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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Feminine Standards of Beauty


 

Dear reader, I invite you to take a look at the image above. What do you think of the artificial intelligence (AI) picture of a woman? Do you find her conventionally attractive—falling within common beauty standards?

 

Defining terms

 

Perhaps you reject the premise of my question, because the gender label I’ve applied isn’t consistent with an AI-generated image. For clarity, it may be useful to define terms relating to sex and gender. In a blogpost entitled Females Are Fallible, Too, I stated:

 

Herein, I intend on discussing females. Regarding this term, one source states, “An organism’s sex is female (symbol: ♀) if it produces the ovum (egg cell), the type of gamete (sex cell) that fuses with the male gamete (sperm cell) during sexual reproduction.”

 

As “sex” refers to females, the common gender-related term concerning this category of human is “girl” or “woman.” Whereas a girl is a non-adult human female, a woman is an adult human female.

 

In addition to this distinction, “feminine” may be defined as having qualities or an appearance traditionally associated with women or girls. “Femininity” can be defined as qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of women or girls. These are distinctions without a difference.

 

Nevertheless, when I mention “standards” herein, I’m referring to ideas or things used as measures, norms, or models in comparative evaluations. As well, herein “beauty” refers to a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, which pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.

 

There is no objective standard of beauty

 

As a means of preemptively addressing the challenge, “There is no objective standard of beauty,” one 1998 study regarding this matter concluded:

 

We have shown that the attractiveness of individual faces can be increased by increasing the bilateral symmetry of those faces, that attractiveness is reduced when symmetry levels are decreased, and that perfectly symmetric faces, although not strikingly beautiful, are preferred to faces with lower levels of symmetry.

 

Facial symmetry appears to be correlated with standards of beauty. Noteworthy, the aforementioned study posited that “perfectly symmetric faces” weren’t considered “strikingly beautiful.

 

One likely explanation for this may be related to the uncanny valley, which one source describes as “a hypothesized psychological and aesthetic relation between an object’s degree of resemblance to a human being and the emotional response to the object.” Again, look at the image pertaining to this post.

 

Without me having said anything regarding it being an AI image, could you detect that something was a bit off with the virtually perfect facial appearance of the subject? One source describes this uncanny valley response by suggesting that “our affinity descends into a feeling of strangeness, a sense of unease, and a tendency to be scared or freaked out.”

 

Nevertheless, for many years, facial symmetry—when not virtually perfected—was thought of as tending toward accepted standards of beauty. Regarding this matter, a 2001 study proposed:

 

These findings show that preferences for facial averageness and symmetry are not restricted to Western cultures, consistent with the view that they are biologically based. Interestingly, it made little difference whether averageness was manipulated by using own-race or other-race averaged composites and there was no preference for own-race averaged composites over other-race or mixed-race composites.

 

A biological or objective claim concerning a standard of beauty was a bold claim. What experience might an individual who is born unattractive have in comparison to one who is innately and conventionally attractive? Adding to the evidence, a 2011 study suggested:

 

Being more or less attractive has important social consequences and people do generally agree on who is and who is not attractive. Beauty is not just a simple social construct—attractiveness appears to be ingrained in our biology. While some aspects of face perception might be innate, other aspects are clearly influenced by experience; it seems unlikely that individuals are born with a representation of what a perfect partner looks like.

 

Still, a 2019 study proposed, “In summary, the novel experimental approach proposed in this article allowed us to unveil the essential subjectivity of attractiveness.” As well, a 2021 study determined, “Preference for facial symmetry depends on study design.”

 

Whether or not there is an objective standard of beauty, at least as far as human faces are concerned, is a somewhat contentious topic. Still, many people appear to value symmetry over asymmetry.

 

Finally, a 2023 study suggested, “Recent studies show that beauty is not only found in facial symmetry but also in the normality of the face. In this way, if we make a more symmetrical face, it moves away from naturalness and is valued less positively.”

 

As long as one’s appearance doesn’t traverse the uncanny valley, it would seem as though a significant number of people and years of research essentially conclude that there is an objective standard of beauty. Whether or not the reader agrees with this conclusion is a subjective matter in and of itself.

 

Personal anecdote

 

I recall in the mid-90s, when watching a tabloid talk show with my dad, an episode aired in which transsexual women were featured. Back then, the term “transsexual” broadly referred to a transgender person, especially one who has undergone gender reassignment.

 

Now, “transgender” (“trans”) is often used in its place and refers to someone whose gender identity differs from that typically associated with biological sex. As much as symmetrical beauty standards are a contentious topic, so too is the subject related to trans.

 

At any rate, during the television show my dad said something to the effect of, “Boy, you gotta check the package these days! These men look better than some of the women!”

 

Here, a “package” refers to one’s genitals. Checking to discern whether or not an individual had a penis is the practice for which my dad was advocating. As odd as this may sound to the modern reader, it was apparently a common proposal in the ‘90s.

 

Because when I later arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil in the late-90s, one of the Marines with whom I served advised me something to the effect of, “We do a package check before taking anyone out of the club. You can’t tell the difference between travesties [trans women] and the Brasileiras [Brasilian women].”

 

Two men who knew nothing of one another’s existence—and at different times and places in my life—advised me to use caution, because trans women apparently attained feminine standards of beauty on par with adult human females. Given my experience in Rio, I can attest to the validity of the recommendation I was given.

