Sunday, October 23, 2016

TOK IRL 1: Beauty and Math

It's late Sunday evening and after diving into the latest season of Netflix's dark technological satire series, Black Mirror, I decided to give in to a guilty pleasure of mine: Keeping Up With the Kardashians. It's wonderfully dull. Nothing happens, but there's so much drama. While starting on the tenth season, I began to see how the two shows converged, specifically with Black Mirror's season 3 opener, "Nosedive".

"Nosedive" features a woman named Lacie as she attempts to climb the social latter in a world governed by a social media system in which people are rated out of five stars for their social interactions. It's brilliant satire because it is only a slightly varied version of how we already behave. As social media is full of numbers describing people, we use those numbers to hierarchically compare ourselves to others, with Kim Kardashian sitting at the top. For as long as there has been a number to ascribe to a person, their worth has been based on that number.

Immediately when watching, I thought back to our TOK discussion about math and beauty. The video we watched in the class claimed that all beautiful faces follow the Golden Ratio of 1.618. It made me uncomfortable, as while I understand that humans naturally find an adherence to ratios and symmetry appealing, I felt trapped by the idea that beauty was no longer in the eye of the beholder, but rather in the natural trends in thinking that humans have. From that standard of beauty, I saw the possibility for legitimate justification for calling a person "ugly". One can sidestep the immorality of that act if they claim that they're only pointing out adherence to a ratio, and that is what beauty really is.

But if we accept the mathematical justifications there, it's entirely possible that we'll see them other places, where the data is used to support a previously held belief, enforcing a norm. Assigning a number value to one's face or body based on the deviation from "beautiful" ratios, and using that as justification for belittlement is what men have been doing to women for years, but now with a mathematically-backed standard to work from.

My fear is that, based on the status quo we have, people are not at a place where we could look outside of that standard, once set. People find comfort in numbers. They can feel fine arguing any position so long as there is a number behind it. The problem isn't even whether or not beauty really is based on math, it is where we go from there. We've only recently began dismantling Eurocentric beauty standards that place thin white women on top. Even though people of color can adhere to the mathematical standards, we still cannot remove the idea that calling someone beautiful makes someone else ugly.

The question, then, is what to do about it? While I cannot argue against the beauty of adhering to mathematical ratios, I do think we need to expand our considerations on types of beauty, and weigh those equally. All people are beautiful in some way. Subtle imperfections give us character, make us unique, and, as Mr. Brewer has stated in his blog, make us beautiful. Beauty does not exist as a Platonic ideal; it is constantly around us, but not always recognized. Beauty is a destination with many roads, one of which is paved by math, and another by an appreciation for deviancy from that math. Beauty is a strong enough concept that it can hold the staggering diversity of the human form. If we can work towards that, we can remove some of the classification and comparisons that inspired "Nosedive," we can appreciate the Kardashians and all their Ideal beauty, and we can look to each around us not as a competitor to aspire to or look down upon, but as a single peace of the mosaic that is Beauty.