South Africa: Beauty, Biology and Society

December 2014: Our ethnicity is etched into our faces, says Cape Town-based aesthetic and general practitioner, Dr Joseph Huskisson. It’s time that we stopped trying to change our looks to suit the accepted Western norm of beauty and instead focus on enhancing what nature has given us.

They say that looks do not define a person, but the reality is that physical appearance is the primary differentiating factor between different ethnicities. While it is true that geographics, language, religion and custom are far more critical in terms of limiting mutual understanding, the differences between cultures is quite literally etched into our faces.

Beyond the glaringly obvious differences in skin colour, there are differences in skin texture and as a result, differences in terms of how these skin types respond to ageing and exposure to the elements. The actual structure of the face also differs, with a variety of international studies concluding that there are over 50 documented skull shapes, and massive variation in orbital, nasal and oral structure.

There is no need for complex medical language to gloss over the obvious: Caucasian people tend to have oval-shaped faces with high cheek bones and narrow prominent chins compared to African people who have more rounded faces with broader noses and prominent lips, and those of Asian descent who have more flattened facial structure and less prominent chins, further characterised by higher eyebrows with fuller upper eyelids which result in the more slanted eye shape.[1]

Unfortunately, says Huskisson, history has dictated an ideal form of female beauty, which is based prominently on European Caucausian facial structure.

“Extensive research over the years has shown that all of us have very similar subjective ideas of what constitutes an attractive face, and this can generally be described as more oval-shaped, with high cheekbones, high eyebrows, a small nose and a narrow chin.”

Although Huskisson is starting to see a slight shift in terms of acceptance of the different facial structures, due in part to the increased visibility of models such as Alek Wek and Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai, he often finds himself faced with patients striving towards a beauty ideal that is removed from their cultural identity.