What does beauty look like in your country?
Ipsos Global Advisor // WTF BEAUTY
Darwin wrote of mate selection as an aesthetic enterprise, outside his practical laws for natural selection. “On the whole, birds appear to be the most aesthetic of all animals, excepting of course man, and they have nearly the same taste for the beautiful as we have.” This distinction was mostly overlooked in his writing, but a recent New York Times Magazine feature reported that the definition of beauty itself is motivating scientists to re-examine how it does—and, importantly, does not fit into natural selection theory.
So beauty for beauty’s sake is a thing in nature, yet science also tells us that there are certain biologically-driven standards. Facial symmetry, for example, is something humans are wired to find attractive. And so, in an Ipsos Global Advisor poll, we see remarkable consistency in physical definitions of beauty across nations and cultures. Interestingly, we see that for subjective and intrinsic characteristics as well. The chart at right is a re-up of a questionnaire from 2004, fielded by MORI before its acquisition by Ipsos, that helped inspire the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign. The relative importance of these characteristics remained mostly consistent, but the overall weight of each attribute dropped significantly across the board.
For instance, on a 10-point scale, “happiness” was ranked an 8 or above by 90% of people surveyed in 2004 but just 71% in 2019—while remaining the most important attribute. As you turn to the pages at the center of this issue, you’ll see the responses to another question. Ipsos asked about physical attributes of beauty as well. We then asked artists in 12 countries to illustrate a “beautiful” male and female based on their nations’ preferences for height, body type, eye color and hair color. Again, the results were consistent, but the interpretations demonstrate that the application of those standards can vary notably.
All of this stands in contrast to the aspirations discussed throughout this issue. The rise of globalization and the empowerment of people of color throughout the world suggest that we are at an inflection point where we are moving toward a broader standard of beauty for men and women. While there still is no shortage in advertising images of size 2 women and etched-ab men, the Dove campaign, and others that followed it, showed that broadening the definition of “beauty” doesn’t mean companies have to compromise sales.
As Anastasia Garcia said in her interview, “I really hope that diversity and representation become so normal that it’s something that we don’t even talk about anymore.” Based on our data, industry players have some work to do. But given that the intrinsic beauty characteristics mentioned in our poll are generally valued more highly than the physical traits, perhaps companies’ definitions of beauty can evolve.
What the Future is a quarterly deep dive into different aspects of consumer and social thought and behavior. Each edition features exclusive new data from world-leading research firm Ipsos. WTF explores how a single industry or behavior fits into the broader culture now and in the coming decades. Read Previous WTF Issues »