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The Guide to a Desirable Face, According to Science
Each year, science tells us yet another type of face is ideal for romance. Here's a way to sort through it all.
BY KATE HAKALA
Science clears up a lot of life’s tricky little questions every day, questions that conventional wisdom, experience, street smarts, and tea leaves fail to address—(and Bill Nye will defend its worth until the end of time). But one thing science does, quite curiously and perennially, is portend our love lives based upon the real estate between our foreheads and our chins. Sifting through all of the extensive data can be exhausting and inconclusive. Does your boxy jaw mean you'll be a bachelor forever? Does your aquiline nose speak to your fate of a smooth and long-lasting marriage? Don't be side-tracked by overly sentimental Dove ads: only a persistent dosage of pop science can really tell us the worth of our countenance. That’s why I’ve compiled the one and only go-to, face-shape dating compendium. Because nothing says a husband or wife-shaped face quite like an educated one.
The Feminine Fling Face
Ariel's cosmic eyes and arching brows may get her a walk-on role as a sailor's mistress, but this is not a wife-shaped face.
Ever wish your face wasn’t so commitment-y? The British Journal of Psychology just published a study this week testing to see whether the shape of a woman’s face would affect if a man would consider her for a long term relationship versus a short term relationship. The findings were that men in relationships found women with feminine faces most suitable for a short term relationship (i.e. ideal for a one-night-stand proceeding an awkward dinner date), whereas masculine-featured women were more marriageable. Another part of the study where men indicated their attractiveness level revealed that men with a sizeable opinion of themselves were much more discerning than the average-looking man, showing a large preference for feminine faces. The study inferred that if married men are going to take the risk of cheating on their strong-jawed, masculine-faced wives, they’re going to choose someone ultra-feminine and hot. Weird and generalizing, but okay. But what, exactly, is a feminine face? A tapered jaw, full face, large lips, and large eyes. Essentially, anime-visaged Disney princesses would be optimal candidates for disposable, short-term girlfriends.
The Bearded Boyfriend Face
Usher almost achieves the sought-after apex of intermediate beardedness.
Weirdo scientists at the University of New South Wales spend their free time assessing beards and their mystical properties—one being that there seems to be a sweet spot of beard length that, if perfected, woos many a woman. Around 500 people surveyed in the study largely agreed that facial attractiveness met a peak when men were "heavily stubbled" aka had not shaven in 10 days. Apparently, beard distribution and density is key in conveying just the right amount of maturity and masculinity for potential mates. A full beard, however, proves to seem hermetic and overly aggressive (but might be great for dads?).
The Online Dating Face
If you want to have your inbox full of potential online dates, be hot, we guess.
The folks over at OkCupid did a quantitative study on general attractiveness of online profile pictures compared with success of outgoing messages, in order to determine that, yes, the ideal online dating face is the most attractive one. The surprising part of the graphs show that men pursue largely the top tier of attractive women, who they rate with an even bell curve of attractiveness. On the other end of the ring, most women rate about 80% of men’s profiles as less than a “medium” attractive level. The weird part? Women will still totally message the men they find so-called unattractive, while even the most attractive men will find it hard to get a reply back from very unattractive and very attractive women alike. This all adds up to a melding Rorschach of confusing graphs that pretty much tells you: it’s okay to be average looking, just have well-lit selfie and a nice personality.
The Strong, Manly Gay Face
Salvatore Romano has a gay man's sexually dimorphic dream face.
Stereotypes be damned, no matter the sexual orientation of a man, his romantic predilections will always lean toward sexually dimorphic faces, meaning the faces most closely synonymous with their respective genders. For straight men, this means super girly faces (as we learned above), and for gay men, this means wide jaw lines and hard, protruding brows, typical masculine features. Neither straight men nor straight women agreed with gay men's preference for highly dimorphic male faces in an online study of digitally manipulated faces by over 900 men and women conducted by Harvard University. Lesbian women in the study also did not prefer the same faces as gay men, but selected for masculine-looking female faces. Other studies indicate men with largely dimorphic features have better health, but the only conclusion scientists can draw from the study of faces, is that a man and woman's preference for facial attractiveness is largely dependent on gender rather than sexual orientation. Proving that whole overplayed trope of gay flamboyance might be more myth and fashion-related than a biological drive.
