Two Responses

I recently noticed that two people had responded to blog posts of mine on their own blogs. I love it when that happens! The first was Hecate, who responded to my post “Courage” with her own post, “Who is Choosing to Lost the Fight?” In that post, she quoted from T. Thorn Coyle:

“And, where’s the struggle? Is it a struggle of not believing in yourself? Is it a struggle of feeling like you don’t have the resources you need? Is it a struggle of of lack of time, lack of energy? Is it a struggle of lack of support around you? Or lack of support from your daily practice? Is it the fear of success? The fear of failure? Where’s that struggle?

“My trainer, Carrie Rockland, with whom I do a trade that’s very fruitful for both of us – we end up teaching each other, which I greatly appreciate . That’s one of the ways I keep fire in my life is to seek out teaching from those who have skills or experiences that I don’t have – but Carrie is coming up on a big competition in which she is having to fight someone that she fought many years ago in order to go up a level in the belt system in her martial art. And in talking about this, she wrote something that was so clear that I want to share it with you. Carrie wrote, ‘More often than not, the truth is I am the one choosing to lose the fight.’ I want us all to take that phrase in right now. ‘More often than not, the truth is I am the one choosing to lose the fight.’

“We talk ourselves out of it before we even step on the mat, half the time. We talk ourselves out of it before we even gather the resources needed to see a project through. We talk ourselves out of it before we make that initial step or have that first conversation. We talk ourselves out of it before we even let ourselves brainstorm and dream.”

I think that’s such an important observation. And I think it’s sometimes true of me too, that when I lose, I’m choosing to do so. Sometimes it’s because I know in my heart that I’m not ready for that particular fight. If I won it, I wouldn’t be ready for the consequences of victory. Sometimes it’s just because I’m afraid that I’ll lose, and so I put in a half-hearted effort. Because if I didn’t really try that hard, it doesn’t matter as much that I lost.  But most of the time, I’m in whole-heartedly. And those are the times that if I win, I know I deserved to, and if I lose, I’m still proud of myself for having made the attempt.

If you want to win at things in general, or to succeed at things since winning is a strange word to use for most of the things we want to do, you have to be willing to lose as well. I think it’s when you’re not afraid of losing that you can put your whole heart into the fight in the first place.

The second response was by Duncan Long, to my post “On Beauty.” Duncan’s post is called “The Beautiful Face.” About my post, he writes,

“This reminded me of some very different experiments using software to create ‘beauty’ by combining facial characteristics from a number of photos. The result was an ‘average’ of the various faces. And experimenting with such composite photos, researchers find that the more averaging is done, the more ‘beautiful’ the results are for most people looking at the photos.

“This suggests (to me at least) that most of us have a hardwired ‘picture’ or icon in our minds that we compare to any given real face. The closer the face to that hardwired icon, the more beautiful is our perception of it.

“This is also how the old trick of taking pictures of women through gauze or lens smeared with Vasoline works; their features become less pronounced – averaged – and they appear more attractive. Likewise digital artists now arm themselves with plugins that add a little light scatter to photos, blurring things in a special way to create a ‘beauty shot.'”

While I think that’s generally true, that we do tend to have a hardwired picture in our brains – or perhaps a hardwired series of mathematical relationships – one thing strikes me about Duncan’s post and the research he cites.

The actual averaged faces I’ve seen have always struck me as somewhat bland. They are attractive rather than what I would call beautiful. In terms of the theory I set forth in my post, they have too much unity, not quite enough variety. They are not Julia Roberts, whose face has the general symmetry of the composite face but also something more, something unusual about it. I think it’s what Edgar Allan Poe called a “strangeness in the proportion” in “Ligeia.”

Although I do notice, as Duncan pointed out, that when I use a little light scatter on my photos, they generally look better.

I’m going to end by including something I think is beautiful: Madame X, by John Singer Sargent.

