Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How does it all relate?

The research in this field is affecting our everyday lives. Especially with today's technology, everyone is attempting to attain ideal beauty. We see it in cosmetic surgery, and with the new trend of test tube babies. While this is controversial, it is common now for parents to manipulate the genes of their child so they will look a certain way. A sperm bank in California has acknowledged this trend and made it easier for parents to beautify their potential children. The bank has matched their donors with celebrities that they look like so the potential parents can get an idea of what their future child may look like. They have everyone listed from actors like Ben Affleck, to football stars like Ben Roethlisberger (Inbar, 2009). It is sad that our society is this superficial but our culture finds beauty so important that it trumps the miracle of a child.

I do not know if this same trend is occurring on different continents but beauty is still dominant all over the globe. It has been attributed to being successful, powerful, and popular in all different cultures. While the standard of beauty is different, it is still a driving force in many cultures. It has been a determinate of which candidate will get a job and who will be picked as a mate...things that are present in our every day life. Knowing the difference and similarities of beauty in different cultures may give you the upper hand in life. Now, whether or not you may go as far as to surgically alter your face to be more symmetrical is up to you, but you can use the research out there in your favor to be successful in life.

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Where do we go from here?

We have examined a lot of the research out there on beauty in Western Cultures and in Asian Cultures...but there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

I personally would like to know the reason why plastic surgery is so popular in Western cultures, especially the United States, and practically unheard of in Asian cultures. Americans are constantly trying to change their bodies to be the epitome of beauty...going through countless augmentations and Botox injections, and even surgeries to change their ethnicity. I'm curious to know where this is coming from. Obviously it is a cultural thing, but other cultures have a standard of beauty as well. Media is influential in all cultures (as we've already discussed), so why aren't the people of China running to get their faces reconstructed to look like the models on the cover of Cosmopolitan? I think further research should be done in this area...I personally would be curious to know why cosmetic surgery is a booming industry in the United States, but not so much anywhere else.

Along the same lines, Western cultures have a much higher incidence of anorexia and other body image disorders than other cultures. Again, we know it is the media that influences us, but is there something else going on that affects only the West?

Finally, I am curious to know what exactly makes a person attracted to someone else. There has to be something that is specific to each individual that allows them to find someone else attractive, otherwise we would all be marrying clones of the same attractive person. Some people like their mate to be taller or shorter, smaller or larger, long hair or short hair, dark skinned or light skinned. Why?? There has to be something going on neurologically that makes each person, regardless of culture, find someone else beautiful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

But the difference is...

Yes, there are some similarities in beauty across cultures, but you had to know there would be some differences too. As mentioned in the previous post, it is consistent between cultures that classic beauty prevails over all...but classic beauty itself varies from culture to culture. For example, when you look in the media, what do you see? You see beautiful women from all different cultures being used for a purpose. Media manipulates cultural beauty in a way that benefits their advertising needs.

A study done about women in magazine advertisements looked at the portrayal of two types of women: Asian women, and Caucasian women. While you may not realize it, you probably already know how these types of women are typically portrayed. The Caucasian woman is usually the sensual, sexy type, while the Asian woman is usually the cute, girl next door type (Frith, Shaw, & Cheng, 2005). Now everyone is nodding their heads. Yup, we see this everyday; magazines, TV, movies. The Asian woman is always the nerdy, shy, girl next door, and the Caucasian woman is the blond bomb shell. However it doesn't make one more pretty than the other, they are just different types of beauty. This may be because China has more conservative and Confucian cultural beliefs (Frith et al. 2005). In a way, these beliefs write out the margins for what is beautiful and what is not. So perhaps the views of the country itself define beauty and not each individual person.

Everyone knows that the media portrays what is beautiful, so what if certain "beauty content" doesn't actually make it into the media. In China, the editorial staff is much more strict on what sexually explicit information makes it into the media. A study that looked at Cosmopolitan magazine across cultures, described the tight control the magazine has on the editorial content, and noticed that China's Cosmo had significantly fewer sexually explicit advertisements than Western cultures (Nelson and Paek, 2005). Not only are cultural beliefs influencing what is beautiful, the media is as well.

Neurologically, we're all wired to look for the same things when searching for beauty; the brain is looking for symmetry and simplicity. However we now know the influence that cultural beliefs and cultural media have on our perception of what is beautiful.

