journalism, clickbait, & ideas of classical beauty – but not science

A couple days ago the NZ Herald published a story with the headline, “Science says Bella Hadid is world’s most beautiful woman“, and followed up with the ridiculous statement that

Supermodel Bella Hadid has been declared as the world’s most beautiful woman following a scientific study into what constitutes as a “perfect face”.

Really, NZ Herald? Really? Were you so bereft of stories that you had to post something that would be better placed on the Daily Mail Fail?

I probably wouldn’t have given this a second glance, were it not for the abuse of the words ‘science’ and ‘scientific’. Neither belongs within cooee of the rest of the piece. Let’s park the concept that beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder¹, for the moment, and look more closely at where the storyline might have come from. Apparently

Hadid’s eyes, eyebrows, nose, lips, chin, jaw and facial shape were measured and came the closest to the Greek’s Golden Ratio of Beauty – a mathematical equation devised by ancient Greeks to try measure beauty.

I remember learning about the ‘golden ratio’, aka the ‘golden mean’, in maths class when I was in secondary school. Back then, my maths teacher would have said something along the lines of what Wikipedia tells us today: “In mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities.” The golden ratio apparently turns up quite a bit in geometry, and many feel that building designs (both ancient & modern) that incorporate it are aesthetically pleasing. It’s also said to appear in some classical Greek sculptures (with an apparent focus around the navel, according to that last link), but the idea of applying it to standards of human beauty seems to have really taken off in the Renaissance.

However, let’s get back to this “scientific” study of beauty & its methodology:

The rankings were compiled using computerised mapping techniques by a Harley St facial cosmetic surgeon.

So, the facial cosmetic surgeon used photos (we’re not told how many) of people (all those named & ranked appear to be celebrities) already judged to be pretty darn good-looking. A computer program mapped features of the faces and spat out some numbers that permitted some form of ranking. Science, it’s not.

It is, however, quite a nifty way of getting airtime for a business-related technique²:

“These brand new computer mapping techniques allow us to solve some of the mysteries of what it is that makes someone physically beautiful and the technology is useful when planning patients’ surgery.”



¹ Returning to the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder – it’s worth remembering that opinions on what constitutes beauty vary between cultures and over time within cultures (something that at least some plastic surgeons appear to be aware of).

² And to perpetuate the idea that physical ‘perfection’ is measurable, attainable, and aspirational. In men, as well as in women.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *