Can You Judge Beauty?

Can You Judge Beauty? Oh! Really?

Yesterday I was forwarded a journal article by a colleague of mine to ask for my opinion of it. The article was an interesting study about biases by doctors in judging the esthetics of a patient, in simple words, in judging whether the patients face was beautiful or not. Now there is an old aphorism which says beauty is in the eye of the beholder or in Plato the Greek philosopher’s words- “We behold beauty with the eye of the mind” a beautiful little explanation of why we see what we see. Till recently, with the absence of effective ways to judge beauty our idea of what we would call “beautiful” was more subjective than objective- often involving snap judgments and wolf whistles as a sign of appreciation- but the development of aesthetic analysis software has the made the job of comparing individual beauty to a standardized ideal beauty easier- like comparing your face to some beautiful person you know – say Monica Belluci and getting a result based on the differences (in percentages) between the faces of you two to see how beautiful you are rank wise.

Of course, as walking, thinking human beings and not mindless calculating machines each of us have different opinions on what constitutes beauty and we don’t follow the standardized ideal of a software program. Which in fact explains all those hopelessly mismatched happy couples we see wandering around the shopping malls holding hands. “What does he see in her? And what does he have that I don’t have?” are the often heard anguished questions for which there is no right answer. It happens, just happens was the explanation we were giving till now. But now this study explains a bit about the reasons for why we make subjective decisions in judging beauty- by blaming it on human errors and biases.

The current study (Photos vs silhouettes for evaluation of profile esthetics by Matheus Melo Pithona; Iane Souza Nery Silvab; Published Online: August 19, 2013- The EH Angle Education and Research Foundation) And a similar study published earlier both try to show the evidence of such bias. The study is simple- it shows a series of photographs of faces of people from the very beautiful to the not-so beautiful to a group of volunteer judges and the same photographs with all the details blanked out except for the silhouettes to the same group and they are asked to analyze which ones are beautiful and which ones are not. This is because the examiners wanted to prove that there are two different ways of judging faces- one set of people believe that a pleasing face with good esthetic’s is because of many different factors which can only be judged from complete photographs while the other group believe that using blanked-out silhouettes removes all the distractions from a patients face and allows us to judge only the outline of a face to see whether it looks beautiful or not – a simplified method of decision to avoid examiners own preferences and biases regarding hair, complexion and make-up.

 The examiners achieve a high degree of correct results in the silhouettes with faces blanked out (in the 90 the percentages) but in the case of the full photographs they achieve only results in the 70th percentages which is explained by the authors of the study as subjective bias based on distracting factors in the face. For example- looking at someone with high cheek bones, a perky little nose and a somewhat thin and protruding lips in the full photo- the examiners took an overall view that the lips did not look so out of place when seen in the face because the nose and cheek bones attracted attention and dominated the overall look diverting us from the deficiency of the lip. In other words photographs made us judge beauty of the overall face and to be more forgiving of minor lapses here and there while silhouettes made us stricter and have a higher standard of beauty.

So the study concludes by saying that human sympathies should be removed when judging beauty and strict standards should be applied by comparing our faces to an ideal beauty standard as done by computer software. Put simply- humans are prone to biases and computers are better- they don’t fall for beauty because they are strict officers. When someone is ugly- a computer will say without mercy that they are ugly- but we humans try to find beauty even in that ugly face – so don’t trust human judgment. This is the actual conclusion of the study- though they have put it in more polite language- but just wordplay you know.

And so I e-mailed my friend back with the opinion that even though I agree with the overall results of the study that human judges are prone to biases especially when seeing full photographs, I have to disagree with some of the conclusions drawn from the results. As someone who works in the esthetic’s field I have occasionally been called on to officiate as a judge in beauty pageants and I remember that most of the winners were judged on a variety of parameters like poise and posture and overall pleasing faces rather than on a strict application of aesthetic rules and measurement of the tip of the nose to the tip of the chin to see if they fall in the same straight line. In fact most winners were selected as they walked down the ramp towards the judges and even before they could approach near enough to clearly scrutinize their faces and make a decision.

