Kalology is the study of beauty, and the ways in which beauty influences society. This study is focused primarily on human attractiveness, rather than the broader field of aesthetics, and was popularized during the 19th century, when philosophers attempted to codify beauty and create a uniform system for evaluating it. A scale was even proposed, probably jokingly, which rated beauty in terms of the theoretical beauty of Helen of Troy, who allegedly had “a face to launch 1,000 ships.”
Much of kalology is tied in with psychology, although it is also a topic of interest among anthropologists. Psychologists are interested in what makes people “beautiful.” They look not only at physical traits, but at properties such as symmetry, ratios of various areas of the body such as the waist and the hips, and so forth. Researchers have noted that certain traits seem to be universally accepted as beautiful; symmetry, for example, is highly prized. Some kalology researchers have suggested that being attracted to traits which suggest fertility or robustness may be hardwired into the human brain.
Anthropology comes into play when people examine beauty standards across cultures, and within highly mixed societies and cultures. For example, complexion is often an important measurement of beauty. Many cultures praise specific areas of skin tones, rejecting others are not beautiful enough. This can be a source of social tension and strife. In the United States, for example, where white skin has historically been prized, some people with darker skin have used skin-lightening products in an attempt to approach the Caucasian ideal, even though many of these products are harmful. Weight is another common criterion used when evaluating beauty, and this ideal is also highly variable, depending on where in the world one is.
Kalologists also study works of art. Works of art often depict men and women who were believed to be beautiful by their peers, and presumably artists enhanced their subjects somewhat in order to receive praise for their work. Examining portraits through the lens of kalology can give insights into historical beliefs about beauty, in addition to providing information about people lived when these works were painted.
The human relationship to beauty is fascinating. Humans have been celebrating people they view as unusually beautiful for centuries. If reports are to be believed, beauty has toppled empires, sparked wars, and ruined lives great and small in addition to bringing immeasurable happiness to some members of society. Understanding the human relationship to beauty and the history of beauty and aesthetics through the pursuit of kalology can provide insights into the nature of humans as a whole.