Science of Beauty: What Made Elizabeth Taylor So Attractive?

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They asked about 160 students to look at hundreds of faces with different proportions and discovered their "golden ratios": When the vertical distance between a woman's eyes and mouth was about 36 percent of the face's length, and when the horizontal distance between the eyes was about 46 percent of the face's width, the face was judged to be more attractive.

Link said Taylor was a perfect example.

"She was right there with the proportions of the beautiful face," he said. "Elizabeth Taylor was a great beauty and she has those proportions that are those of the ideal."

Of course, non-scientists are quick to point out that beauty is still in the eye of the beholder -- and the social context that shapes what they see.

Lois Banner, professor of history and gender studies at the University of Southern California and author of "American Beauty," said that while Taylor's natural looks certainly contributed to her fame, her image was also bolstered by smart publicity, heavy studio support and her many love affairs.

"Beauty is a quality, in someone of that great public stature, beauty is something that operates on all kinds of levels. It's not just the initial meeting the cultural expectations and standards for beauty," she said.

Historian: Taylor Related to the Beauty Standards of Her Time

Taylor was tapped to be a star early in her career, Banner said, during a time when there were fewer Hollywood stars. That meant more pages in fan magazines, more glamorous roles sent her way and more attention lavished on her by studios and admirers.

Her many lovers also helped create an image of the highly sought-after siren.

"[The public] always likes to see stars marrying exotic men they never dreamed they could marry," she said. "On one hand she lived an ordinary life, on the other hand she lived an extraordinary life. So there were a lot of fantasy worlds that she was actualizing."

Even Taylor's many personal battles, with drugs and alcohol, helped lift her profile by keeping her in the public eye, she said.

"She was a struggling star, and the public loves a struggling star," she said.

But the 1950s was a "particular time" in the history of beauty, Banner said, and though Taylor related to the standards of her era, it's difficult to say how she would be perceived if her career peaked now.

"We have different standards of beauty today. We see a lot of things as beautiful today they didn't see then," she said. "That doesn't mean Elizabeth Taylor wouldn't be considered beautiful today, but I doubt it would reach the extent that it did then."

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