04(14): What objectively determines the physical attractiveness of a man’s face?

Introduction

Many in society repeat ad nauseam how it’s a person’s personality that truly matters, perhaps in an attempt by their holier-than-thou attitude to demonstrate that they transcend the reality of the ‘superficiality’ of physical features. What’s funny is that it’s almost never the people who are conventionally unattractive that say that ‘looks don’t matter’. Rather, it’s physically attractive people, or even people whose looks are average that publicly declare that ‘looks are secondary’. The reason that conventionally unattractive people are practically never the ones to say that “looks don’t matter” is that they know what it’s like firsthand to be an unattractive person. Newsflash. It isn’t pleasant. They know that looks matter.

Take the typical obese person who is deemed conventionally unattractive for example. It doesn’t matter if the obesity was trigged by dietary indiscretion secondary to Prader-Willi syndrome, medications, or circumstances that are not reasonably within his control. Society would still stereotype him as a ill-disciplined gluttonous sloth. After all, why would anyone talk to him further to have a more holistic assessment of him when he already looks a certain way? First impressions matter a lot, and in my opinion, have particularly weighted influence on all subsequent decisions that people make.

I urge you, dear reader, to not just pay attention to what people say, but pay attention to what people do (eg consider the basis on which people select their romantic partners, and how they actually interact with others). You may be surprised that, upon closer inspection, people don’t really practise what they preach.

It is well established that good-looking people are treated by others better, ceteris paribus. People are more forgiving towards the misdemeanours of good-looking people. Good-looking people are shown more favours and are treated better across every domain of life. And perhaps it might frighten you to know that in many instances, those who treat good-looking people better don’t even do so consciously. People subconsciously treat good-looking people better. I would argue that this inclination to treat good-looking better is hard-wired into the human genetic code, and taps on our primal instincts.

In the spirit of the tagline of my blog (‘musings of guileless candour’), I’ll be frank and direct. Looks matter. Physical attraction, particularly involving the face, matters in all kinds of relationships: whether at work, in one’s friendships, or one’s romantic pursuits. Anyone who says otherwise should probably snap out of his naivety.

Furthermore, as much some people would so desparately like to believe that beauty is subjective, I am unfortunately the bearer of some discouraging news. Beauty is rather objective. The human mind, in a matter of seconds, is able to discern between the photographs of two individuals and determine whom the more attractive person is, even if one is not able to articulate precisely why one is more attractive than the other.

Do you doubt me? Try the following: take a raw photograph each of any two randomly selected men or women (ideally of the same age, sex, and ethnicity) under similar circumstances (eg similar posture, angle, and lighting). Ask fifty randomly selected people whom they find more attractive. If beauty standards were truly subjective and indeed in the ‘eye of the beholder’, one would expect an even split among the respondents regarding whom the more attractive person is. Of course, that result would never occur in reality.

So, what exactly makes a particular face objectively more attractive than another face? This question greatly piqued my curiosity when I first pondered on it a while back. In today’s post, I would like to share what I learnt regarding what objectively determines the physical attractiveness of faces (for the sake of this blog post, I’d be talking about a male face).

From mere inspection of a man’s face, one can tease out a myriad of facial features. All sorts of measurements can be made: lengths, widths, shapes, ratios, angles, symmetry. However, some features are more important than others. Very important facial features include the eyes, jaw, midface, face shape, and eyebrows. Features which are not as important include the lips, nose, forehead, and eye colour.

Once an assessment of the man’s facial features is done, consider the ‘category’ of men the evaluated man falls under. Is his face considered slightly feminine, regular, or hypermasculine? Lastly, consider the overall facial harmony of the person. At this point, you may then proceed with your attempt in devising a ‘score’ for the candidate (conventionally, people’s physical attractiveness are rated on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being absolute perfection).

Jaw analysis

One of the first features about a man’s face that people would note is his jawline (or lack thereof). The following illustrates a good, chiseled, and well-defined jawline. These photographs constitute the front and side profiles of none other than Henry Cavill.

In Cavill’s side profile, we note the presence of a lengthy ramus, which is a desirable facial feature. The term ‘ramus’ is a Latin anatomical term and may be alternatively rendered as ‘a projecting part, elongated process, or branch’. In the context of the mandible (ie the lower jawbone), the ramus refers to the posterior and partially vertical part that articulates with the temporal bone (one of the bones which constitute the skull).

Consider the original photograph of Cavill on the left, while the photo on the right is an edited version with a shortened ramus. No prizes for guessing which photo would be perceived as more attractive.

A lengthy ramus adds bulk and fullness to the jaw. Period. Besides one’s ramus, another facial feature of attraction is the tightness of the skin overlying the hyoid.

