Measuring Beauty

Progress in human perception research has revealed the sophisticated process by which faces are recognized and judged for attractiveness. This remarkable ability once believed to be unique to humans has been found in animals and even bees. Despite the universality of this primitive talent to recognizing faces, efforts to mathematically define these facial properties have baffled intellectuals since Da Vinci. Not until the development of photographic imaging technology was there any progress. In 1897, Francis Galton was attempting to predict criminal behavior through patterns in facial morphology using composite photography. By superimposing multiple inmate mugshots into a composite photograph, he noted that the combined face appeared more attractive. In 1990, Langlois et al generated computer averaged composite faces and similarly concluded that mathematically average faces are perceived as attractive. Perret et al discovered that by averaging only a subset of the most attractive faces, an additional non-average property of attractive faces could be isolated. Recent emphasis in biometric technology and computer gaming has nurtured the next generation in facial morphing precision. Applying these technologies, Gruendel et al have generated a photo-realistic template of female beauty, “Virtual Miss Germany” by morphing together all 22 contestants of the final round of the Miss Germany competition, 2002. This image possesses all the characteristics of attractive faces, including average properties of balance and symmetry as well as non average properties of youth and health. The clarity of her image can precisely define anthropomorphic features that are consistent with current perceptions of idealized Caucasian female beauty.

My research during residency with Dr. Jill Foster and some of her colleagues focused on developing a method to measure the success of rejuvenating cosmetic brow lifting and blepharoplasty surgeries. Inspired by the natural human process of judging facial attractiveness, we proposed that the relative aesthetic improvement of brow lifting surgery over blepharoplasty alone could be quantified. We achieved these values by comparing the brow and lid fold positions of patients before and after surgery to the positions of an ideal template: Virtual Miss Germany. I presented these results last year at the 2005 American Society of Oculoplastic and Reconstructive Surgeons meeting.

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