After seeing Kim Kardashian's face all over the Internet -and my inbox- following her posting on getting facial acupuncture, I recalled the work of Michael Cunningham who was at the University of Louisville when I was doing my doctoral work. According to Cunningham and some research Kardashian's face is considered anything but attractive.
The conclusion of Cunningham's research about beauty were that the most important aspect of beauty - that determines whether a woman is considered attractive or not - are symmetry (similarity of left and right sides of the face), clear or smooth skin, and averageness. Funny, many years ago Abraham Lincoln said "the Lord prefers common-looking people. That is why he made so many of them."
Well then, why has society become so focused on women who are not average and on procedures that create non-averageness? The research abounds with demonstrations of subjects choosing what would be considered an average face as the most attractive when compared with the photos of beauty queens or women who have won beauty contests.
Statistically, the ideal face has high cheek bones, big eyes, and a thin jaw. Further, what are described as "averaged" features in test photos seem to make faces more attractive than any specific face, according to Cunningham. One explanation for this goes right to the brain: it is easier for the brain to recognize something that is average because it doesn't have to work so hard or take focus away from other activities like it would have to try to process something that is out of the ordinary.
By the way, though many studies have men deciding about what attractive means, women also choose male faces in what is described as a "middle range" or average. So, if you are to believe the research, attractiveness is not arbitrary, it is pretty much hard wired. But now we have a beauty industry that supports injections to make lips larger than average, chins more prominent than average, eyebrows higher than average, etc.
This is why, when people come to me to consult about receiving cosmetic acupuncture, I remind them about their internal beauty, the beauty of their spirit, the beauty that emanates from having good health on to the facial structure that they already own. Your spirit animates your inner beauty. Audrey Hepburn said "happy girls are the prettiest."
There may be something to that – attractiveness comes from the inside. I remind people not to become slaves to society's representation of beauty. Think about how that has changed over time. Original representations of Venus, the goddess of beauty and physicality, are consistently curvaceous and voluptuous, but society has rejected that image in favor of skinny for decades. And, some artists have reflected that in their more modern representations of Venus by depicting her as more slim. Therein lies the rub: we need to accept our own healthy inner spiritual beauty over society's call of what is attractive.
Reject what might be called the democracy of beauty and going to incredible lengths to match up to societal beauty standards and be healthy.
Another way to think about beauty or attractiveness is how often we miss it or err in our interpretation of it especially when we only see the outside. Has it happened that you have ignored someone due to outside appearances but then became good friends or involved in a relationship once you heard the person speak or watched how they move in the world?
You have become aware of their full beauty because you have used your consciousness to see them as you had not seen them before. So what has this got to do with TCM since this is after all a publication about acupuncture and other TCM therapies? The goal of most acupuncture treatments is to bring the body back to a state of balance.
When a body is out of balance, we can see this in the way our patients present themselves in our offices. If the way the qi moves in the body is not flowing smoothly, or is moving in a perverse way, the patient in front of us will more than likely not look their most attractive. When the qi is not moving at its most optimum, the patient can be fatigued, stressed, overwhelmed, you name it. Perhaps the patient's skin may not have a healthy glow, a patient's eyes might not look clear, or their cheeks may look sallow, they may seem to have a permanent furrow to their brow. These factors can influence the beauty or attractiveness of the person before you and others.
As practitioners, we have the ability to influence the magnificence of the patients we treat. Most of us have experienced the way our patient's Shen is more present after you have done your treatment. They leave looking like they have more color to their faces, the tightness of their facial muscles are more relaxed, they are standing taller if they are experiencing less pain, their approach to stress changes, they look healthier after they have been seeing you.
So while it may not seem as though Chinese Medicine is about influencing beauty and attractiveness, it inadvertently does so because healthier patients will look more attractive than someone living a life in pain and discomfort or unable to manage their stress. I believe we are making the world more beautiful one patient at a time.
Click here for previous articles by Martha Lucas, PhD, LAc.