What Is Beauty?


Pierre F. Fournier, M.D.

Paul Valery said, “health is the silence of the organs”, and the world health organization that “health is not only the absence of illness but a state of complete mental and social well being”. On the other hand, beauty, which Plato placed behind health and before fortune, has not been well defined.

A cosmetic surgeon by definition must create or conserve beauty. Surgical techniques abound in the textbooks of Europe north, south and Central America but, in my opinion, artistic teaching on beauty or human beauty is not taught enough.

The cosmetic surgeon often finds it difficult to define beauty, he is not alone. Ask different people and the answers vary considerably, and in the main are not satisfactory. This is why I thought it would be useful to approach the subject from a psychological point of view, and attempt to understand what it is, that enters the mind of a person, cosmetic surgeon or not, when she percieves, or does not perceive the feeling of beauty. It is important to understand this feeling within us in order to guide us during our operations.


What is beauty? What do the books say? The dictionaries? The philosophers?

– Right from the start we are told that beauty is about proportion, equilibrium, symmetry. I therefore want to explain beauty objectively and describe the different canons of Egyptian, Greek and Roman. Apparently the centimeter is not the sole judge, little by little the subjective has entered into the equation.

– Beauty is an ensemble of shapes and proportions, which bring us pleasure and which we admire, but the concept varies according to different cultures.

– Beauty is a balance between shape and volume.

Drawing No 1


Beauty is a balance between volume and shape.

A lady and a man are going to the beach.
They look at each other and pass.
They accentuate the positive, decrease the negative but… don’t maintain the change obtained in shape!

– Beauty stimulates an aesthetic feeling within us, pleasing to the eye, a sense of admiration. Some say beauty is a visual pherormone!

– Beauty is a combination of qualities such as form, proportion, colour in a human face (or other object) which delights the sight.

– These last four words are important, beauty does not exist itself, it exists in the eye of the beholder. If something pleases someone, it is beautiful to him. If this same thing does not please another, it is not beautiful to him. It is not that which is beautiful that pleases him, it is that which pleases him that is beautiful.

– David Hume (1711-1776) the Scottish philosopher said, more than two hundred years ago, “beauty is essentially a private and personnel experience. Beauty is in the eye and mind of the beholder”. He also said, “beauty is not a quality of the thing itself, but that which exists in the mind of those who contemplate it”. Everyone experiences beauty individually.

– Eric Newton: “beauty is something which gives pleasure, but that which gives pleasure to one person does not necessarily give pleasure to someone else”.

– Some philosophers conclude, “that which is beautiful is good, that which is good is beautiful”. What the poetess Sapphie said a long time ago was “that which is beautiful is good and he who is good will soon become beautiful”.

– Our past feelings are partly responsible for how we feel today. Our parents, love, former loves, women and friends. They remind us of past experiences, and beauty is not represented by the detail but by the whole collection being greater than the sum of its parts. Equally today’s emotions will be responsible for tomorrow’s emotions. The happy and unhappy times of our past life leave permanent impressions guiding our preferences. The faces we have loved during our youth, warm and comforting, continue to live on in our mind.

– Beauty is not only a question of the face, voice, body or a graceful physique. People are beautiful because of their character, personality, their ability to bring joy, their capacity to love. We see emerging the notion of charm.

– When we like a face we like the spirit that animates it and it is not enough to say that someone is physically attractive, a person can be attractive in many ways.

– Beauty and charm are often confused. Cleopatra, George Sand, Louise de la Valliere and Theodora were famous for their beauty, in fact they were not very beautiful but possessed great charm. Beauty is more an illusion than a reality.

– Beauty is not for the eye but for the mind.

– The beauty of the personality eclipses the beauty of the face. We have seen many ways to define beauty and that it is often associated with charm. Charm differs from beauty in that it lasts forever, whereas beauty fades. The English say “Charm lasts! Beauty blast! “. Finally we see that it is not only the eye that judges whether someone or something is beautiful, it is above all the mind and that which we term the heart or inner beauty.

– According to the American sociologist Frumkin, a woman is deemed beautiful according to her “sexual aptitude”. Whether she is judged beautiful or not depends not only on the symmetry of her proportions or shape but equally by the potential sexual functions suggested by these attributes, and the sensual emotion is transformed into an aesthetic emotion.

– The preceding classic assertions allow us to conclude that the notion of beauty differs according to the culture and the individual and that it is not exclusively a question of shape, form and symmetry. A person’s personality, charm and interior beauty powerfully contribute to elicit a pleasing impression in the beholder. The eye is not the sole judge, there is also the spirit and above all the heart. The mind is influenced by old memories, which reside within us and shape our judgment in the same way that today’s experiences will influence the future. This is seen in a phrase of Buddha “Today is the son of yesterday and the father of tomorrow”. Beauty is like an iceberg: only one part of it is visible.

