I’ve always been attracted to dark skin.

    • I don’t find her beautiful. She’s certainly not ugly though. I don’t find white people universally attractive by default anymore. This was my own revelation that I came to watching tv and realizing that the white standard of beauty that was being forced on me had no basis in fact and everything to do with dominance. But then again I’ve always been attracted to dark skin.

    • Panamanian is a nationality not a race, and Panama is full of people of different races. So if she were Panamanian that would have nothing to do with her race. That’s like someone saying that they are American. America is a multicultural country that contains people of all races.

      Also Raquel Welch was born in Chicago. She is American. Her father was from Bolivia but of Spanish descent which means that he was white, and her mother was white. So, she is white.

    • jamesfrmphilly

      i find it hard to believe we spend time obsessing over white women…..

    • Mr. james find it hard to believe we spend time obsessing over white women

      Nope, just giving a woman her due. I feel comfortable with myself so I don’t have to hate on a WW or put her down .

    • tightlipped mary

      co-signing with Dreaming

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