The beauty of it is similar across cultures

While each culture my define beauty differently, the fact of the matter is there are certain aspects of beauty that are universal. Women are most well received when portrayed as the "classic beauty type"(Frith, Shaw, & Cheng, 2005). Now whether or not this classic beauty translates across cultures will be discussed later; but for the time being, knowing that the best beauty is classic beauty crosses cultures. We like to think that everyone else is perceiving the world exactly as we are. If we like something, everyone else should like it as well. Same goes for beauty. If we think our significant other is beautiful, we expect everyone else to feel the same. Even if we don't think our significant other is beautiful, we still want others to think they are. So can this apply across cultures? Can an Asian woman be seen as beautiful by both an Asians and Caucasians? The answer is yes.

When looking at Western cultures, versus Asian cultures, there are strikingly similar attributes that the two cultures perceive as beautiful. In a study done using photographs of Asian, Hispanic, and Caucasian women, people of the like races were asked to judge the beauty of the photographs. All rated the same facial aspects the highest, despite the race of the woman in the photograph; these included large eyes, greater distance between eyes, smaller noses, narrower female faces with small chins, larger lower lip, and full hair. That's some list! With all the different variations of facial features a person can have, this tells you pretty specifically what is attractive and what is not. Well, that may be a little harsh. It's not that you are not attractive if you don't have these qualities, the research is just saying that these are qualities that stand out across cultures to be similar in likability. So much so, that the participants in this study preferred the faces of other ethnic groups to their own. In a follow up study, a group of Taiwanese judges were added to the mix and the findings were strikingly similar (Cunningham, Roberts, Barbee, & Druen, 1995).

I guess overall it goes back to the theory that symmetry is what most people find beautiful. It's simple yet says so much. Cross culturally, the findings are the same because this comes from an evolutionary standpoint. No matter what culture is being discussed, there is always the idea of survival of the fittest, and adaptation. Those with the best genes survive so they can pass on their fitness to their offspring. It's that simple. Although in today's day and age it may not be as apparent, we are looking for genetic fitness...someone healthy and genetically appealing to mate with. You are going to want your offspring to be healthy and symmetrical so you mate with someone who will do the same. This has been the rule across cultures and across time (Rhodes, Proffitt, Grady, & Sumich, 1998).

I guess now we know why inter-racial marriage is not that uncommon. Yes, it may have been taboo in the past, but apparently the appreciation for beauty of different races has always been present because different cultures perceive beauty similarly.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Can we define beauty?

If you look up beauty in the English dictionary, it is defined: the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind. This seems to make sense for Western culture, but would the definition be the same in a Chinese dictionary? We are driven by the desire to have pleasure in our lives. When coming from an individualistic culture, most people think, "It's all about me" and "What makes me happy?" These questions are derived from the pleasure principle. Freud's pleasure principle explains that people seek pleasure and avoid pain. Hence the need for beauty in our life. Beauty, while subjective, still stimulates deep satisfaction to the mind. Now I pose the question: how subjective is it?

We see everyday that people perceive beauty differently. It is seen in the way people are dressed, who people chose as mates, the different types of art in our culture and the different people who appreciate it. However research on beauty in western culture explains the perception of people in rather a definitive manner. Basically we're simple creatures. We see the most simple patterns and symmetry as beautiful. In a recent study done using geometric patterns, the majority of the participants found the patterns that were simple and geometric to be the most attractive (Winkielman, Halberstadt, Fazendeiro, & Catty, 2006).

So maybe beauty is determined by specific facial features. I mean, celebrities are considered very beautiful and they don't seem to have patterns on their faces. While it was once credited that specific nose shapes are considered more beautiful than others, current research has been refuting this evidence. Other research has shown that people find faces that are digitally composited to make an "average" face is more attractive than individual features. The study consisted of participants who looked at and rated pictures of Caucasian male and female pictures that were composites of different people. Some features were taken from less attractive individuals and combined with features from more attractive people. People were finding the composited pictures more attractive than the pictures of the beautiful people (Langlois and Roggman, 1990).

Now, back to the question about celebrities. They're pretty much universally recognized as attractive. So what is the reason for this? Maybe there is something exceptionally beautiful about them that stands out...or maybe it's just a case of our old friend the mere exposure effect. We tend to like the things that we are constantly exposed to. Since movie stars are always in the media, it's hard not to be exposed to them. This may be the culprit as to why we find them so attractive.

All this makes sense when looking at beauty in Western culture, but what about beauty in other cultures. You would think that they would perceive beauty a lot differently than we Americans do, right? You would think...