So we have to agree that humans have different ideas of beauty and as long as there is an overall sense of pleasantness about the face and facial harmony with no especially obvious defect- surgical intervention is not recommended. Finally, in my view, the true portrayal of what we see and how we interpret beauty is based on instinct rather than on education and expert analysis. We instinctively feel that someone is either beautiful or not and others judgment – including that of an infallible software program rarely changes our opinion. In the end, beauty is a gut feel and not based on any rating system. And the only true connoisseurs of beauty are the ones found sitting on parapet walls or lounging around street corners – wolf-whistling impartially at every girl who passes by regardless of her facial attractiveness or aesthetic ratings, don’t you agree?


For a “Purr-fect” Nude Look…..

For a “Purr-fect” Nude Look…..

“If you were me, would you go with the nude look?” she asked and I replied “oh honey, I go nude every single day”. Now if your overactive imagination is picturing me going about in a, well, in a state of undress, perish the thought. Cease, desist, and don’t think like that for a minute- for the nude we were talking about here refers to the face- a nude look sans any make-up for the face. Now if you are wondering what I have to do with makeup and such things, let me start the story from the beginning.

As part of a team of surgeons who do extreme make-over’s, I happened to treat an interesting patient recently. This particular patient was a 22 year old female and what’s more important, unmarried and looking to get married pretty soon. In quest of which marriage she had tried to look prettier by becoming thinner, even though she wasn’t very heavy looking to start with. But as they say, is there anything like being too thin or too wealthy?

This patient’s chosen method of rapid weight loss involved starvation, as she was hell bent on achieving a zero-size figure in time for her wedding. Unfortunately for her, she failed to realize that being thin does not necessarily translate into beautiful. There are lots of thin, ugly women walking around if you look, which is incredibly sexist and might bring me brickbats from the feminist brigades, but, hey it’s the truth, so sue me.

Anyway to get back to our patient this girl by binge dieting and extreme starvation became as thin as a stick and then having achieved her life’s goal assumed that she had become beautiful. Imagine then the shock to her system when she realized that despite the weight loss she was basically what she always was, albeit a thinner version with a constantly hungry look in her eyes. And then when she realized her folly she did what she should have done in the beginning -approached the professionals.

Let me digress here a bit and offer some general advice- losing weight and becoming thin if done the proper way with exercise retains the muscle tone but losing weight with starvation makes you lose all fat beneath the skin- which pads out and fills up the skin and consequently the skins sags and hangs – giving you an aged appearance – unless you get a skin tuck done by a cosmetic surgeon (if you don’t believe me – check out any liposuction patient after all the fat’s been sucked out- they look like the pug dog from the Hutch mobile advertisement- with loose rolls of skin hanging down). So, take my advice- walk, run or dance- but don’t starve.

And also, there is a general rule in plastic surgery that says “Soft tissue follows Hard Tissue” which translated from medical jargon means that the flesh follows the shape of the bone. So anything you do to the muscle and skin will not last long if it’s not in conformity with the bone beneath. If your jaw bones are long and protruding, however much you reshape your lip muscles, you will never have a pout till the bone beneath is also re-shaped and then the flesh above the bone will automatically adapt to the bone below and achieve the perfect shape we want.

So, after doing the very best we could to give her face an all-natural look- a few nips and tucks here and there, some bone grafts and some collagen/fibrin to bring the shape back to her face- we let her go home to heal. And she returned to us after the usual six weeks of healing to check up on her final results. As part of the hospital protocol- especially for extreme makeovers- and to guard against future litigation by disgruntled patients who are unable to bridge the gap between fantasy and the reality of their looks- the hospital has mandatory post- operative photographs for documentation (and as evidence for the legal team).

