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nyos

Beauty by Race

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Hello everybody! I'm new to these forums, so please be patient with my newb questions. :lol:

I remember reading Rand's comment about beauty once. She said that there were standards of beauty divided by race, and what would be attractive on one face wouldn't be found attractive on another face of a different race (she also said beauty was defined as the harmony of a face). Anyways, I don't quite understand her first comment about beauty having certain racial standards. For example, someone with an oriental father and white mother would deviate considerably from both the standard white and oriental face, but they could still be considered beautiful while having both oriental and white elements in their face. Could someone help me with Rand's statement?

Edited by nyos

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I have never heard of this idea either, but I do know that Ayn Rand wrote an essay on racism in her book The Virtues of Selfishness.

Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man's genetic lineage -- the notion that a man's intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.

Racism claims that the content of a man's mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man's convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical forces beyond his control. This is the caveman's version of the doctrine of innate ideas -- or of inherited knowledge -- which has been thoroughly refuted by philosophy and science. Racism is a doctrine of, by and for brutes. It is a barnyard or stock-farm version of collectivism, appropriate to a mentality that differentiates between various breeds of anmials, but not between animals and men.

More at http://freedomkeys.com/ar-racism.htm

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To a certain extent this makes sense to me. If beauty is a measure of harmony and integration, then what is beautiful does depend on the overall shape of someone's face, for example. Or the other proportions that can differ slightly among various geographical areas.

However, it doesn't really make sense to say: Wow! That person's really beautiful qua white person. I mean, what matters is that they are beautiful qua human being, and it just confuses matters to tie it very strongly to race. As your question signifies. All that is important is for any person, given the way they look, does everything that's there add together into one harmonious image that is beautiful?

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According to the "Ayn Rand Answers" book, she made the remarks in Lecture 11 of the PO lectures of 1976. (She participated in some of the Q&A sessions.) For those who have the "Answers" book, look near the end, in the section (#4) on Esthetics, under the sub-section on "Beauty".

Beauty is a sense of harmony. ... ...

... ...

..the black face, or the Oriental face, is built on a different standard, and therefore what is beautiful on a white face will not be beautiful for them (or vice versa)...

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I remember reading Rand's comment about beauty once. She said that there were standards of beauty divided by race, and what would be attractive on one face wouldn't be found attractive on another face of a different race (she also said beauty was defined as the harmony of a face). Anyways, I don't quite understand her first comment about beauty having certain racial standards. For example, someone with an oriental father and white mother would deviate considerably from both the standard white and oriental face, but they could still be considered beautiful while having both oriental and white elements in their face. Could someone help me with Rand's statement?

Welcome to the forum nvos!

My comments are made without knowing the specific context of the statement but knowing a good amount of context of Ayn Rand's philosophy. I think that Miss Rand was simply stating that different features of a woman's face (e.g., shape of eyes, cheek bones, etc.) might be construed as beautiful depending on how well they situated with the rest of her features. Since different races often lead to different phenotypes, this naturally means that a very beautiful black woman would probably have different features from a very beautiful Asian woman. I definitely do not think that Ayn Rand thought that a beautiful woman must fall in one of a finite number of racial categories. Instead, I imagine that she would say that a woman of multiracial backgrounds can too be beautiful, but by the same reasoning might have different physical features that make her beautiful compared to women of other backgrounds.

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I agree with DW and Maarten. I think Rand is using "race" to mean simply "general set of physiological structure and features". So, she is not saying that the standards of beauty are "divided" by physiological structure; rather, they can be harmonious (or not) given particular structure. In other words, what appears harmonious, depends on the whole picture. So, what may appear to be in harmony on a long face may appear less so on a rounder face; or, the shape of mouth that looks good with narrow eyes may be different from the shape of mouth that looks good with wide eyes; and so on.

The element that Rand is stressing is: harmony. Two people of the same race and with very similar face structures may also have different features and yet may both be beautiful, because each of their features is harmonious. For instance, the size and spacing of the eyes of one of them is quite different from the other, but is actually more harmonious for her, given (say) the size and spacing of the nose, mouth etc.

