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Maymone MBC, Neamah HH, Secemsky EA, Kundu RV, Saade D, Vashi NA. The Most Beautiful People: Evolving Standards of Beauty. JAMA Dermatol. 2017;153(12):1327–1329. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.3693
Not merely an aberration of modern culture, societal obsession with beauty is deeply engrained in the past, with the appreciation of human aesthetics dating back to early Greek civilization. Although ideas on beauty vary with personal preferences and cultural standards, in a society at any given time, there is substantial agreement as to what constitutes human beauty.1 This study uses People magazine to compare standards of beauty in 1990 with present day standards.
Published by Time Inc, People has the largest audience of any US magazine, with a readership of 43.6 million adults.2 We compared People magazine’s World’s Most Beautiful (WMB) list in the first issue (1990) with that in the 2017 issue, hypothesizing that beauty standards have not changed. From the 1990 (50 celebrities) and 2017 (135 celebrities) issues of People magazine’s WMB list, we extracted the following information: age at the time of the specific issue, sex, race, skin type, hair color, eye color, and visible dermatologic conditions. Characteristics with dichotomous and categorical variables were reported as numbers (percentages) and continuous variables as means (SDs). Between-group differences were assessed using the Fisher exact text or χ2 tests for categorical variables and t tests for continuous variables. Results were considered to be significant at P<.05 in the 2-sided hypothesis. Institutional review board approval was waived by the Boston University Institutional Review Board. Because no patients were involved in this study, informed consent was not required.
We compared 50 celebrities from the 1990 WMB list with 135 celebrities from the 2017 WMB list. Fitzpatrick skin types I to III represented 88.0% and Fitzpatrick skin types IV to VI represented 12.0% of the WMB list in 1990, whereas in 2017, Fitzpatrick skin types I to III represented 70.4% and Fitzpatrick skin types IV to VI represented 29.6% (P = .01). Mean age increased; mean (SD) age was 33.2 (11.5) years in 1990 vs 38.9 (11.6) years in 2017 (P = .003). The proportion of females also increased (26 [52.0%] in 1990 vs 119 [88.1%] in 2017; P < .001), as did that of nonwhite races (12 [24.0%] in 1990 vs 54 [40.0%] in 2017; P = .04). Those of mixed race were represented by 1 person (2.0%) in 1990 and 14 persons (10.4%) in 2017 (P = .07). Only 5 of 185 (2.7%) had any visible skin condition or lesion that marred the even distribution of texture and/or color (Table 1 and Table 2).
Human beauty is partially determined by a function of physical features, such as facial averageness, symmetry, skin homogeneity, and sexual dimorphism.3 However, the perception of attractiveness is also influenced by more than these static physical characteristics. Ideals of beauty are often particular to the beholder and determined by the norms of a society, culture, or historical period.
As evidenced by our data and contrary to our hypothesis, at present, a wider variety of skin colors and inclusion of older age groups are represented among those deemed to be the most beautiful. Humans are a colorful species of primates, with the genetic palette allowing for wide variation in human skin, hair, and eye color.4 In our study, skin types IV to VI were significantly more represented in 2017 than in 1990. The cosmetic industry has embraced this wide variety of complexions, producing varying hues of colors to complement rather than mask and hide inherent tone. The increase in mean age of the people featured in the WMB issue of People, with a significant increase in percentage of those 35 years and older, is significant in the present aging society.5 According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery 2016 consumer report, 60% were considering a cosmetic procedure, and the top 3 reasons were to increase confidence, increase attractiveness, and look as young as they feel.6
The classic notion of beauty is a matter of mathematical conceptions and instantiating definite proportions. However, with the advent of the highly connected world that has exposed individuals to many forms of beauty, we still strive to understand what beauty entails. The mass media platform has for years introduced certain criteria for what constitutes beauty. Through an examination of the WMB issue of People, we found that these beauty standards are evolving as people learn how to integrate the effects of media with exposure to new cultures and different norms.
Corresponding Author: Neelam A. Vashi, MD, Department of Dermatology, Boston University School of Medicine, 609 Albany St, J108, Boston, MA 02118 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Accepted for Publication: August 1, 2017.
Published Online: October 11, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.3693
Author Contributions: Drs Vashi and Neamah had full access to all the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Study concept and design: Maymone, Vashi.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.
Drafting of the manuscript: Maymone, Secemsky, Vashi.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Neamah, Secemsky, Kundu, Saade, Vashi.
Statistical analysis: Neamah, Secemsky, Vashi.
Obtained funding: Vashi.
Administrative, technical, or material support: Maymone, Saade, Vashi.
Study supervision: Vashi.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.
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