NY Times on "beautification software"


Sarah Kershaw of the New York Times reports on research published at Siggraph about a computer program developed at Tel Aviv University that changes the geometry of faces in photographs to make them more beautiful. (Photo: Lars Klove for The New York Times, manipulation by Tommer Leyvand)

The photograph on the right was doctored by the “beautification engine” of a new computer program that uses a mathematical formula to alter the original form into a theoretically more attractive version, while maintaining what programmers call an “unmistakable similarity” to the original.

The software program, developed by computer scientists in Israel, is based on the responses of 68 men and women, age 25 to 40, from Israel and Germany, who viewed photographs of white male and female faces and picked the most attractive ones.

Scientists took the data and applied an algorithm involving 234 measurements between facial features, including the distances between lips and chin, the forehead and the eyes, or between the eyes.

The Sum of Your Facial Parts


  1. The unaltered photo is much more attractive IMHO. There is something not quite right about the doctored photo, it is unnatural. Might we be slipping into uncanny valley?

  2. Agreed, the unaltered photo is more attractive in some ways. The altered one may look a little younger but youth alone doesn’t equate to beauty. As for “unmistakable similarity” to the original, they look almost completely different, particularly the jaw and lips.

  3. I remember reading about a similar study years ago in either Popular Science or Scientific American. I believe the study I read about took photos and showed them to children to get the points and measurements to decide what geometrically make a face attractive. I believe the scientists then used simple pictures with only the main facial landmarks placed at different places and redid the study, which gave the same results. This was at least 5 years ago when I saw the article.

    Interesting software and another way my wife will have to prove that the women in those magazines are fake. Fake or not, they’re still pretty.

  4. Seconding Sum.zero’s comment.

    Also, a mathmatical approach to beauty will only find the features that look best on average. How many of us would look ridiculous with Angelina Joli’s jawline or lips? But she’s the most beautiful woman on the planet, according to some.

  5. It’s a shame we are so obsessed with “beauty.”

    It may be my imagination, but the woman on the left looks middle-eastern, while the woman on the right looks European.

    Which of these is the before and which is the after? Is the European look considered the more beautiful?

  6. Agree with Scrofulous and kmoser; the altered one looks slightly alien. Also the giant eyes thing as always kinda freaked me out; I think Anne Hathaway’s kinda cute, but her giant ostrich-eyes kind of scare me.

  7. After looking through all the photos, I found that every time, without fail, I was much more intrigued by (and attracted to) the “before” pictures. There’s a lot to be said for even, symmetrical features, but I feel there’s a lot more offered by the unique and often striking features that make a person a person, rather than a generic model of one.

    Also, is a group of 68 people really large and diverse enough to yield results that work for the majority?

  8. There is some pretty well backed up theory behind that. If you’d like a bit more in depth without wading through tons of of scientific papers, it’s covered for a while in BBC’s the Human Face 4 part documentary hosted by ex Monty Python guy who’s name escapes me at the moment.

  9. Wow, I looked at the slideshow and I need to say that this software is an all out failure.

    I understand that there are certain things that humans are hardwired to find attractive, but the ‘beautified’ pictures are all so gross.

    My ugly face is my right, never take it away from me. The sooner I look like a consensus based idea of beauty the sooner the consensus forces cold steel in my mouth.

  10. it seems to me, that the photos above are a hairstyle away from being two different people – there’s a difference in bone structure. i’d bet that facial ID software would miss the real one if fed data from the ‘improved’ face. (does facial ID just work with 2D images?)

    this is a change of identity.

  11. The software program, developed by computer scientists in Israel, is based on the responses of 68 men and women, age 25 to 40, from Israel and Germany, who viewed photographs of white male and female faces and picked the most attractive ones.

    don’t make aryan joke, don’t make aryan joke, don’t make aryan joke


  12. I’ll fix small things on my friends before posting them to flickr. people don’t like unflattering photos, and sometimes a great picture is objected to because of some small thing.

    So the occasional zit is removed or teeth are whitened. But I don’t understand making major changes. If it you change it too much, it stops being a picture of you.

  13. so when do they produce the movie version of this??? just think.. you could make a movie with average people… then presto… This will save billions just from plastic surgery bills alone… the movie industry would love you…
    and… never see any bad photos on the cover of “star” again… paparazzi’s will go out of business because no one will want to see the ugly versions of the “real” stars at all…

    Hmmm.. wonder if it would also work in politics? then maybe the republicans would have to chose someone for their actual political ability?

  14. The eyes get smaller in the right photo, that surprises me. I thought larger eyes were shown to be ‘more attractive’ to other humans in experiments.

  15. I remember seeing one of the old beauty studies that claimed that assessments of faces generally increased as they approached the average, but that the faces considered exceptionally beautiful were off of the average in one feature.

    It seems reasonable. Symmetry is pleasing, but perfect symmetry is forgettable.

  16. I hope they use the same technique to make software that can alter your picture to be more attractive to particular different segments of the population – Green Party, Replublicans, furries, UFOlogists . . . I would love to see the differences.