Edited by softwareNerd

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I agree with DW and Maarten. I think Rand is using "race" to mean simply "general set of physiological structure and features". So, she is not saying that the standards of beauty are "divided" by physiological structure; rather, they can be harmonious (or not) given particular structure. In other words, what appears harmonious, depends on the whole picture. So, what may appear to be in harmony on a long face may appear less so on a rounder face; or, the shape of mouth that looks good with narrow eyes may be different from the shape of mouth that looks good with wide eyes; and so on.

The element that Rand is stressing is: harmony. Two people of the same race and with very similar face structures may also have different features and yet may both be beautiful, because each of their features is harmonious. For instance, the size and spacing of the eyes of one of them is quite different from the other, but is actually more harmonious for her, given (say) the size and spacing of the nose, mouth etc.

If, by race, she meant "general set of physiological structure and features," as you proposed, then she did mean that beauty is divided by physiological structure-- according to which "race" is defining beauty. Each "race" has common physiological features -- that's why it's a race.

I don't think Rand would have used the word "race" so haphazardly, without defining what she meant. If what nyos says is true, then I think rand did mean that white and black are races, not as individual species, obviously, but as group of people who share common physiological features.

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I think that Miss Rand was simply stating that different features of a woman's face (e.g., shape of eyes, cheek bones, etc.) might be construed as beautiful depending on how well they situated with the rest of her features. Since different races often lead to different phenotypes, this naturally means that a very beautiful black woman would probably have different features from a very beautiful Asian woman.

A beautiful black woman will probably have different features from a beautiful Asian woman? Well, obviously. But a beautiful white woman will likely have different features from another beautiful white woman also, barring identical twins or triplets, etc. It would be akin to pointing out that the sky is blue, and I am not sure that it was in fact what Rand was saying.

It seems like what she is really saying is that different races are going to have different standards of beauty, therefore what a white person finds beautiful in a face will not be the same as what an Asian person finds beautiful. What is unclear here is whether she thinks that this is due to culture or genetics. Given her position to racism, I would assume the former, which simply makes her choice of using the word "race" unfortunate. Given the time period she came from though, it would not surprise me either if she genuinely meant the later -- similar to her views on homosexuality.

If in fact she meant to say that standards of beauty has a genetic component, there is a relevant experiment I recall from one of my college psychology class that holds a contrary view. A series of photos of Greek men were shown to various women across different race, culture, and geographic areas. They were asked to rank the men from the most attractive to the least attractive. The results were virtually identical in all groups tested, suggesting that there may be in fact a underlying universal standard on beauty. This standard may certainly be genetics based -on qualities like facial symmetry, healthy skin, body proportions- but does not seem to divide down racial lines. One flaw with such experiments however is that it is difficult to account for the fact that cultures, particularly the Western culture and to a lesser extent Japanese and Chinese culture, is extremely ubiquitous among modern societies.

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I don't think Rand would have used the word "race" so haphazardly, without defining what she meant. If what nyos says is true, then I think rand did mean that white and black are races, not as individual species, obviously, but as group of people who share common physiological features.
I'm not sure how what you're saying is different from what I said, nor do I understand why it's so "haphazard" a usage. As you explained, it is a normal usage. As you said, race implies a group of people who share some similar physiological features. However, the stress is not on the people, but on their physiological features.

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Thank you to everyone for their replies!

Let me try an example. I would not consider beautiful a black woman who did not have the standard black lips, or an Oriental woman who did not have the oriental eyes. So beauty indeed seems to be linked to race. But on the other hand, let's take Halle Berry (half white, half black). She deviates considerably from both standards. Judged from the white standard she should be ugly, and judged from the black standard she should be ugly...but I find her attractive (as I think many people do). The elements of her face complement each other. Therefore, I'm still confused as to how race plays a role in one's perception of what is a beautiful face.

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Thank you to everyone for their replies!

