WEDNESDAY, May 9, 2012 â€”We know you don't believe your mother when she tells you how beautiful you are. But would you believe a phone app?
And is that a good idea?
The Ugly Meter, an app that rates users' attractiveness, shot up to the top of the list in the iPhone app store earlier this week, just behind Angry Birds.
While more than a dozen apps that operate on the same principle have been released in the last couple years â€” from â€œFit or Fuglyâ€ to â€œFaceRate" â€” the Ugly Meter recently gained popularity because it was featured on Howard Stern's Sirius radio show. The app has been a top seller in China for weeks. It costs 99 cents, but if you don't want to pay for an ugliness app there's also the Beauty Meter, which has been ranked highly by iTunes users, as well as Face Meter and Am I Ugly?
The Ugly Meter, whose tagline is "When your friends won't tell you the truth, the Ugly Meter will," works by scanning a user's face and calculating the angles, symmetry, and proportions. It ranks user's alleged ugliness on a scale of 1 to 10. Users who rank high on the scale earn disses from the program such as, "You could win a professional ugly contest." Users who rank low on the scale receive compliments such as, "You're so sexy you make Athena jealous."
Does the Ugly Meter Have a Dangerous Side?
But as the smartphone tool has gained popularity, parent groups are expressing outrage, worried that it could damage their children's self-esteem or contribute to cyberbullying, according to news reports. "If you're 25, 26 or 28, this sort of thing could be quite funny or amusing," said Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Washington, DC-based Family Online Safety Institute, an organization that promotes safe Internet practices, to Fox News. "But in the hands of a 14- or 15-year-old, it could be quite the reverse, and particularly if someone is submitting someone else's photograph and then circulating that photo around school."
On the other side of the pond, late last month, an 18-year-old college student won the title of â€œBritainâ€™s Most Beautiful Face,â€ based solely on mathematical formulas. Florence Colgate was told her face had optimal ratios between her eyes, mouth, forehead, and chin. The distance between the eyes and the mouth should be a third of the face, for example, a measurement Colgate met almost exactly. The competition was sponsored by Lorraine Cosmetics and had nearly 8,000 entrants.
Can Mathematical Formulas Really Capture Attractiveness?
All this hype about formulas that rate our attractiveness leads to the question â€” is beauty a digital equation?
A 2009 study by University of Toronto researchers in the journal Vision Research showed that the key to the ideal visage was in the measurements of the spaces between the eyes, mouth, and ears. The researchers asked subjects to rate the attractiveness of photos of women in which the distance between the features had been extended or shortened, while the features themselves remained the same.
The experiment helped the researchers come up with the most attractive facial ratios, which they say correspond to the average face. The study found that the distance between a woman's eyes and mouth should be slightly more than a third of the overall length of her face, and the space between her pupils should be slightly smaller than half the width of her face.
Some researchers have noted that we may associate facial symmetry with overall health. Several studies show that facial asymmetries and minor physical anomalies can be a sign of instability during the growth of an embryo in the first trimester of pregnancy.
According to a BBC report, though, even Angelina Jolie wouldn't have a mathematically gorgeous face because she doesn't fit the ideal ratio established in the Toronto study, according to the lead researcher.
The way we determine facial beauty is complex, and ratios aren't everything, according to a 2010 study by University of California researchers. Subjects were asked to rate the attractiveness of 56 faces (both male and female), as well as faces split in half lengthwise and across. They found a strong correlation between the attractiveness ratings of half-faces and full faces.
Their conclusion? When it comes to beauty, sometimes too much is made of symmetry and ratios. As the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder â€” and sometimes the beholder is an app.
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