 

What, then, does this suggest about the objectivity or subjectivity of feminine beauty? Is femininity something one can acquire through makeup, surgical procedures, clothing choices, mannerisms, patterns of speech, or other unnatural modifications?

 

Femininity

 

Given the topic of femininity and what it means to present as a woman, I’m reminded of the 1963 film Summer Magic in which character “Nancy,” played by the ineffable Hayley Mills, sings the song “Femininity.” Lyrics include the following:

 

You must walk feminine

Talk feminine

Smile and beguile feminine

Utilize your femininity

That’s what every girl should know, if she wants to catch a beau [male admirer]

 

You must look feminine

Dress feminine

You’re at your best feminine

Emphasize your femininity

That’s what every girl should know

Femininity, femininity

That’s the way to catch a beau

 

From a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) perspective, I recognize the irrational belief related to demandingness inherent in the lyrics. Declaring what one should, must, or ought to do in order to present with feminine standards of beauty is how this self-disturbing belief functions.

 

Walking, talking, smiling, looking, and dressing feminine does not a woman make. Although, these are qualities of femininity which a man can exude, as was the matter about which I was cautioned in the ‘90s.

 

Dear reader, take another look at the image related to this blogpost. Suppose I were to tell you that the AI image represents a trans woman. If you initially found the picture conventionally attractive, does the notion of the image representing a feminized male alter your conclusion?

 

What may it suggest about your perception to realize that many of the common appearance modification techniques used by women can equally make men appear as though they’re women? Herein, I make no moral judgement about this occurrence one way or another.

 

Breast augmentations, Brasilian butt lifts, body contouring, rhytidectomy (or facial feminization surgery), lip injections, and other procedures used by women and men are currently popular. Likewise, use of makeup, false eyelashes, hair extensions, and other add-ons are used.

 

Granting that all these modifications may promote a hyper-feminine standard of beauty, to who are these actions directed in regards to conventional norms of attractiveness? For instance, one wonders if the average straight male desires the product of what either a woman or man can achieve through facial and bodily modification.

 

Although a crude manner of assessment, perhaps the reader could ask 10 straight men if they prefer a collection of the aforementioned procedures when engaging in the mate selection process. One has no idea what such an assessment may determine.

 

Nonetheless, I suspect that irrational demandingness related to feminine standards of beauty is a problem for many people. Notice that I’m not castigating the standards of beauty themselves.

 

When person X tells herself, “I must look feminine in order to find love, because I can’t compete with other women, given how I currently look,” it isn’t society who’s to blame for this self-disturbing belief. That’s person X’s iss-YOU, not my iss-ME (issue).

 

Likewise, when person Y tells himself, “I should spend thousands of dollars to achieve peak femininity, because society’s beauty standards require that I look beautiful in order to be accepted,” this, too, is a matter of personal responsibility and accountability for one’s own experience. It’s not my problem, it’s person Y’s.

 

In either case, person X or Y, the self-disturbing belief about femininity is the issue. In this way, deflecting liability to an abstract society is unproductive. Own your issues.

 

Conclusion

 

Increasingly, I’ve observed both women and men disturbing themselves in order to achieve feminine standards of beauty. While it’s arguable as to whether or not these standards are objective, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that some people can cross the uncanny valley on their quest to present in a hyper-feminine manner.

 

At any rate, it was many years ago that I became aware of how convincing some trans women’s efforts were in order to appear as though they weren’t men. Since then, I’ve witness standards of femininity shift to where male, female, men, and women alike can achieve a similar look of perceived attractiveness.

 

For one last time, may I burden the reader to revisit the image for the current blog entry? The AI-generated picture could easily represent a woman or trans woman. Personally, I take no issue with those adults who choose to present as they wish, as long as no irrational obligations are made of me regarding advocacy for how they present.

 

Moreover, I view femininity and standards of beauty through the lens of REBT. If person Z helpfully concludes, “I’d like to look more like the models I see on social media and elsewhere, though I don’t have to appear as they do,” this is a method of rational living.

 

To those people who continually disturb themselves with matters addressed herein, who are ready to challenge the unreasonable notion of perception representing reality, and who are prepared to push through the discomfort regarding disputation of unproductive beliefs, I’m here to help.

 

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

 

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

 

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

 

 

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW

  

References:

 

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Hollings, D. (2022, November 1). Self-disturbance. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/self-disturbance

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Little, A. C., Jones, B. C., and DeBruine, L. M. (2011, June 12). Facial attractiveness: evolutionary based research. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3130383/

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Rhodes, G., Proffitt, F., Grady, J. M., and Sumich, A. (1998). Facial symmetry and the perfection of beauty. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. Retrieved from https://homepages.uc.edu/~martinj/Taste%20Food%20&%20Wine/Aesthetics_of_Food_&_Drink/Rhodes%20-%20Facial%20symmetry%20and%20the%20perception%20of%20beauty.pdf

Rhodes, G., Yoshikawa, S., Clark, A., Lee, K., McKay, R., and Akamatsu, S. (2001). Attractiveness of facial averageness and symmetry in non-western cultures: in search of biologically based standards of beauty. PubMed. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11430245/

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