Let me try an example. I would not consider beautiful a black woman who did not have the standard black lips, or an Oriental woman who did not have the oriental eyes. So beauty indeed seems to be linked to race. But on the other hand, let's take Halle Berry (half white, half black). She deviates considerably from both standards. Judged from the white standard she should be ugly, and judged from the black standard she should be ugly...but I find her attractive (as I think many people do). The elements of her face complement each other. Therefore, I'm still confused as to how race plays a role in one's perception of what is a beautiful face.

I read answers some time ago and do not have my copy of the book, but from what I remember, I took her meaning to be that a face has to have balance and its own integrity. So if you were to take an South African nose and stamp it on a face that was completely Swedish in every other respect, it would look odd. In a person of mixed race, who was half Swedish and half south African all of the elements tend to blend together more smoothly. A long sharp aquiline nose might look ok on a a person with a long face. But not on a round face. I think it was more about how the pieces must fit together on an individual then about any particular racial features.

So the point was, if I were looking to get a nose job and asked if I should make my nose 3 times as wide, most would agree I would be much less attractive. However, if a black guy had a nose 3 times as wide at my he could still be considered attractive.

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Thank you aequalsa, this was the point I was getting at. But I'm stumped at how to accurately define beauty when race is such a fluid thing. How can anyone establish a proper standard?

@softwareNerd

Because they wouldn't be meeting a certain standard. For example, at dog shows dogs are marked off by a judge based on the degree from which the dog deviates from the judge's visualization of the standard for that breed. I think a human face would be found less attractive the more it deviated from its racial standard (keep in mind that attractiveness also has a second dimension of how it's actual elements interact to make the face, at least I hypothesize).

This makes me recall a specific event a few years ago. My friends and I were talking to a girl about her friend. She asked us if we found her friend pretty, and all three of us remarked that no she looked 'weird' or something to that extent. Then she said her friend was half white half japanese. With that new information, I reconsidered the girls appearance and concluded that she was actually very pretty (my two friends changed their minds as well!). Perhaps we were initially judging against a standard that was not applicable, we changed what we thought she should look like for a white/japanese person, and re-evaluated her.

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Let me try an example. I would not consider beautiful a black woman who did not have the standard black lips, or an Oriental woman who did not have the oriental eyes.

What's the "standard" in terms of black lips? Quarter inch thick and up? Two quarters? And what's an oriental eye? Because I thought that the eye of any Asian person would be technically "oriental eyes".

So beauty indeed seems to be linked to race.

I'm not disagreeing with this statement necessarily because I really don't know for sure, but given your above statement the only definitive conclusion is that beauty is linked to race for you, and not a universally true for everyone.

Personally for instance I like women who have fine bones and sharp, delicate features. I find that percentage-wise not very many black women I have met possess those qualities. But if I see a black woman who does have them, I would nevertheless think them attractive. It's just a matter of personal taste.

But on the other hand, let's take Halle Berry (half white, half black). She deviates considerably from both standards. Judged from the white standard she should be ugly, and judged from the black standard she should be ugly...but I find her attractive (as I think many people do). The elements of her face complement each other. Therefore, I'm still confused as to how race plays a role in one's perception of what is a beautiful face.

Actually I find that there are more beautiful biracial women than probably any other ethnicity, particularly Eurasian women. And I am not alone. There is a Psychology Today article I read a while back that wrote about a study where Caucasian and Japanese subjects were shown a series to photos that digitally blended white and Asian features and were asked to rank their attractiveness. The result showed that both Japanese and white subjects consistently preferred the more racially averaged features -- this despite the fact that earlier in the study both groups rated their own race as more beautiful than the other. One possible reason for this is the greater genetic diversity among biracial folks, which leads to lower risk for many genetic diseases -- given that in evolutionary terms signs of beauty are often signs of health.

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One possible reason for this is the greater genetic diversity among biracial folks, which leads to lower risk for many genetic diseases -- given that in evolutionary terms signs of beauty are often signs of health.

I am not yet convinced that people making decisions about who to sleep with do so with a strong concern for genetic diversity.

