The Vagenda

Do You Have The Perfect Female Face?

Have you ever measured the distance between your eyes? And then between your eyes, your nose and your mouth? Maybe with a ruler, in the dead of night, weeping, after awaking with the cold, sweaty terror that your features might not be perfectly symmetrical? Probably not, right? Like me, you have all manner of shit to be getting on with, like de-moulding the bathroom ceiling, getting a repeat prescription of your contraceptive pill, remembering your pin number, and fighting the patriarchy. 

Yet, bizarrely enough, measuring women’s faces is what a small but significant proportion of the scientific community seem to be constantly engaged with, nay obsessed with (perhaps, I hazard to add, because of their own personal lack of familiarity with that ubiquitous “other”: woman). Every month or so, scientists will emerge from their musty hidey-holes, like bespectacled badgers blinking in the sun after weeks of hibernation, and announce that, after years of research, they have finally hit upon that elusive and complex formula that denotes female beauty. They’ll then issue a press release which will appear, verbatim, in a number of news outlets, with the express intention of making you feel inadequate over your afternoon ricicles. 

Last month, I saw two “perfect female faces”, and got to thinking, as you do, about societal notions of female beauty. The first was Florence Colgate who is, for once, an actual real girl. Dubbed “Britain’s most beautiful face,” her features are, according to the scientists judging the beauty pageant she entered [my emphasis], a mathematically perfect distance from one another. She is, like the Californian Girls so admired by Brian Wilson, your classic, inoffensive, aryan blue-eyed blonde. The second “perfect female face” I encountered was in that feel-good feminist manual Grazia magazine. It shows a modelesque woman smouldering at the camera under the legend “Is this the sexiest ever face?” The “news peg” Grazia has used for this feature is the release of a book called “The Science of Love and Betrayal” by a bloke called Robin Dunbar, whose name, you’ll notice, ladies, has no ‘Dr’ prefix. Grazia says: “for maximum sex appeal, your eyes should be small (more feminine) and positioned halfway down your face (like a baby’s..)”

What I was able to deduce from the Grazia feature is that the ‘science’ of sexy depends mainly on making your face look like you’re cumming. All the time. So red lips and pink cheeks. ‘Pupils should be dilated’, they go on to say, something which can be achieved with regular doses of barbiturates or just turning the light on and off wherever you are, every few seconds. It’ll piss your friends and colleagues off and may induce and epileptic fit, but at least you’ll look well sexy, yeah? The strangely emotionless photograph of Ms. Colgate, meanwhile, looks as close to a computerised facial composite of a human face as you can get. 

Having studied Art History at a liberal university bursting at its pillared seams with old feminist marxists, I can go on for hours about WESTERN conceptions of idealised feminine beauty (it’s probably why it took me four years to get a long-term boyfriend after I walked in on the last one in bed with someone else.) But I won’t, because it’s dead boring. Suffice to say, men have been trying to work out what signifies and defines female beauty since like, the days of yore. Plato wrote of “golden proportions”, Da Vinci tried for years to paint one, ending up with the Mona Lisa, who probs isn’t an actual woman at all, just his idea of a perfect one. Then, in the 1880s, Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton took some time out from his usual occupation of performing blood transfusions on bunny rabbits to father that bastard child of evolutionary theory, Eugenics (FYI, his much more sensible cousin Darwin ”thought that there were few universals of physical beauty because there was much variance in appearance and preference across human groups.”)

This didn’t bother Galton, however, who was busily engaged in studying photographs of criminals to work out if there was such a thing as a criminal face. Turns out there wasn’t, but he spent a lot of time (arguably more than is healthy) making composite photographs of criminal faces which, somewhat surprisingly, ended up looking like, WAY hotter than the original crims (boner central). Which is how we ended up with the Eugenics so popularised by the Nazis, as well as a society in which a new computerised composite of a perfect female face crops up with alarming regularity. Galton has a lot to answer for.

What is strange about these faces is that they are oddly bland. These perfect symmetrical masks are, if you like, the FACE of biological determinism (see what I did there). The theory goes that, the more symmetrical a woman’s face, the more likely she is to attract a mate on the basis that she is “healthy” and free from defects. Your face is more likely to be symmetrical when it is not sagging, so symmetry also equals youth which equals fertility. It’s the same school of thought as the omnipresent ideal waist-to-hip ratio which is, if you are lucky enough to possess it, enough to make you “bang tidy” in the eyes of the opposite sex. 