In any hospital which does cosmetic surgeries, there are specialists appointed for the purpose of getting patient photographs- photographers and make-up specialists. One of the tricks the photographer employs is to undershoot the pre-operative photos to highlight the post surgical effect- which is unnecessary in my opinion. And vice versa they go all out – overboard sometimes- in getting the post surgical photos- with heavy make-up and lighting effects- which is where the creative difference arose as I mentioned in my first para above.

As an end user and as someone from the team responsible for the actual result- I like to be involved in these photo shoots despite murmurings that I am a know-it-all poking my nose everywhere. I discount the murmurs as I feel that it’s only my insatiable curiosity to learn something new which drives me to hang about the patient photo shoots. Anyway, I always feel that the stark look which the photographers shoot for the pre- surgical pictures are way better than the heavily made up faces they shoot for the post-surgical photos. And hence I decided to get hands-on this time.

As I had been the one from the team who had coordinated the entire makeover for this particular patient and she trusted my judgment, I had to put my foot down for the look I wanted for this patient- a nude look. Now a nude look for those who don’t know much about make-up (which is me -before wikipedia) is a minimal make-up look- as far as possible approaching the natural face. Which is the very point of doing a cosmetic surgery- to make someone look beautiful even in the morning when they wake up sleepy faced.

The make-up team had an ingrained habit of applying make-up liberally but I convinced the patient that a nude look would show her the real results achieved and I sat down with the make-up team and was constantly giving them advice to restrict the amount they usually dab- something which almost drove them nuts, I think.

And the conversation during the photo-shoot went something like this:

Please put just a hint of concealer around the shadow areas of the nose and eyes. Now use that foundation sparingly and blend it in please. Yes, use that marble tone- that would suit this skin tone better. No, no blush please, please don’t, not over the cheek bones- we have accentuated it naturally with bone grafts- we don’t want to highlight it further. Ok, just a little hint of powder. Do you really want to make it soo glossy? Or do you think we can pat it down for a matte finish? What does the photographer feels- shall we ask him? Oh, ok, you would adjust the effect with the lights then?

Now for my signature look- add on the lipstick….MAC raspberry? No I prefer the Estee Lauder one- Coralline Red- here, this is the shade I was telling you about- apply it to her lips and see how the peachy shade makes the lips more inviting and perfectly complements the nude look of the face rather than the bright red raspberry you advice. Yeah, it’s not my province, I know, but hey, who better to admire a lipsticks effects than a man? We look at it from the consumer point of view, so trust me go with the coralline red- it will make your lips all peachy and delectable. What, you want me to apply it and show you the effect? Oh, just kidding me, were you?

OK time to pose- be natural, don’t use all those patented poses like the photographer showed you pictures of- be free to give us your own poses- we can always delete later on if we don’t like it. So mr.photographer, are we ready with the soft focus lights? And after you finish shooting the regular ones, I want a few grayscales for my own patient records- no I prefer grayscale without any hint of touch up- for my surgical notes. OK. Thank you all. Nice shoot. And I expect to see you again- next month- for your final check up. Bye.

082013_1457_ForaPurrfec5.jpgAnd you walk away with the sense of a job well done having captured the prefect image you wanted, but then you are in for a surprise -for whatever effects you tried to achieve on the floor of the studio- the photographer who does the final post-processing uses his photoshop software to give the pictures a uniform bland look like all those models with plastic faces you see on magazines- any sign of individuality in your shot composing is all lost by the time the picture is printed out and you grin and bear it and just add it the patient records and close the file.

Disclaimer : I am not recommending the nude look for everyone- every look should be decided by the individual’s skin tone and more importantly- by the occasion. I am also not recommending you go for a matt finish over a glossy finish or you apply highlights over the cheeks. I am also not recommending you try out coralline red lipstick. I am especially not endorsing any of the products named above. To each their own.

P.S. I would have loved to show you the pictures of the patient we shot as examples for what I am talking about -but medical ethics and doctor patient confidentiality forbids me from using them on social media. Only the hospital has the right to use those photos as part of their promotional campaigns and advertisements.

