All else being equal, men find especially feminine women’s faces the most sexy and appealing – think Angelina Jolie. So does that mean women who don’t have the optimal gigantic eyes, pert little nose and small chin can never quite cut it and be the apple of their lover’s eye? Well no it doesn’t, for the simple reason that all else is not equal.
I talked in an earlier post about how more masculine body shapes could give women advantages in the realm of competition for resources and so might be more preferred in a female partner in particular environments. Now in research presented at the annual conference of the European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association (EHBEA) earlier this month, Urszula Marcinkowska of the University of Turku in Finland has looked at what constitutes a beautiful face in different places.
Using computer morphing techniques Marcinkowska and her colleagues produced images of women’s faces which varied in dimensions associated with masculinity and femininity. Then in web-based surveys these morphed pictures were shown to nearly 2000 heterosexual men in 28 different countries across the world, and each man chose which of the faces he found most attractive.
The team found that in every country, men tended to opt for feminine rather than masculine women’s faces, but there was a substantial variation across cultures in the degree of feminization preferred.
It turned out that neither men’s age nor their taste for casual sex bore any relationship to their predilection for female facial femininity. The important predictor revealed in this study was the National Health Index of the country, which is a composite measure of life expectancy and disease risk. Men in healthier nations were more likely to put a premium on femininity.
Marcinkowska and her colleagues point out that high femininity is linked to lower success in competition for resources – the stuff we need to survive and raise kids. So it’s possible, they say, that in harsher environments cues in women’s faces indicating good competitive abilities, i.e. relatively more masculine looks, will be more important in their attractiveness to men than the cues to health and fertility given by femininity.
Masculinity and femininity clearly both have their pros and cons – otherwise we might end up with a world where everyone was either hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine. And that would just be boring.