More likely this is the result of the same tendency found in almost all studies of beauty. People prefer the most average, ironically. So symmetry combined with a morphed average size of all dimensions in a face end up at the top of the bell curve every time. Ostensibly this occurs because your concept "woman" or "man" is a rough amalgamation of every unit in that class you have seen. So in the middle of that selection is the most womanly woman, for example. This fact also answers why when ethnic groups are first introduced they are not considered attractive but generations later can be integrated. Also it helps explain why if you are raised predominantly around one racial type your interests will most often center around them. Others wont fit the concept of woman or man since the features of skin tone or eye spacing, etc is outside of normal by your own internal estimation. Exceptions obviously will occur.

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Again, I think that tying beauty to race is a mistaken way of approaching this. You shouldn't care about how a person looks as a member of a certain race or group; that's not what beauty is about. Obviously the general shape of an attribute will determine what specific qualities would suit it, so to speak, and therefore add up to something we call beautiful. But given the variation that exists within certain races, it's not very helpful to evaluate beauty as being a quality dependent upon a person's race.

Why not simply evaluate a person's beauty with the standard of how perfectly integrated and harmonious their features are? Sometimes you have very unusual (I believe we'd call them exotic) combinations that are nevertheless very beautiful, yet a theory of beauty based on race wouldn't make that easy to comprehend. Or it could lead people to the mistaken conclusion (such as the topic starter) that because someone doesn't fit the standards of their race they are therefore not beautiful (as a member of that race).

I mean, for most issues concerning human existence race isn't an essential characteristic of an individual. I don't think it is in this particular case, either. It'd be mistaken to say that someone is an excellent achiever qua black person. So why would we do the same thing with regards to beauty?

Just like Moebius said earlier, the fact that someone's facial features don't match those features common in their particular race, doesn't make them ugly (and if anyone actually cares about someone being ugly qua white person instead of being ugly qua person, I pity them*). Depending on what more abstract concept this makes concrete they could be more, or less, beautiful than most other members of their race. But what should matter far more is whether they are beautiful qua individual, whether they personify certain qualities you find eminently good and desirable.

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I am not yet convinced that people making decisions about who to sleep with do so with a strong concern for genetic diversity.

There is a world of difference between finding someone physically attractive and the decision to sleep with them. That said, I am not entirely convinced myself, although it does seem probable. Evolutionarily speaking it is very likely that there is a genetic/health aspect to sexual selection -- for instance symmetry, body ratio, healthy skin. What is unclear to me is exactly what aspects about a mixed racial person that would indicate better health.

More likely this is the result of the same tendency found in almost all studies of beauty. People prefer the most average, ironically. So symmetry combined with a morphed average size of all dimensions in a face end up at the top of the bell curve every time. Ostensibly this occurs because your concept "woman" or "man" is a rough amalgamation of every unit in that class you have seen. So in the middle of that selection is the most womanly woman, for example. This fact also answers why when ethnic groups are first introduced they are not considered attractive but generations later can be integrated. Also it helps explain why if you are raised predominantly around one racial type your interests will most often center around them. Others wont fit the concept of woman or man since the features of skin tone or eye spacing, etc is outside of normal by your own internal estimation. Exceptions obviously will occur.

I am uncertain about your point because it seems like what the study is suggesting is that given an averaged out white face, an averaged out Asian face, and an averaged out mixed racial face, the subjects would consistently prefer the mixed racial face. Furthermore, obviously given the rarity of mixed racial population, it is unlikely that this sort of faces fit your convention conception of "man" or "woman".

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Marten,

What do you mean by perfectly integrated and harmonious, besides symmetry?

It could be good skin or good proportions, although the later is more ambiguous and probably has a large subjective component.

If I recall correctly from my classes back in school, while symmetry is an important factor in regards to beauty, it is not the only factor. There was a research I remember that showed that women while not menstruating prefer men with masculine and mature face, but during menstruation prefer males with soft features -- their perception of beauty changes throughout the month. There are other things like the vertical alignment of forehead and jaw when viewed in profile.

