Beauty standards may be broadening

(Reuters Health) - Americans have grown to appreciate beauty across more skin types and ages during the past three decades, if People magazine is any indication, a new study suggests.

FILE PHOTO: A model takes a selfie backstage before walking in the Addition Elle Spring/Summer 2018 presentation at New York Fashion Week in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

The magazine is including more nonwhite celebrities and older individuals on its Most Beautiful People list these days, researchers wrote in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

“Preferences for beauty are both a combination of a basic cognitive process and a learned process,” study author Dr. Neelam Vashi of the Boston University School of Medicine told Reuters Health by email. “Individuality, culture, and history are all important to the study of beauty, and when we look at different cultures and historical periods, we see different and shifting ideals.”

Vashi and colleagues studied People magazine, which has the largest audience of U.S. magazines and one of the top 10 circulations, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. They analyzed the magazine’s World’s Most Beautiful People lists in 1990 and 2017, comparing characteristics such as age, sex, race, skin type, hair color, eye color, and visible skin conditions. They compared 50 celebrities in the 1990 list to 135 in the 2017 list.

They found that average age increased from 33 in 1990 to 39 in 2017, and the proportion of nonwhite celebrities rose from 24 percent to 40 percent.

The proportion of mixed-race celebrities increased from one in 1990 to 14 in 2017. Also, the researchers found, the proportion of people with pale to creamy white skin fell from 88 percent in 1990 to 70 percent in 2017, while the proportion with moderate brown to dark brown skin rose from 12 percent to 30 percent.

“Personally, I run both a cosmetic center and ethnic skin center, in which I specialize in treating those with darker skin tones,” said Vashi, who also authored the book Beauty and Body Dysmorphic Disorder: A Guide for Clinicians. “We found (to our surprise) . . . celebrities had a higher rate of darker skin types and mixed race.”

A limitation of the study is that only two issues of a single magazine were included. The study also found that the proportion of females increased from 52 percent in 1990 to 88 percent in 2017, which may indicate skewed data, said Dr. Daniel Hamermesh of Barnard College in New York City. Hamermesh, who wasn’t involved with this study, wrote the book “Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful.”

Hamermesh and colleagues are beginning a project that investigates how beauty affects individuals over time as they age. A child, for example, may be treated differently at a young age, which could influence outlook later in life.

“People are fascinated by beauty, and there’s no doubt it affects outcomes such as how much money you make and the partner you wind up with,” he said. “This behavior persists from the day we’re born.”

Vashi and colleagues also plan to delve into the topic further. Although many cultures have historically deemed fair skin and youthful features more attractive, popular media may show a changing conversation, Vashi added.

“Maybe our society is starting to embrace graceful aging, diversity and the beauty we are born with,” she said.

SOURCE: JAMA Dermatology, online October 11, 2017.