The Chin-That-Doesn't-Matter Face
Both Kenneth and Reese have an equal chance at chin-beauty, universally speaking.
A lot of scientific studies lean on the Universal Facial Attractiveness hypothesis—meaning those facial morphologies we've pretty much accepted as universally preferred determinants of mate quality. One study last April proved that the UFA doesn't hold up for the pointy parts at the bottoms of our faces. A Northwestern and Dartmouth College study focused on 180 different chins across 9 different geographic regions. Turns out that around the globe, the world is full of myriad chin structures, and better yet, chins are sexually selected in regionally-specific patterns. The shape of chins depends not only on where you come from, but who's looking at your jaw. This study single-handedly decreased the net worth of the John Travolta mandible (alternatively, the Nicolas Cage mandible, depending on the year).
The Fertile Woman's Face
Topher Grace's face is just fine, unless you are looking for someone to mate with. Then you go Usher (see above).
If an ovulating straight woman is looking for some fantasy fodder and her internet is down, she should look no further than a masculine-faced man. That's because, according to this study, a fertile woman in a relationship with a feminine-looking man is more likely to desire a chiseled jaw type at the peak of her procreative cycle. Why? Strong-faced and hard-bodied men whisper of a testosterone level and virility that is evolutionarily preferred for potential mates. Similarly to men, women desire the brawny, Cro-Magnon look for their short term partners, but not their long term (girly-faced men who exhibit long eyelashes, small brows, and large lips are just fine for husbands, they're intimate and tend to stick around, studies say). Interestingly enough, women who thought they were super attractive tended to like masculine-faced men, as well, indicating that preference for facial attractiveness could be confidence-selected as well. If a woman doesn't think she is good-looking enough for the most evolutionary fit mates, her brain might trick her into mooning over goobery men, who hands down, make the better husbands. That's like the opposite of leaning in, dating wise.
The Faithful Face
The vexing facial morphology of Ashton Kutcher: the wide cheeks, heavy brow, and strong jaw of a cheater attached to the sweet warmth of trustworthy brown eyes.
If you've ever come across someone that looked markedly untrustworthy, lecherous, and scummy based solely upon their face, you might not be nearly as pointlessly judgmental as you seem. And you would have been a keen candidate for a study at the University of Western Australia last year. The study concluded that women were able to identify a cheating man's face based solely upon a glance at a picture, with a 62% accuracy rate compared to men's 23%. While men's hunches proved misguided because they were evaluating cheating potentiality largely on facial attractiveness, women were weeding out the cheaters based on the tell-tale signs of overt masculinity like a jutting brow, small mouth, high cheek bones, and a strong jaw line.
Compounding that study was another separate study by British and Czech psychologists, which concluded that men with both narrow shaped faces and brown eyes appeared to be more trustworthy than men with wide shaped faces and blue eyes. While it may seem arbitrary, there's apparently a science behind a jerk-shaped face and a reason why men can't discern two-timers as well as women. "Males of most animals tend to be less discriminating of their partners because they have less to lose if their partner is unfaithful," says Leigh Simmons. Hrrrmph, evolutionary biology.
The Perfect Face
The cornerstone of essential facial beauty is symmetry. Maybe.
An 18-year-old working in a chip shop in Britain is the most beautiful woman in her country, maybe even the world. I guess? This is coming from ITV's Most Beautiful Woman in Britain contest, which studied the mathematical dimensions of entrants' faces to determine who was the most facially exquisite. Purportedly, Florence Colgate is. This definition of attractive qualifies as the distance between a woman's pupils being a little less than half of the distance between her ears (this lady is at 44%) and the distance between eyes and mouth to be just over a third of the overall face (she's almost there at 32.8%). Plus, if you folded her face in half, it would prove to be quite symmetrical. Other notable mirror-faces are Elizabeth Hurley, Shania Twain, and Jessica Alba. While Florence's face, sure, is lovely and evolutionarily ideal, it also seems pretty ordinary. For those in the Adrien Brody camp who would not define beauty as symmetry, but a uniquely structured face, psychologist David Perrett explains, "Symmetry is less important to some people; it actually explains very little about the attractiveness of people." Now I open it up to you: Which mug is the fairest of them all?