Now for the science bit. Except, not really, because I’m struggling to find any reputable scientific reporting on the internet. Maybe I need to take out a subscription to the Lancet, but on’t interweb most of the studies seem to involve undergraduates who were probably too stoned to even focus on the demo-face, let alone judge it properly, or, those infallible markers of scientific fact: babies. Namely, that babies spend longer looking at symmetrical faces. Why, I ask you, are what babies think and do taken as reliable scientific data? I suppose because babies, in their unsullied, natural form, are untouched by the evil indoctrinations of society. But also, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that babies don’t really know shit. They can’t recognise their own faces in a mirror for bloody ages. They crap themselves. They stick their fingers in sockets. They are not Stewey from Family Guy. All babies are idiots. They are also a teensy bit young to be thinking about potential sexual partners.

What’s most alarming about these computerised composites of perfect female faces is how bland and emotionless they are. If you look at one, it’s hard to imagine that they are capable of performing the gestures of an animated human soul (just check out the one that the geek above made out of all his favourite ladies.) Because, crucify me if I’m wrong, it is those gestures, those smiles and those smirks and those pouts which often render a person attractive. Much like the waxy pallid face of a corpse devoid of the essence of human life, a blank canvas is not. If you don’t believe me, go and sit in a bar looking bored and supercilious and see how many guys hit on you (don’t look too depressed, though, or you’ll attract the kind of arsehole who preys on emotionally vulnerable women.) Furthermore, ideals of feminine beauty adapt and change by the decade. Once it was the boobless flapper, then it was Monroe, then it was the Amazonian super model, then it was heroin chic, then Jordan.

And don’t even get me STARTED on how these computerised women are invariably Caucasian and pay no heed to the social mores and ideals of other continents, nations and societies. When it comes down to the perfect face, it’s Aryan or nothing. It seems we haven’t come so far from Galton after all.

My boyfriend put it best when he tried to explain this phenomenon through resorting to a familiar and comforting object: the hamburger. If you ask a thousand people to describe their perfect hamburger, and then try to make that hamburger, your resulting patty will be invariably bland and inoffensive. Granted, no-one will recoil in horror from it, but after chomping on down no-one will be rhapsodising about its sweet and delicious combo of flavourings, either. Because that burger will have not one defining characteristic which will make it exceptional. It’s for the same reason that Coldplay are the biggest band in the world right now. 

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather my offensive face. Because, lucky thing that I am, someone in the world thinks it’s beautiful. Just as someone in the world thinks Ms.Colgate is beautiful when she laughs. Just as someone out there in the world thinks that you, with your freckles or your gap teeth or your coffee coloured skin or your afro or your red hair or your chin dimple or your crows feet or your bumpy nose, thinks that you’re beautiful. So next time some crappy women’s mag or newspaper waves one of these pictures in your face, point and laugh at it for the scientifically dubious creation that it is. And then get a biro, and add a unibrow, spots, and devil horns. Because you have better things to do than measure your face. 

11 thoughts on “Do You Have The Perfect Female Face?

  1. I once heard a story about an artist who gets all his friends to describe their perfect face, then tries to create a statue with all those features, and it looks terrible. I have no idea where this story comes from, though.

    And, as any artist will tell you, people’s eyes ARE positioned halfway down their faces.

  2. This reminds me of my time in High School. I went to an international school, which was incredibly diverse and full of beautiful, strange people. Invariably though, the popular girls were the Scandinavian ones: Blonde, blue-eyed and skinny.

  3. beauty is all very well in itself, but essentially vacuous without the animation of spirit within! Think Nicole Kidman – classic beauty but unable to express any significant personality (I’m not saying she doesn’t possess one, only that she keeps it to herself). And sexy is all about attitude!

    great article BTW!

  4. This is a great article. What’s stopping magazines and newspapers from writing amazing opinionated pieces such as these? Also, I may be a dumbass piece of woman, but why the winner of a “Natural Beauty”-contest is represented by a picture where she is very obviously wearing make-up (blush, eyeshadow and eyebrow pencil at the very least) is completely beyond me. Basically this means even the most beautiful woman of the UK, scientifically certified, is too ugly to be seen in public without make-up. If that isn’t spitting in this gorgeous girl’s face – pun not intended – I don’t know what is.

