World's beautiful women deny the law of averages
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Thursday 17 March 1994
The assets of the typical screen goddess or catwalk supermodel - high cheek-bones, large eyes, full lips, clear skin and a cute chin - send an age-old signal to all races of youthfulness and fertility.
A scientific study of female faces flatly contradicts new-age feminist ideas, epitomised by the American writer Naomi Wolf who has argued that there is no such thing as a quality called beauty which 'objectively and universally exists'.
Researchers have found that female facial beauty appears to be universally accepted and transcends racial and national boundaries. The work suggests the appraisal of beauty has a deep-seated biological explanation.
The psychologists used computer-enhanced pictures of Caucasian and Oriental female faces in a survey of men and women from Japan and Britain. The men and women in both countries agreed on the same features which made a face - whether from their own or another racial group - more appealing.
The results of the study, published in today's Nature, also contradict an idea dating back more than a century - that a beautiful face is appealing because it is a collection of average features. In fact people in the survey invariably found certain key features, such as size of eyes, more attractive if they were not average.
David Perrett, a psychologist from the University of St Andrews in Fife, said the advent of computer graphics, which can distort a face slightly and produce a single composite image from a number of different faces, has revolutionised the study of attractiveness.
'It was thought for some time that attractiveness of faces was the result of a combination of average features. Our results are a flat contradiction of this. If anything there is an evolutionary direction away from the average,' Dr Perrett said.
He and his two colleagues - Keith May and Sakiko Yoshikawa - have discovered a tendency to like those traits associated with youthfulness in women.
As a woman becomes older the lower half of her face begins to fill out and her eyes begin to appear smaller because the skin around them becomes less elastic. There appears to have been an evolutionary advantage in looking younger, with high cheek-bones and larger- than-average eyes, Dr Perrett said. 'A lot of cosmetics are designed to accentuate cheek-bones and make the eyes stand out more.'
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