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The Secrets of Ageless Beauty

The Secrets of Ageless Beauty
By Jean Harper

I love collecting beautiful shells although I haven’t spent much time doing so in a long time, until recently.  I moved to a new area and the local beach seems to have an abundance of “beautiful” shells.  On one particular day it seemed that every time I looked down I saw a beautiful shell. I became very discriminating as to which ones would make it into my collection bag.  I even started removing ones that had made it inside only to be replaced with more beautiful ones.  This got me to thinking, “what makes one more beautiful than the other”?  It seemed the ones that were most symmetrical, brighter in color, and unique were my picks.  Then I found an imperfect one, it was broken in the center but still had a beautiful color to it. I kept it.

After collecting as many shells as I thought to be my fair share, I came back to the chair that I had positioned by the water’s edge.  I sat down and started admiring my find.  Why was something so simple as finding these beautiful shells making me smile and even happy?  Hello, it’s only seashells!  Then I went deeper with the thought and began to wonder what makes us find certain people beautiful.

What is beautiful?  How many times have you looked at someone and thought they were beautiful but over time and as you got to know them…they were not so beautiful anymore. Why do some people look beautiful but you can’t really explain what is so beautiful about them?

Beautiful is what we like, what is fascinating, interesting, maybe funny or inspiring to us. Beautiful things create pleasure, and this pleasure can be more or less intense and perceived in different ways, but why?

When you see an attractive person walking down the street you may turn your head to look at him or her. When you see everyone else, they may just be a blur as you pass by on the street. What is the reason you look at the attractive person? Why do humans find some people attractive and others not? It turns out that the answer lies within the brain.

Research done by psychologist Nancy Etcoff shows that when human beings see an attractive person the “reward centers” in the brain ignite. Not only this, but humans can differentiate between levels of attractiveness by how heavily reward circuits fire in the brain when different pictures of attractive people are shown to them. This creates a brain flooding of many different rewards, including Epinephrine, Dopamine, Phenyl ethylamine and Endorphins. Such powerful rewards for such surface level beauty can suggest many things, including an explanation for the commonly held belief that attractive people are more successful in life.


Does this mean that universally brains can recognize certain features as attractive and that human brains will reward us for seeing beautiful people? Scientist Gad Saad, seems to suggest so in his article discussing the universal beauty metrics he has argued exist in society. He argues that although there are some different standards of beauty among different cultures, there are universal beauty metrics in our world that exist everywhere, including a universal preference for symmetric faces and clear skin.

This advantage plays to all parts of life. Human beings want to see attractive people on their television screens, and on their magazine covers, in order to receive physiological stimulation from seeing physical beauty. The brain seems to suggest that beauty is important enough to receive a chemical stimulus to force us to surround ourselves with beautiful people. The chemicals released when one is happy are the same as when we see beauty or when we are addicted to drugs. This seems to point to an advantage that beautiful people have. Although many other factors contribute to success in society it seems like the saying it pays to beautiful may be very true.

With all this said, what is the explanation for someone who “appears” beautiful but when you start to dissect them you really don’t know what makes them beautiful? 

I was sitting at the bar in an Outback Steakhouse just this week when an older couple arrived and took two chairs next to me. They appeared to be in their mid to late seventies yet both very attractive. If I describe them you might not get the picture that I saw. Both of them had white hair, yes there were those wrinkles, the gentleman had a bit of extra weight around the middle and the woman had very crooked teeth. However both of them were smiling, happy, kind, and affectionate to one another. They were genuine and warm so I struck up a conversation with them and found out they had been dating for only 2 months.  As I reflected on this couple, and others that I think are beautiful, in those different ways, I became clear on the answer to my last question as to what makes someone beautiful who doesn’t fit the physical beauty standards.  

Below is my set of goals to live by going forward:

  • Feel good about yourself, glow from the inside out. People are attracted to others who have a happy, upbeat disposition.
  • Dress in stylish clothing appropriate to your age.
  • Improve your posture and walk with your head held high.
  • Take the time to be neat and clean even if you are just going somewhere close to home. Personal hygiene is important.
  • Be aware of one’s own body language and the message it sends. If you speak to people and are always looking down and never establish eye contact, the message is that the person may not be able to trust you or you are unsure of yourself.
  • Smile, it’s contagious!


Aharon, I., Etcoff, N., Ariely, D., Chabris, C.F., O’Connor, E. & Breiter, H.C., (2001). Beautiful faces have variable reward value: fMRI and behavioral evidence, PubMed, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11709163

Saad Gad (2010) Beauty: Culture-Specific or Universally Defined? The universality of some beauty markers:  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/homo-consumericus/201004/beauty-culture-specific-or-universally-defined

The next time you see that beautiful face on the billboard or on your television screen remember this video below and ask what is "real" beauty?



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