  17. #4 posted by Joel Johnson

    He he… good one.

    I tend to like a little “imperfection,” as it gives a face some character.

    As for photos of me, software wouldn’t cut the mustard – it would take some serious hardware to do my face any justice.

  18. The article points out that it exclusively used photos of white men and women, and are looking to work on software for different “ethno” (?) standards of beauty.

    Still doesn’t make this any less bizarre.

  19. Epic Fail.

    Their faces lose visual interest and end up generic and plain. That’s not beauty. Beauty is in the interesting and exceptional, not in the mathematical average.

  20. It ought be renamed the Blandifier.

    Yuck. Everything remotely intriguing and interesting about the original faces, wiped from existence.

  21. So, after I run my picture through the beautifier, do I print it out and tape it to the front of my head?

  22. I really don’t see the “unmistakable similarity”. They’re wearing the same clothes and the hair/eyes colour is the same, but the first one looks a bit middle eastern or spanish and the other looks like Kate Moss.

    And for that matter, I don’t see how useful such a software is. Do we really need more ways to fake advertising?

    I think there is something very empowering to go through the world with one’s own face (mostly these days). To cave in to too many external beauty standards is very defeating, to some level. Why should we make people feel that they fall short because their eyes are not mathematically spaced out?

  23. Oh man.

    I swear I did not read the text before I looked at the pics, the text hadn’t even gotten past the bottom scroll bar yet, and I thought to myself “The one on the left looks Jewish, does the NY Times think semitic features are somehow ugly?”.

    Does that make me a bad person?

  24. Antinous: get hold of Scheider’s wearable display and change your face to fit your time and place.

  25. “Are you Jewish? You don’t look Jewish?”

    “Yeah, I know. It’s that damn software those Tel Aviv U hacker punks developed. Tied it into this experimental plastic surgery inkjet printer, and now I look like a goyim. And I thought Joan Rivers’ nosejob looked bad…oy.”

  26. Run my face through there and it’ll look the same on both sides. I’m a fucking specimen, I tell you.

  27. @12

    Match.com will never be the same.

    I remember about eight years ago when photomosaic software was first invented, and it cost a zillion dollars. Now there’s shareware that does it. I predict the same thing for this software.

    It won’t be long before this beautification software and knockoffs are available to the masses, and then it will be all over Match.com. After that, there will be beautification-detection software.

  28. So we had cameras that could recognize a face, then many faces. Now they can fix it when someone blinks, and I believe HP has one that “slims”. When will this appear as a feature in the lastest $199 point and shoot?

  29. I thought the true photograph was far more beautiful, the other one just made her look like a 13 year old. Who wrote this software???
    Guess individuality doesn’t count for anything. Perfection is overrated.


  30. NOT A DOKTOR@20: They beat you to it by testing it only on white people’s faces.

    FOETISNAIL@39: I was thinking the same thing. In the future, people will wear a Phillip K. Dick suit that projects holograms of an “ideal” appearance. Some will never take them off, even when they sleep.

  31. Ugh. They seem to be laboring under the assumption that beauty comes from a numerical average, hardly proven.

  32. In more primitive times people thought that cameras would steal their soul. We now know that software is required to do this.

    +1 for the attractive woman on the left. Commiserations to her rather bland looking friend on the right.

  33. Yes, my friends and I saw this article and we ALL thought that the “before” woman was more compelling and seemed kinder and more intelligent than her “revised” version.

  34. Throwing my hat into the ring: the picture on the left here is way, way more attractive. The woman on the right does look more like someone that might be on TV, maybe a bit more conventional, but way more bland.

  35. Yeah, the slideshow in the NYT article is just odd. The software appears to have turned Brigitte Bardot into Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, and moved Marlon Brando’s nose weirdly off-centre. Oh, and wiped out the smiles on at least two of the subjects.

    Michael Cera’s ‘after’ pic, in particular, looks really ugly compared with the real thing.


  36. If some western european was raised isolated from other ethnicities, I could see him or her finding the image on the right more attractive, and the one on the left being distractingly foreign… but then I could see them voting for the left one just because it’s “exotic”, so meh.

    I’m intensely curious to see how it would mangle other ethnicities. And BURNINGLY curious to see what it would do to a chimpanzee.

  37. Shouldn’t they be working on helping actually people be beautiful on the inside, or am I alone here?

  38. This makes me sad, too. I find the image on the left far more attractive, too – the real woman far more striking than the “idealized” one on the right.

    Idealized according to whom? More attractive according to whom? I know there are traditional looks, features and mathematically-ideal proportions that appeal to us, but why cater to that sort of body fascism?

    Also, if the girl in the fictional image on the right is arguably “cuter” (which is not the same as more attractive in my book), it’s simply because her features are more compact – and frankly, more infantile. I’m sure Boing Boing readers will be familiar with writing around the idea that we find things “cute” that resemble infants because they motivate our protective maternal/paternal instincts. This also arguably explains how our own features as a species have changed over time, as we select for “cuteness.”

    I still prefer the image on the left.

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