To Wed or Not To Wed- That is the Question?!****

Ita been a long time since my last post and the fault lies soley with my tranquil mind till date – I was not experiencing any heady emotion to inspire me to rant on these pages. Enough said.

Now I’m going to try and use these pages to clear my mind of a particularly important dilemna I have been facing in the recent past – to wit – the change of my marital status. Trust me – I’m not inclined to either side yet and prefer to keep an open mind. So I’m going to discuss my options here – and if I’m a little brutal – please excuse …

PARENTAL ADVISORY – The following paras will contain words offensive to delicate-darlings who are requested not to proceed…

With that out of the way lets proceed…

Why should I marry? I’m going to list a few of the reasons society advances to men for getting married (as my friends keep reminding me). The list is not exhaustive , but I think I’ll discuss the least important stuff first (Sex & Food- are the topmost things in any guys mind) and go on to matters of increasing importance (like Love, Friendship, Companionship)….And i’m not gonna worry about being politically correct or being called a male-chauvinist or whatever- this stuff is gut-real, these questions are what goes through an average guy’s mind when he is selecting, what’s aptly called ” A Life Partner” (P.s.- you either mate for life or prepare to get killed is the code under which girls down south marry)

PRO: -Have someone to talk to in my old, old age. – I specifically dont mention hearing as I am well aware no wife hears her husband’s speech after the honeymoon period is over.

CON: – I’m not much of a talker even now – I rarely speak to anyone and prefer to communicate by SMS.

PRO: – Sex. Can have Free Safe Sex – any time in the confines of home.

CON: – Free? In my dreams – I will be paying with a lifetime of bondage, restricted options for browsing (with attached guilty feelings), explanations to offer every time I ogle a beautiful girl passing by, and as for any time sex- its simply not in my hands is it? there would be so many moody issues to confront…

PRO: – Food – specifically- healthy home cooked food.

CON: – Yah, as long as I cook it myself. Seriously of the Four Girls I have visited as part of my official sight-seeing delegation – Not One – has professed any talent/interest in cooking for me the rest of her life.

PRO:- Love, Friendship, Affection…

CON: – Hah! Hah! Seriously do I even have to reflect on this. I’d be a hopeless romantic if I expected any of the above from an arranged marriage – atleast not until we have lived together for atleast twenty years , when I’d recieve the familiar affection we often give to long-in-use heirlooms or family pets…

PRO: – Advisor, Counsellor, Guide and Friend – ARDHA-NARI Concept – Like Lord Shiva who shares everything equally with his Consort the Goddess Parvati..

CON: – While at it, why not I dream for a Lawyer, Doctor, Auditor and Finacial Consultant all rolled into one? Seriously, Girls these days are so into themselves that to ask for counsel(selfless) is to invite the reply – It’s your life, buddy, do what you want..Can’t expect my wife to advice/counsel me without being charged a hefty consultation fees.

And right now I’m running to a deadline because my parents have given me an ultimatum to decide on one of two options – they have given me as they seem fed up by my endless ditherings, doubts and postponements. Or else they threaten to withdraw from the deal entirely allowing me to go my own way and choose my own mate. Which is the worst possible scenario I can imagine.

For some reason, I am unable to explain, its been my fate to attract and date girls as far removed from me as possible – in nature, character and intelligence. They have been all, without exception, semi-starved, fashion conscious, stick-thin types with (in recent years) a preponderance of models and actresses among them (as I started moving in the golden circles of Chennai society) And as for me, I cannot for the life of me remember to differentiate a Gucci from a Prada and the only Diesel I’m in contact with is dispensed at the petrol pumps. Being with empty headed beauty babes has been fun but it has given me a decided distaste for the supposed bliss of marital life

So, to come back to my original question – Is it time to make a choice? To close my eyes, put my finger on a photo and marry that girl, whoever is it? Well, its action time in my life- as I’m on the verge of making my decision.

GOD HELP ME……( the writer of this blog has taken time out to go and vomit his guts out -will be back soon-hopefully). Adios