LOLLYGAG Issue II

YOUR FACE: SURVIVAL OF THE SEXIEST
by George Petros

“The ugly are one of the few groups against whom it is still legal to discriminate”
The Economist, Dec. 22, 2007

Your face — veil of shame or shield of fame? Are you cute? Are you good looking? Are you funny looking? Most importantly: Are you sexy looking?

People are sensitive about their faces. If two individuals so much as look at each other — let alone look into each other’s eyes — for more than five seconds, they’re either going to fuck or fight.

For many, the face is a source of anxiety. Advertising standards demand “good looks” (whatever that means). Most people live up to the advertisers’ challenges, possessing beautiful or handsome facial features, or radiating something that makes them look good.

Good looks are fertility cues that, generally speaking, fall into four overlapping categories: youthfulness, power, sexual desirability, and the appearance of criminal success. Good looks manifest health and wealth and display the genetic rewards wrought by generations of successful breeding. Good-looking people attract more potential mates, receive more attention from their parents, earn more money, get more votes in elections, command more respect from their peers, and are lavished with more privilege from social institutions — meaning they are treated better by law enforcement, the judiciary and government bureaucracies.

Acid test of good looks: Desirability remains constant across the entire spectrum of emotional expression.

Looks, appearance, or whatever you call it, is the wrapper for one’s genetic being. And just as in marketing, high-quality products come in high-quality containers.

Please note: In this brief space it’s impossible to explore the complex impact of body type on facial appearance. Body language imparts much to the face, as do the body’s diseases and stresses. We’re far more tolerant of undesirable body types than of undesirable facial types.

What constitutes the physical beauty of the face? Expressions of the exotic, or suggestions of sexual availability? Symmetry? Youthful cuteness? Clear skin? Well-proportioned features? The most attractive individuals aren’t always endowed with exotic features, nor do they always appear to be sexually aroused — although those attributes certainly help. Instead their faces possess structural qualities that approximate the morphological average of all faces in their particular population.

Faces are a critical source of social information. Humans respond most comfortably to prototypical faces, which readily yield social information through the clearest and most concise facial expressions. This helps to explain why both infants and adults perceive the same faces as attractive, regardless of the observer’s racial or cultural background. Children are happier around good-looking adult strangers. They also play longer and more intelligently with dolls having faces judged attractive by adults.

Faces convey information about intelligence. According to face experts from the Universities of Massachusetts and Western Australia, who analyzed previous studies, facial characteristics convey clues about intelligence. Good-looking people are smarter. The previous studies had all used similar methodology: photograph people and have them take IQ tests, then show the photographs to other people who rank intelligence based on appearance. Results suggested that people judge correctly often enough to be significant.

A confusing, emotionally-charged issue, look-ism is almost impossible to discuss objectively in the public arena (except when discussed by plastic surgeons, modeling agents, casting directors, fashion designers, advertising agents, poets, rock stars, and magazine editors).

Here are some examples of the quantification of appearance:

In the late 1800s Sir Francis Galton, a British eugenicist, made a study of criminals. He sought to define the criminal as a physiological type possessing specific, and perhaps unique, characteristics. Galton concentrated on facial appearance as an indicator of anti-social tendencies, hoping to establish a system whereby potential criminal behavior could be predicted.

Galton photographically fused the facial images of many criminals, creating composite pictures. In those composites he sought archetypal traits whereby an observer could identify low-lifes, sickos, creeps and menaces to society. His studies were inconclusive, but he did note that composite pictures were better looking than any individual’s picture.

In the late 1900s researchers at the University of Texas and the University of Arkansas analyzed the faces of ninety-six male and ninety-six female college students, predominantly Caucasian but including Hispanics and Asians.

A computer video-scanned and digitized students’ faces, converting each picture into a matrix of tiny points assigned numerical values. A program randomly selected student’s pictures and mathematically averaged their digitized values. It then translated this information into composite faces and assembled composites of two, four, eight, sixteen, and thirty-two individuals. Graphically, the composites were indistinguishable from individual pictures.

Several test groups consisting of members of both sexes looked at all the individual and composite pictures. They rated the composite faces as more attractive than any of the individual faces. They rated the thirty-two-face composites as the most attractive. Apparently the thirty-two-face composites represented prototypical faces.

When it came to judging the composite pictures, it did not matter whether they were assembled from individual faces rated attractive or unattractive — all the composites rated more highly than even the most highly rated individual face. Naturally, composites of the most attractive individuals rated the highest.

Averages can be very nice, but are by no means the only element of desirability. Youthful appearance is a factor. The average Playboy centerfold is twenty-one, corresponding to the peak of fertility. And guys in their late thirties, at the peak of their physical prowess, dominate the realm of entertainment. People are judged to look their best during their years of maximum fertility, which in females generally spans from the early teens to the late thirties, and in males from the late teens to the fifties. Additionally, female response to male faces is influenced by the menstrual cycle. Ovulating females prefer somewhat exaggerated masculine features. Most other times those same females prefer men with softer, more feminine faces that reflect a more caring and less aggressive guy.

Femininity is another characteristic that adds to the attractiveness of both men and women, when judged by either men or women. Aspects of femininity include larger, rounder eyes, more conspicuously arched eyebrows, a narrower nose and fuller lips. Some people would add subtle aspects of vulnerability — S&M-style — to that list.

Scottish researchers recently assembled digital composites of facial images of both men and women. They then created alternative feminized versions and showed the sets of images to test groups. In all cases the feminized versions were judged to be more desirable.

Other studies have shown that men who are not considered good looking, but who possess status and wealth, can attract mates as easily as good-looking men with less status and wealth. Women who are not considered good looking, however, are deemed less desirable even if they are known to possess status and wealth.

According to an article in The Economist, December 22, 2007, “There is a feedback loop between biology and the social environment that gives to those who have, and takes from those who have not. That happens because beauty is a real marker for other underlying characteristics such as health, good genes and intelligence. It is what biologists call an unfakable signal. It therefore makes biological sense for people to prefer beautiful friends and lovers, since the first will make good allies, and the second, good mates.”

Good looks? To judge is to condemn. To categorize is to facilitate genocide. Will there come a day when we are no longer able to select our mates because our rulers want the appearance of the world to change?

The good news is that most people are reasonably good looking. They may not cut it as models, but so what? Everyone is potentially beautiful. Beauty is everywhere, and it is always increasing. It’s codified through advertising, pornography, entertainment and educational agendas.

Perhaps stamping out the ability to judge others based on their looks will help to bring about some anti-Darwinian paradise yet to come. In the meantime I personally don’t care who looks like what — as long as they look good when I’m fucking them!

 

See also Ghost Museum