Last year, a modeling contest claimed to have found the most beautiful woman in Britain: Florence Colgate, an 18-year-old who worked at a chip shop in Kent. As the Daily Mail later pointed out, Colgate’s face is nearly exactly symmetrical, with measurements matching ratios scientists have identified in the faces of exceptionally beautiful people: the distance between the pupils just less than half the distance between the ears, the distance from eyes to mouth just more than one-third the distance from hairline to chin. From the ancient Greek “golden ratio” to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man to our preferences today, physical perfection seems to come down to proportion.
Of course, we know individual tastes can be more generous, and more idiosyncratic, than any ratio or formula—as Francis Bacon said, “There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.” Yet a number of common aesthetic preferences probably developed for a reason. Evolutionary biologists argue that we favor certain proportions and symmetries because they suggest a lower likelihood of genetic abnormalities—and so, a more viable mate. Still, when it comes to surviving modern life, an array of studies suggest that physical perfection isn’t always so ideal.