Konrad Lorenz’s theory

Konrad Lorenz, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine and Physiology in 1973, has contributed in a decisive way to the progress of the biology of behavior. It is he who helped us understand human beauty.

In his work “Essays on animal and human behavior” he proposed the following drawing, which explains the release of an emotion in both human and animals to care for young. In the left column one sees a child’s head and the heads of very young animals, a gerbil a Pekinese and a robin red breast. In the column on the right we see an adults head and the heads of the same animals as adults.

If one asks which column is preferred the left is automatically chosen. Konrad Lorenz concluded from this that beauty is an emotion, an emotion associated with the desire to protect. Only the left column evokes this emotion. This emotion is associated with a desire to protect as much in humans as in animals. It is, he says, the release of an innate behavior. A relatively large head, a disproportionately large forehead, large eyes placed underneath, prominent curved cheeks, short thick limbs a firm elasticity, and awkward movements are the essential defining characteristics of “sweet” and “pretty” these present themselves according to the law of the ‘summation of excitations’ of a small child or ‘bait’, like a doll or a cuddly animal. Just like the dolls made today. On the left are those that give the impression of a “sweetie” (child, gerbil, Pekinese, red breast), the adults to the right do not elicit this caring reaction (man, hare, hunting dog, blackbird). The conclusion is obvious: beneath the traits of an adult, the face of a child must show through.

When a human is attracted by a face it is because this face has childlike characteristics

Drawing No 2



Drawing of Konrad Lorenz explaining the triggering of care with the little ones in men:

Left, heads whose proportion give the impression of a “sweety” (child, gerbil, Pekinese, red breast). Right, the adults don’t trigger the reaction of caring the little ones (man, hare, hunting dog, black bird).

Everyone is instinctively attracted by a child’s face. The sight of a child’s face immediately provokes within us an emotion and this emotion is automatically accompanied by a desire to protect. This is found equally in man and beast. Konrad Lorenz explains that adult animals, which are driven to protect their offspring, are attracted by ‘something’ which the offspring emanate, a physical trait, a sound, a smell. It is the same with man. There are signals that elicit protection, sympathy, tenderness. What are they repeats Konrad Lorenz? In the small child the signals are on its head. It is roundness, fullness, curves, the rounded forehead, full cheeks, the little turned up nose, all these infantile characteristics elicit a desire to protect. An infants face is associated with purity, sincerity, honesty and vulnerability.

The adult we see on the right hand column does not elicit these reactions. His face has changed, his head is flattened, the forehead receding, the nose lengthened, cheeks hollowed. He has lost all his childlike characteristics. He elicits no emotion, no desire to protect. It is the same for the adult animals and the contrast is startling on viewing the two columns, in the man angles have replaced curves, naso-labial angle, angles of the jaw, external angles of the orbit, angles of the chin. Designers and painters know this theory well and reveal it in their work aimed at students. Cartoonists in order to touch the hearts of their readers know that in an adult or child’s face they must exaggerate certain traits, make the head bigger than normal, with a rounded forehead, full cheeks and shortened limbs.

Drawing No 3

Konrad Lorenz’s drawing Cartoonist in order to touch the heart of their readers, exaggerate the traits of young children or animals: making the head bigger than normal with a round forehead, full cheeks and shortened limbs.

Drawing No 4

Center: Children are curves and roundness.
Above: The male has changed the curves of childhood for angles.
Below: The female still has the curves ofchilhood.

We see that women maintain their curves whereas men loose them. We understand therefore that a good aesthetic surgeon should in his interventions optimize the traits that, as in a baby or child, provoke the reaction of attraction, of tenderness and of protection.

Softness, roundness = tenderness.

Again, and this is fundamental towards giving the impression of beauty, in the adult face one must find, one must recognize the traits of a child. However the traits are not the sole source of the protective reflex, there are also the expressions. These at least have the advantage of being accessible to everyone. Some adults know how useful expressions are in order to please or to move someone. The emotions provoked by the childlike features of Brigitte Bardot were increased by her famous spoilt child ‘pout’. Also well known are the childlike expressions used, and some say abused, by Marylin Monroe or Audrey Hepburn. It has been said that Marylin Monroe made herself up badly to give the impression of a little girl who does not know how to apply her make up, and also that after a long session at the hairdressers she would ruffle up her hair to obtain a certain disorder which reminded one of a little girl who has just finished playing. Also, if women do not have a childlike demeanor and wish to dominate men, men will not feel a protective desire and will be reminded more of their mother than of their wife. Women, who are more concerned about beauty than are men, may show these childlike expressions consciously or unconsciously. They can appear knowingly or unknowingly shy, fragile, weak, innocent, naive, ignorant, temperamental, sulky, admiring, curious, etc. Some women highlight apparent weaknesses in order to provoke this protective emotion. Has it not been said that it is the apparent weakness of women that is their strength? All this with the aim of striking straight to the heart of men. Napoleon I would have said “Women’s two weapons are make up (the significance of this will be discussed later) and tears, as in a helpless little girl”. Marylin Monroe was using the same sentence as Napoleon and was adding: “Men are lucky as we can not use such two weapons at the same time. One therefore understands how a child’s features on an adult can move one, freckles, rosy cheeks, glowing complexion, long eyelashes, blond curls, full cheeks (given in aesthetic surgery by lipofilling) , well defined and full lips. For men, the side parting as sported by many of the great seducers (Clark Gable, Gary Cooper), a ‘floppy mop’ (Leonardo Di Caprio), shaving everyday, can only be explained by a desire to resemble a child. It is not necessary to have all these signals, only one is needed to please.

