Pretties comes out on November 1, just over a week away, so it’s time to begin the celebrations!
For those of you who don’t know, Uglies and Pretties are set in a world in which cosmetic surgery is not optional. The society has lots of theories about what makes a face the right kind of pretty, and this week I’ll be discussing the science behind those theories.
So let’s start with . . . face averaging!
One of the ways scientists generate fake pretty faces is to visually average the general population. Basically, you stick a lot of pictures of faces into a computerized blender and morph the results together. See how the third face is pleasanter to look at than the first two?
It is believed that averaged faces tend to be more attractive because it’s good to have a wide variety of genes from across the local population. People with a wider set of ancestors are (by definition) less in-bred, which means they’ll have more disease resistance and other neat superpowers like that. So we’ve evolved to think that people with genetically average faces are good mating material.
So how do we know what’s average? Answer: By looking around at the people where we live.
The faces above are from a German University, which is why they’re white. In a recent University of Western Australia study, however, researchers found that in a mixed-race society, the faces considered most attractive have mixed racial characteristics.
Australia’s population is composed mostly of Asians and Europeans, so when reporting the study the Sydney Morning Herald chose a model with Scottish, Spanish, Phillipine, and other Asian ancestry to make their point:
A definite hottie. Of course, the US version would have more African ancestry and probably more Latin American in the mix as well.
Anyway, averaging faces is only one technique that the Pretty Committee in Uglies uses to create beauty. And of course in the real world, we find all kinds of extremes attractive, as well as personality, accomplishments, and shared personal history. We’re just talking about statistics here, not individual preferences.
For me, averaging (especially by computer) often leads to a bland beauty. Like, say, these two faces composed of 64 Germans each:
Generic + Vaguely Creepy = Yawn