Libmonster ID: VN-621
Author(s) of the publication: Natalya KHALDEYEVA

by Natalya KHALDEYEVA, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), senior researcher, RAS Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology named after Miklukho-Maklai

Our countenance and our appearance... Do we pay enough attention to their role in our life? Do we really see the difference between the faces of people of different occupations and nationalities, and what do we think of our own looks? What are the most important physiognomical "parameters" and what is their relative importance? These and related problems are investigated by a branch of research called anthropoaesthetics - a new branch of anthropology.

From the start, it would be quite fair to say that the interest of homo sapiens towards his physical appearance is just as old as the history of the species. The proofs of that are mythology, and ancient arts which always focused on Man. This interest was not accidental and was not generated by mere curiosity. Individual and group physiognomical images were not mere reflections of the surrounding world, but an indispensable part and parcel of our existence. For the recognition of "our kin" there was a special "set of signal clews" and a system of their distinction. In humans (primates) these functions were performed by what we call prominent morphological distinctions formed, in particular, on soft facial tissues which have been inherited by the modem man.

For example, when meeting a stranger most of us have no problems telling, by simply looking at his face, his sex, age, social position, occupation, psychological type, state of health and his or her mood, etc. In general, judging by what specialists call the anthropological features of this part of the human body,

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taken in combination with such social and functional features as one's hairstyle, kind of costume and decorations, manner of speech and gesticulation, one can pass a fairly accurate judgement on any individual. And years of experience in social contacts and perception of the whole anthropological diversity of faces serves to promote more successful communications and social adaptation.

One should bear in mind that practically right from the birth one becomes an active participant in the practice of communication and identification of different types of appearance. For a baby this experience begins with remembering the faces of his parents and relatives. And recognition of his age-mates by a small child comes when he or she is only 1.5 to 2 years of age. In general, interest to the faces of people around is most typical inherited feature ofnewborns.

The role of the face as a vitally important source of information is exceptionally manifold. Say, judging by a set of physiognomical features (in conjunction with other characteristics) a person forms an idea of his own serf, his appearance, his social role in a concrete environment in connection with one's ethnoculture, linguistic, religious, occupational, age, sex, family and other associations. Physiognomic features are on a par with priority parameters which determine the choice of one's marriage partner and processes of communication, adaptation and socialization. This role of a person's appearance rests on the-established by psychologists-need to perceive and be perceived. And one should add that the anthropological features of a person are perceived by others as ethnodefinitive and, in particular, as ethnodifferentiating. In a word, as an information complex, it "triggers" a definitive situation and makes possible a transition from a "chaos of uncertainty" to the possibility of focusing on the most important factors and casting away things unimportant, becoming a "marker" of important information both for the recipient side and for the "sender".

The mechanism of mutual perception by people of one another's physiognomical features rests on biological and also social causes. First, it rests on the direct perception by organs of vision of concrete facial features with the subsequent neuro- physiological interpretation of the data by the appropriate brain centers. Second, it is involved in the course of people's association with one another and in the course of elaboration of a scale of values for the assessment of the elements of appearance. The latter is especially important for anthropoaesthetics because this makes it possible for experts to assess and categorize by means of comparison the anthropological parameters of a face on a personal and population scale and this provides the basis for the shaping of positive "group images" and standards of beauty.

The methods of anthropoaesthetics are based on man's ability to assess his physical appearance in a comprehensive way, to work out a differentiated approach to elements of the appearance and their versions. The most important in this respect are problems of methodology, definitions of terms and concepts, of the entire set of categories involved in the problem under examination.

It should be pointed out that current scientific publications mention a number of ways which make it possible to understand the principles of studies of facial morphology. This chiefly involves the use of opinion polls and surveys and different forms of tests of individuals including those which help establish "beauty formulas and sex-symbols standards". Many experts studying the specifics of choice of an attractive appearance rely on photographic methods and computer modelling. In the first case a group of individuals is shown a set of photographs from which they are asked to pick up faces which seem to them most attractive. This however, fails to take into account a number of conditions which are necessary for studies of this kind. In particular, no sets of "visual material" cover the entire anthropological diversity of a population. Also overlooked sometimes are the principles and motivations of the selection of such photographs for demonstration. And that means that this method involves a large measure of the author's personal subjectivism. And in choosing a "beauty standard" researchers should, by means of labor-consuming procedures, identify the most preferable aesthetic facial features.

The weak point of such photo and computer selection methods consists in the absence in the set of features being analyzed of the component of pigmentation-the color of the eyes and hair. And most researchers concentrate on preferences only with regard to an ideal female type or image conducting their analysis mostly on the scale of just one ethnos. And when it becomes necessary to repeat an anthropoaesthetic experiment the researcher is faced with a problem of selection of an authentic collection of photoportraits. And this is an impossible condition. And the selection and application of such a collection is also impossible because some experimenters (especially if they themselves belong to different ethnic groups) can have their personal criteria for the choice of photoportraits. As a result the "collections of choice" of different authors can be simply incomparable.