Each individual can always have childlike expressions. As for traits if one does not have these one can sometimes acquire them thanks to cosmetic surgery. Beauty is not entirely a natural phenomenon, it has for a long time and especially in our time been a cultural phenomenon. Humans seek to improve themselves and for women for whom beauty is more important than for men (man is attracted above all by force and power) improve their beauty and charm by make up and what we call accessories: glasses; false eyelashes, ear rings; hairstyles; highlights; tattoo around the lips, eyelids, eyebrows (the word “tattoo” should not be used when talking to women rather: semi-permanent implantation of natural pigments!); hats; necklaces; and the invisible accessory – perfume. Coco Chanel said “a woman without parfum has no future”. Some of the more modern accessories have been studied by beauty professionals in order to hide faults: thick arms on modern glasses hide “crows feet”, a high situated bridge may accentuate the length of a too short nose. Placed lower down it reduces the length of a long nose. All these stratagems are explained discreetly and at length in women’s magazines and an old proverb summarises this perfectly “beauty is made for 30% by nature and 70% by nurture by adornment”. The disadvantage of these accessories is that without them one may no longer seem as young or as beautiful.

The desire to make oneself more beautiful is not a trap that women set for men, it is a wish to please to be better accepted by society and the family. It is agreed that life is harder for a woman than for a man, although great improvements have been made in the last few decades. In addition make up gives confidence, a little like the war paint of the North American Indians. Do we not say “change the appearance and you change the being” and “if one prepares, it is for the parade! “. It’s importance is extreme. Have we not read Sharon Stone in women’s press state: “I have never considered myself as a great beauty, only a great magician”. Tyra Banks a well-known black beauty said “I am not ugly but my beauty is a total creation”.

We have always had make-up and to improve a face, make-up must be natural, and by increasing them, remind one of the qualities of a young face. Lipstick must make one think of the more intense red of a child’s lips, who has a faster metabolism, blusher must make one think of his rosy cheeks, and powder – the pale and velvet skin of youth. This is what Desmond Morris calls over stimulation. Very long false eyelashes are only a reminder of the long lashes of a child. If make-up can improve, badly applied it can also spoil the beauty of a face. It can be friend or foe. Have we not read in certain ethnology books that it was the witch who was asked to make up ill people’s faces so that they would not needlessly shock those with whom they lived.

Childlike traits and expressions are therefore important in order to evoke emotion with a desire to protect. There is also the voice, this must be soft and pleasant, like that of a child. A harsh voice, found among many smokers does not make one think of a child. Clothes must also be pleasing to the eye and to the heart and have a youthful cut. Does not the mini skirt evoke the long legs of the adolescent? The colours have to also evoke childhood, light colours, blue, pink, have always been chosen by old ladies. Of course black is to be avoided. In summary all the human senses must be solicited, sight, hearing, smell (children have no smell, hence the use of deodorants) and touch, the firmness of the skin is important. Institutes of beauty have long understood this and centred their advertising on this. Do we not read in the feminine press: ladies perhaps you have beautiful breasts, a beautiful stomach, and beautiful legs but are they firm? Firmness, the elasticity of tissue is a fundamental quality of children’s skin and forms part of its beauty. It can be very expensive to be beautiful, jewels, the beauty accessories are easily available to those with sufficient budget, and more difficult to those with a modest budget. This fact explains why medicine and aesthetic surgery are popular among those who are not well off, and who cannot please by their natural gifts alone, or by the artificial means of the well off. Only being able to please by their bodies, if patients of modest means have acquired or natural defects they will allow themselves to be operated on more easily as it is their only way of continuing to please.