It's sort of a tricky subject though, since so much of our perception of beauty is influenced by culture and perceived social status. For instance if you take a man in jeans and T-shirt and put him in an Armani suit, he will often look more attractive because of the perceived increase in social status. And if you live in a predominantly white country like America you'll see that most black women on TV have lighter than average skin and straightened hair.

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@softwareNerd

Because they wouldn't be meeting a certain standard.

That kinda begs the question. Actually, they only do not meet the standard of "racial stereotype"; they might still meet some other (perhaps more appropriate) standard of beauty. If one wishes to use a racial stereotype as a standard, and measure beauty by closeness to that standard, then one has to explain why that should be a standard of beauty. (Just because dog-show people do it, does not mean it is right.)

Rand was not speaking of using racial stereotype as a standard; she was speaking of using "harmony" as the standard of beauty. In other words, one can judge a person as beautiful even if one is unable to guess their race.

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One possible reason for this is the greater genetic diversity among biracial folks, which leads to lower risk for many genetic diseases -- given that in evolutionary terms signs of beauty are often signs of health.

'

I'll go Aquelasa one step further. This is the concept of "hybrid vigor" in breeding terms. It is a false concept, as you've used it here.

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Okay so I just realized that for whatever reason, the link I posted to the Psychology Today article isn't working. Here's the address: http://psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20051221-000001.htm

@ aequalsa: this is a quote about the experiment regarding what you said about averages

The experiment by Gillian Rhodes, a psychologist at the University of Western Australia, found that when Caucasian and Japanese volunteers looked at photos of Caucasian, Japanese and Eurasian faces, both groups rated the Eurasian faces as most attractive. These visages were created by first digitally blending a series of faces from each race into "composites" to create average, middle-of-the-road features typical of each race. Past studies show that "average" features are consistently rated as more attractive than exaggerated features—such as an unusually wide forehead or a small chin.

So it was a composite averaged image for EACH RACE, and the Eurasian faces were consistently picked as the most attractive.

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Marten,

What do you mean by perfectly integrated and harmonious, besides symmetry?

When all the given features add up together to something that basically transcends the qualities of individual components. Symmetry is definitely part of it, but it is so much more than that. I do think that good proportions (when looking at a body) are part of it, and that it's not so much subjective. It depends on what abstract qualities you value. If we take a male face, for example, you could say that with the given features it has it's a concretization of a more abstract value such as strength, or efficacy.

Given proportions, what matters most is how they go with the rest of a person's body. That's where things like bone structure come into play, because if your form is already rather white it wouldn't look very good if you were very thin, for example. Given that body frame, a fuller figure would almost definitely look better. Vice versa, if you have a very delicate build then it wouldn't look very beautiful if you were at the same time very voluptuous (as in, everywhere). That is one general example where I think you can see that multiple attributes of a person have to basically work together in concert to produce a whole that is evaluated as beautiful.

I do not think beauty is a quality that describes any particular attribute, unless we're looking at it in isolation (but then you're really looking at how the parts of *that* attribute combine). It's a measure of something in its entirety. Basically, if all the different parts suggest some more abstract quality and there are no obvious clashes in there, I think we can call that integrated, and I think *that* is what beauty primarily is about.

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I'll go Aquelasa one step further. This is the concept of "hybrid vigor" in breeding terms. It is a false concept, as you've used it here.

Actually it is your analogy to hybrid vigor that is false.

For many genetic diseases, it requires the organism two have TWO copies of defective genes (ie. one from each parent) in order for it to be active. One example I can think of would be the relatively high rate of sickle cell anemia among the black population in the United States. This is obviously much more likely to occur among a smaller gene pool. The concept of HYBRID VIGOR doesn't apply here because in dog breeding, many of the desirable attributes aren't actually genetic defects, but rather normal phenotypes produced by selective breeding. That is why in the case of cross breeding dogs, it is difficult to control the expressed phenotypes for solely the desirable attributes.

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