The problem of selection of photos for demonstration becomes especially acute in dealing with different age groups. In such cases it is necessary to have collections of portraits of individuals of about the same age as those under investigation.

The anthropoaesthetic program developed by us takes into account all of the above factors since we have been trying to give answers to the following questions: "How can one choose the most attractive forms of appearance, their key physiognomic elements?", "What lies at the basis of selection of beautiful faces?", "How tolerant is a group of individuals with respect to other anthropological types of appearance?" A set of special methods has been worked out involving the use of anthropological scales which cover, in particular, the color of hair and eyes, form of the nose and lips, and facial ovals, producing a positive or negative assessment of the epicanthus region (a fold at the inner corner of the eye typical for many mongoloid types). These

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scales were demonstrated to each member of a group under investigation in order to select the anthropological elements which, in their opinion, produce an attractive type of appearance. At the same time the physiognomical features of the tested individuals themselves were also analyzed.

For implementing this research program a set of working criteria was formulated. For example, we took as the main factor what we call the index of anthropological autoidentffication. It can characterize the type of an appearance (and its versions) which is preferable to members of this or that group and establish their correlations with the actual anthropological group characteristics. The data thus obtained is the objective criterion of choice for the particular group which reflects the "preferences" of the tested individuals-indicates whether or not their personal features are taken into account in formulating the notions on the type of beauty with respect to men and to women. And in cases when "deviations" from the actual anthropological diversity are observed, one can assess their scale and direction. Thus this criterion is essentially anaesthetic "self-image" of a tested group which it selects with regard to its own physical type. With its help it is possible to describe in mathematical terms the anthropoaesthetic preferences on the scale of a whole population.

Also used by experts as "working parameters" are the notions of the "real" and "ideal" (preferable) types of male and female appearance which reflect the following empirical models: PTM (M)-ideal male type as chosen by men; PTM (F)-ideal male type as chosen by women; PTF (M)-ideal female type as chosen by men; PTF (F)- ideal female type as chosen by women.

Working on the implementation of this program we studied groups of Russians from the Vologda (two age groups of 20 - 25 and 45 - 60 years), Tver, Kostroma and Ryazan regions, Stavropol Territory and also groups of Tatars from Kazan, Bashkirs from Ufa and Komis, Chuvashes, Mordovians, Marivs, Lithuanians, Hungarians from Budapest and also of Kalmyks, Chinese and Arabs. Most of them were students and there were also children aged 9 - 10 years, 12 - 14 years and 16 - 17 years.

We started with an inter-group analysis of anthropological facial features for solving the question of perception and anthropoaesthetic assessment of the face. It turned out that what we call a comprehensive criterion is formed in a discrete manner, from separate attributes or their combinations (in Nikolai Gogol's play "Zhenitba" (Marriage) the central female character Agafya Tlkhonovna "bmlt up" the image of an ideal fiance from the most attractive traits of all of her male friends who had asked her hand in marriage). Similar results were obtained in an opinion poll conducted by one of the newspapers. Women readers describing the appearance of ideal males simply quoted "collective features" of popular actors and political figures.

The data collected in this way was then analyzed by what we call the method of multidimensional scaling, or ranging. This made it possible to build models of anthropoaesthetic choice of appearance on the basis of ethnic, anthropological, generic and linguistic components as helping to understand the nature of a person's self-appraisal, or to be more exact its anthropological variable.

The obtained results lead to the conclusion: a person of choice (of preference) is formed on the basis of a real anthropological type and is closely associated with it, being, in essence, a group characteristic, subject to studies by methods of physical anthropology. According to data from anthropological autoidentification, special proximity between the real and the ideal types is established with respect to the standard of male appearance. And as for the "preferable version" of female beauty, it differed considerably in every group from the real anthropological peculiarities of the group.

Summing up these studies, one can say that the preferable male image is endowed with "manly" distinctions, and the female one-with isolated traits of infantile quality, or nature. Among them are a snub nose, plump lips, lighter pigmentation, soft and fine oval of the face-features which, according to many authors, point to a "reliable reproductive resource or potential".

The idea about resorting to special methods in studies of the preferable types of attractive appearance was expressed years ago by Dr. A Zubov, Head of Department of Anthropology of the RAS Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology named after Miklukho-Maklai. He formulated the foundations of theoretical and methodological approaches, identified the tasks and objectives of such studies, defined their empirical base, traced the range of the theoretical and applied aspects involved and gave an adequate name to the new trend of research, calling it anthropoaesthetics.

In 1991 the first data was obtained on a group of Russians from the Vologda Region. During this data collection and analysis the methods of such studies were also corrected. The findings thus obtained systematically published in countries like Finland, Hungary and the United States. These studies are now continued with the support of the Russian Fund for Fundamental Research (project 03 - 06 - 80401).


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