The idea of the use of the child’s image is well known. One sometimes wants to sensitise the heart for more mercenary, rather than noble reasons. It is well known that every time one shows a child’s face next to a product distribution is favoured and profit increased. Whether it is a medicine or other product the number of consumers, if they are sensitive, will increase. One is of course looking for a path to the heart but also, and above all, to the wallet. The strategy of showing a child’s face is used in public awareness campaigns by caring organisations when trying to raise funds for a country in difficulty or in the battle against poverty and misery. It is also well known that a child who begs will receive more handouts than an adult. The Walt Disney films that so enchant their viewers use only small and vulnerable animals; it is always the little mouse, little dog or little deer that we see, never the adult. This is also the case for toys, it is most often a little animal or a child’s head that is used for a doll. As Saint-Exupery said: “It is the heart that is the final judge, not the eye”.

It is necessary to know that a physical defect can also release a protective desire. Some celebrities or women in politics voluntarily conserve a discreet squint that could easily be corrected by surgery in order to elicit this famous protective desire and by this strategy increase their powers of seduction and attraction. They do not want to be operated on. It is also well known that if one of the features on a face is not perfect one is advised to enhance the other traits on the same face in order to lessen the defect and to dazzle the eye with the other traits. If, for example, the eyes are beautiful and the nose ordinary, embellish the eyes even more and the ordinary nose will be noticed less, advise the beauticians who even if they do not know the theory of Konrad Lorenz do know how to make a face more beautiful. A facial scar can detract from the beauty of a man’s face. To avoid the embarrassment that it can provoke in social situations Passot said: “Give him the Legion of Honour and he will be taken for a hero”.

Drawing No 5  ß———-a


Muller-Lyer illusion:

The upper strait line seem shorter than the lower one, due to the direction of the arrow outside.

Equally the beautician who does not know the Muller-Lyer illusion of two equal length lines with arrow points pointing in different directions at each end knows how to give the illusion of making the eyes look closer together by applying make-up to the internal angle of the eye, or the opposite increasing the apparent distance between the eyes by applying make-up to the external angle. This is the same for making up cheekbones on an either too long or too wide face. The rouge can be made closer or further apart.


Why be beautiful? It has been said that this is because of pride, pretentiousness, a desire to be admired and to be situated in a row above the others!

The cult of beauty is in fact a culture. Humans are the only animals who do not accept their fate and seek to improve it: to cultivate beauty is to increase your quality of life, to want to make it more beautiful. Progress of civilisation in all areas has increased life expectancy, this does not seem to be enough, it has to be and appear even more beautiful, and this is what has made some say: if medicine has given years to life, it is medicine and aesthetic surgery that has given life to years.

Beauty and fashion, it is still said, are external signs of our internal need to express ourselves and to reinvent ourselves and we have defined fashion as an attempt at a work of art on the living.

Beauty as everyone knows is not eternal, but equally beauty has no age. One can be good looking at 20 but it is also possible to be irresistible at any age, as Coco Chanel said. Madame de Pompadour said: “The first requirement of a woman is to please and as time passes this becomes more and more difficult”. This reminds me of a very old woman who came to me one day to ask me to do a face-lift. In the face of the lack of enthusiasm I showed to perform this intervention due to her advanced age she said very calmly “when one has ceased to please one must not displease”. Presses itself in some as a great desire to be loved. This desire to be loved even more is the final message that the followers of the beauty cult want to get across. Konrad Lorenz affirms this: everyone loves children and wants to protect them, this is innate. Can one blame someone for wanting to resemble them to be loved more? His theory is without failings. We must remember that the cosmetic surgeon must force himself to reproduce juvenile characteristics in his work when this is possible and desired in order to elicit emotion and admiration. We have seen the links that exist between beauty and admiration and the deep reverberations felt by the mind and the soul. This is well summarised by Theodore Gautier: “to admire is to love with the mind, to love is to admire with the heart”.

Konrad Lorenz offers us, again in his book ‘Essays on Animal and Human Behaviour’, a drawing in which he compares the changes that have occurred in animals that have become domesticated and he evokes a parallel with similar modifications in humans over time and the idea that modern life imposes upon him a sort of ‘domestication’.

Drawing No 6 

Konrad Lorenz’s drawing wild animals and examples of domestic varieties from which they are descended:

a- A “Corassin” and a violet Chinese fish,
b- A wild goose and a domestic goose,
c- A wild chicken and a domestic chicken,
d- A wolf and a hound dog.

Shortening of the extremities of the skeleton, stunted development of locomotive organs in the domestic varieties.

This drawing makes one think. Will today’s beauty last much longer if we are not careful?


Konrad Lorenz’s theory is developed in detail. To elicit a protective desire an adults face must carry child-like traits or expressions, called beauty. The emotion of beauty is subjective, the personality and the first qualities of the individual are at play. In those who feel this emotion, the emotion is largely influenced by emotions of their earlier life.


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