Beauty is in the eye of the ... mathematician?

by Amy Henry
Posted on Friday, March 8, 2013, at 11:35 am

Whoever said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder didn’t know his numbers.

Last year, 18-year-old Florence Colgate, won a British beauty contest based on her measurements (no, not that kind). Apparently, based on optimal mathematical ratios, “beauty” occurs when the distance between the eyes is 46 percent of the width of the face. Colgate’s eyes are 44 percent, thus rendering her “perfectly” beautiful. Such stats conveniently coincide with Colgate’s flawless facial symmetry, her large eyes, and wide mouth … all scientific markers of beauty.

Let’s hope girls with garden-variety looks and dimensions don’t read that article.

If they did, and felt its twinge, we, being good Christian people, would probably tell them not to worry; that what really matters is inner beauty.

This, being true, should reassure the plainest Jane amongst us, except it doesn’t. Not really. It just presents our girls with a false dilemma. Anne, in the girl’s classic Anne of Green Gables, illustrates this perfectly: “Which would you rather be if you had the choice—divinely beautiful or dazzlingly clever or angelically good?” If they must pick just one, they must choose between the approved answer (“angelically good”) and the truth (“divinely beautiful”). Goodness trumps beauty, we tell them, even if we don’t mean to.

In my teens, an orthodontist told me I would escape beauty by mere millimeters. Holding a tiny ruler against the tip of my nose and angling it to my chin I was told that my lower jaw was too small, my upper lip too protruding. Our session ended with him scribbling a series of formulas, supposedly to clear away any remnant doubt I might have of the multi-thousand-dollar reshaping process. I was one jaw surgery, braces, and a chin implant away from mathematical acceptability. No admonishment to focus on “inner beauty” kept that from smarting.

Telling our girls that outward beauty doesn’t matter isn’t going to keep them from wanting it. Somewhere in their soul, they know beauty matters. While it’s wise to guard against an inordinate focus on looks, I fear diminishing or criticizing a girl’s desire for beauty in an attempt to suppress vanity will have the opposite effect. It may not only keep her looking for it (in all the wrong places?), but also will wound some deep part of her that longs for Ultimate Beauty, the One in whose image she is made. If we cauterize one vein, do we not also risk stopping the flow of the other?

Frederick Buechner says of this longing:

“It [is] the upward-reaching and fathomlessly hungering, heart-breaking love for the beauty of the world at its most beautiful, and, beyond that, for that beauty east of the sun and west of the moon which is past the reach of all but our most desperate desiring and is finally the beauty of Beauty itself, of Being itself and what lies at the heart of Being.”

Speaking of math, that sums it up better than I can.

Amy Henry

Amy is a married mother of six and a WORLD correspondent from Kansas. Follow her other "scribbles" at Whole Mama or by reading her book Story Mama: What Children's Stories Teach Us About Life, Love and Mothering. Follow Amy on Twitter @wholemama.

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