  5. I love and adore this article up until the last paragraph. We all know that we’re actually beautiful because there’s someone out there who thinks we’re pretty? Really? What about finding that from within rather than than from outside affirmation? What about the fact that this obsession with female beauty is absurd? What about getting past the need to be beautiful?

    I totally agree that these weird perfect composites don’t hold a candle to unique, real faces; that the Aryan, Western beauty ideal is stupid and causes damage all over the world. And these photos—especially the “Jewish Type” photo—is incredibly shocking and eye-opening. And the other things I’ve read on Vagenda make it clear to me that the editors totally get it—that “women must be beautiful” and “beautiful is only this one thing” is bullshit. But, yeah, the conclusion of this is a tad off and a wee bit disappointing to me.

  6. Think you’ve missed the point a bit- the composite photographs are made up of what hundreds, or thousands of people “think” is beautiful- and the result is bland and non-specific. So you’re being told that THIS is what beauty is. The point being made is that beauty is subjective- and that no matter how you look you will and can be attractive to someone. Don’t think there’s any shame in appreciating the fact that someone thinks you’re hot stuff. It’s nice.

  7. unless you aren’t and they never do! Observation tells me there are plenty of ill-favoured or actively objectionable people who still deserve to be happy too!

  8. I totally agree that the composites are bland, and that “that” is not what beauty is. And like I said, I do think that unique, real faces have far more to offer, and are more beautiful, than this non-existant and conjured up image of “beauty.”

    But the author says that she’d rather have her face “Because, lucky thing that [she is], someone in the world thinks it’s beautiful.” That “because” is kind of a significant word to me. What if she didn’t have that someone? (I’m probably being obnoxious and splitting hairs here, but this is just what I think).

    Of course it’s wonderful to have someone encouraging, and someone who finds you beautiful, in your life. No doubt about it. And I think it’s important to note that real people in real life don’t expect (or likely want) this flawless, lifeless composite from their significant other. But, in my own opinion, the eyes of the “someone out there” is not necessarily the most helpful place to end this wonderful piece. Especially since there are women who are told that they are ugly, and there are women who, sadly, do not yet have someone who tells them that they are beautiful. Even the women who may not have that “someone out there” yet are still beautiful, and are probably a lot of other amazing things that kick “beauty” in the ass.

    Also, I really don’t want this to detract from how much I love and appreciate this article. I suppose I just mean that that’s not where my own brain went after reading all of this, and I was a little surprised. I definitely think it’s great to have someone who thinks you’re beautiful, and beauty is definitely subjective, and everyone can be beautiful to someone. I just think it’s better if you believe it yourself—better yet if you don’t give a shit.

  9. Ok, I love this article for its main point, but I think the blaming of scientists is a bit harsh. Especially Dunbar, who does have a PhD, is one of the most famous evolutionary anthropologists in the world and is a Professor at Oxford. Anthropologists are studying humans as a species; what affects their behaviour, how they think and act and what the evolutionary bases are behind this. It is the media (and ok, maybe the press releases from the universities, which aim to get more attention for their research) that spin it into a “you should look like this” article.

  10. I would like to back Amy up – Robin Dunbar taught me at Oxford, he’s a professor (the UK kind, aka more important that simply being Dr Dunbar), he’s a great person (funny, supportive, has had plenty of female students) and he knows his shit.

    And, BTW, scientists and geeks can be women too. A female friend’s PhD is on looking for the genes that give your face its shape, and that involves lots of measuring of faces and generating composites… as well as wearing a white coat and doing your typical scientist/geneticist stuff.

  11. We can believe as much as we like that beauty isn’t only skin deep, and that we’re fine as our flawed selves, and we can recognise that those perfect faces are bland and uninteresting, but we’ll still be alone forever because most guys are falling for everything the media throws at them. And it isn’t just about our faces or our hip-to-waist ratio. We can’t even be naturally hairy. We’re humiliated if we don’t shave our underarm hair for a few days. Men will never grow up and work out how to love women as they are.

    This empowering “we’re all beautiful!” stuff is nonsense, because we’re clearly not. At best, the majority of us are simply “tolerated”.