In obese people who are conventionally unattractive, the excess subcutaneous fat at the hyoid area would effectively conceal the definition of the body of the mandible and cause the face to look round. On the other hand, having tightness of the skin overlying the hyoid which is seen in the above photo of Cavill demonstrates the beauty associated with having the body of the mandible well-defined.

Next, a protruding chin is another jawline sub-feature that is attractive. The following images of Cavill best illustrate the difference been having a protruding chin and not, and this difference is night and day.

I’ve only shared a limited selection of jaw sub-features that can be considered. The following image shows other jaw sub-features that can be considered. And this is just all under the ‘jaw’. We’ve not even covered all the important facial features!

Midface analysis

Let’s now move on to the important sub-features of midface:

Allow me to elaborate on some of the points mentioned in the above image regarding desirable features in a male midface. The ‘cheekbones’ constitute the layperson’s term for the zygomatic bones.

You may frequently hear the term “high cheekbones” tossed around in magazine beauty articles and television shows. Typically, having high cheekbones means that the widest part of the face is just beneath the eyes, causing the cheek to dip in slightly beneath the bone. Particularly in people with a low body fat percentage, this dip causes a slight shadow, which further accentuates this midface sub-feature. If you go back to the earlier image of Henry Cavill, you’d see exactly this. You’d see the hollow caved-in cheekbones.

As for the nose, it should not be too wide. Ideally, the beautiful nose is approximately a fifth of the width of the face. The following image illustrates the proportions in a female face, but the same ratios apply to men as well. In addition to the width ratios, the partitioning of the face in three different vertical segments of equal length is notable too. The distance from the trichion (the point on the skin which coincides with the intersection of the sagittal plane and the normal anterior hairline) to the glabella should be equal to the distance from the glabella to the subnasale (the point on the facial skin which represents the most inferior part of the nose), which in turn should be equal to the distance between the subnasale and the menton (the most inferior point in the sagittal plane of the chin). A picture tells a thousand words, so review the following images if you didn’t quite get what I just said!

In fact, even for the segment bounded by the subnasale and the menton, another ideal proportion exists within it. In the image directly above, we see that the distance from the subnasale to the stomion (which represents the most superficial point of contact between the upper and lower lip along the median plane) should be half the distance between the stomion and the menton.

Eye analysis

An attractive eye would not have scleral show (i.e. you wouldn’t be able to see the bulbar conjunctiva beneath the inferior portion of the corneal limbus). Moreover, a positive canthal tilt is attractive. The following image illustrates what I mean (note that the person’s left eye is shown here):

The distance between the medial canthus of both eyes should be approximately the width of one eye:

Eyebrows analysis

For maximal attractiveness, eyebrows should be thick and full. They should also have a positive tilt, just as we have seen with the eyes. The eyebrows should also be close to the eyes.

The golden ratio

Golden ratio calculations can be used to supplement the above-mentioned analyses of different facial features in order to be as comprehensive as possible.

For example, the ratio of the length to the width of your face should correspond to the golden ratio (= (1+sqrt5)/2 = 1.618…) for maximal attractiveness. For even more calculations regarding the golden ratio, consider the following image as a guide. For a particular face you select, plug the raw values into the provided formulae and churn out the answers (expressed as a percentage). A score as close to 100% as possible would suggest higher attractiveness.

Conclusion

A person’s facial attractiveness is more objective than most people think. If you find yourself not having some or many of the aforementioned desirable features, do not despair. The whole point of all these objective markers is to guide you in letting you know where you can improve. For instance, when you are aware of your particular face shape, you can get a particular haircut to suit it. In nearly all people, fat loss can bring out many attractive facial features (eg having a more chiseled jawline, having more prominent cheekbones with a visible inferior hollow formed by the lateral aspect of the maxillae). The countless sets of before/after images of people’s incredible weight loss journies online are a testament to this phenomenon. For those willing to undergo invasive therapy, even more options are available: hair transplant surgery, blepharoplasties, rhinoplasties.

Some people might say that learning about all of this is so vain and that we shouldn’t even discuss these supposedly superficial things. However, in the spirit of my previous post on aesthetic medicine, I would argue yet again that learning about what constitutes an attractive face and then taking actionable steps (eg balanced diet, regular exercise) towards achieving a more conventionally attractive visage suggests that a person is committed to improving himself. This involves him putting his best foot forward in a society which is rather judgemental and unforgiving when it comes to a person’s external appearance.

If one can take steps to make a positive tangible difference in virtually all aspects in one’s life, why not? It’s a no-brainer. Such a commitment to personal development is laudable, and should be encouraged insofar as it doesn’t adversely affect one’s mental health.

Nic
5 Aug 2022

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