Notice the interplay of unity and variety. And notice the Hogarthian serpentine lines. Plus, I think she has a great nose!

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3 Responses to Two Responses

  1. Duncan Long says:

    Thanks for the kind words about my post. I have to say that Madame X’s face doesn’t do a lot for me. Yet I think she proves something else: A lot of what we perceive as “beauty” has to do with pose, bearing, and costume. And if you throw in makeup, you open another whole can of worms (not perhaps the appropriate cliche but I hope will do).

    I guess in the end, beauty is a complex dance of traits and perception. And perhaps that is why our minds seem so intrigued by the idea of beauty, whether in a sunset, flower, or young lady.

    On the flip side, I have found it is very easy to make a picture that is horrifying, ugly, or revolting… No great skill is needed (as compared to making something beautiful). To my mind (at least) that suggests “ugly” ought to be more common than beauty throughout our universe. Yet in nature we find the revolting and ugly is the exception rather than the norm. Something that would seem to argue that the world and especially living things are more ordered than one might suppose could occur through chance events.

  2. Ted says:

    I’ve read a bunch about what people find beautiful in faces (for a story I wrote), so please allow me to recap that:

    There are a few distinct factors that make a face attractive. The first is clear skin. This is the single best indicator of youth and health, so it makes evolutionary sense for us to be attracted to it. Images created with face-averaging software will have clearer skin because the program subtracts blemishes rather than combining all of them. It is this factor, I think, rather than averaging proportions that explains the benefit of a Vaseline lens or a light scatter plugin; they hide blemishes and wrinkles, but they don’t change proportions.

    The second is symmetry; people with very symmetrical faces are consistent rated as more attractive than those with asymmetrical ones. This is probably because symmetry is an indicator of genetic fitness. Animals become asymmetrical during growth because of things like poor nutrition or parasites, and symmetry indicates resistance to those things. Again, it makes evolutionary sense to be drawn to this. (And again, faces created with averaging software will be more symmetrical, simply because individual asymmetries will tend to cancel each other out.)

    But symmetry and clear skin are not sufficient in and of themselves; a third contributing factor is facial proportions. Averaging faces with software can create a face with more pleasing proportions than any of the individual faces used for the process. This suggests that we’re looking for genes near the center of the gene pool, so to speak. However, because people’s facial proportions differ around the world, there cannot be a single, hardwired idea of an ideal face.

    Note also that faces created with averaging software are not the ones rated as most attractive. For example, women with smaller jaws, fuller lips, and larger eyes are rated as more attractive than the averaged faces. This may be an indicator of lower androgen levels and higher estrogen levels during development.

    Here’s a quote from Nancy Etcoff’s book Survival of the Prettiest:

    Cover girls from Vogue and Cosmopolitan have larger eyes, smaller noses, and plumper lips than the average “attractive” young woman, and when their facial proportions are fed to a computer, it guestimates their age to be between six and seven years of age. This does not mean that the models actually look like seven-year-old heads attached to adult bodies. But it does mean that the geometry of their facial features is so youthful that the computer, extrapolating its best guess, vastly underestimates their age. Douglas Jones, the author of this study, calls them “supernormal stimuli,” women whose attractive features are exaggerated beyond proportions normally found in nature (at least in adults).

  3. “Note also that faces created with averaging software are not the ones rated as most attractive. For example, women with smaller jaws, fuller lips, and larger eyes are rated as more attractive than the averaged faces. This may be an indicator of lower androgen levels and higher estrogen levels during development.”

    I wonder how to fit my own personal preferences in here. What I find most beautiful are faces that look like they came out of pre-Raphaelite paintings. They tend to have larger jaws. For example, Julianne Margulies has larger jaws, and a larger nose as well, than the average actress, and I consider her more beautiful than someone like Scarlett Johansson, who has a smaller jaw and nose. Is that my individual preference? Perhaps it’s culture: I was raised on Eastern European faces . . .

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