Theodora Goss recently posted an interesting entry on her blog “On Beauty.” She explores the idea of beauty and how our perceptions of beauty tend to follow mathematical fractal patterns found in nature.

This reminded me of some very different experiments using software to create “beauty” by combining facial characteristics from a number of photos. The result was an “average” of the various faces. And experimenting with such composite photos, researchers find that the more averaging is done, the more “beautiful” the results are for most people looking at the photos.

This suggests (to me at least) that most of us have a hardwired “picture” or icon in our minds that we compare to any given real face. The closer the face to that hardwired icon, the more beautiful is our perception of it.

This is also how the old trick of taking pictures of women through gauze or lens smeared with Vasoline works; their features become less pronounced — averaged — and they appear more attractive. Likewise digital artists now arm themselves with plugins that add a little light scatter to photos, blurring things in a special way to create a “beauty shot.”

Makeup often also “averages” a face. Thus it’s often possible to transform a person from so-so to beautiful with careful use of makeup. You’ll see this with photos of actresses with and without their makeup.

And plastic surgery tends to work toward that golden average we have in our brains.

The result is that all beautiful people tend to look alike to some extent. Thus the growing tendency of Hollywood actors to be both beautiful while all looking somewhat alike — sometimes to the point that viewers of movies now have trouble distinguishing one actress or actor from the next. As the averaging takes place, they become both more beautiful and more alike.

Sadly it appears that the hardwired ideal can be bent by fashion or experiences.

Or perhaps that’s a good thing.

When not contemplating his beauty, Duncan Long works as a professional freelance magazine and book illustrator for many self-publishing authors as well as larger presses including HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books, Solomon Press, Fort Ross, ISFiC Press, and many other publishers. See his book illustrations at: