Our attraction is also shaped by familiarity: the more people see you with a certain appearance, the more attractive it can appear. In a time when cosmetic surgery is becoming the norm, this offers an important lesson. Instead of changing your unusual looks to suit the fashions of the time, you could instead use your looks to change the fashion.
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Most studies had only examined Western societies. When Isabel Scott at Brunel University, decided to cast their net wider – across communities in Asia, Africa, South America and Russia, they found a variety of preferences . In fact, it was only in the most urbanised regions that they found the strong attraction to more masculine men and more feminine women; in the smaller, more remote communities, many women actually preferred the more “feminine” looking men.
Biologists had also hypothesised that we prefer faces that epitomise the ‘manliness’ or ‘femininity’ of their gender: the broad jaw of Jon Hamm for men; the delicate features of Miranda Kerr for women. Again, the rationale was sound: bone structure reflects the sex hormones pumping through our blood, so they could advertise a woman’s fertility and traits like dominance in men – important considerations when picking a partner.
In cultures where starvation is a real risk, preferences for heavier weight in partners is expected because those individuals are most resistant to food shortages, and indeed, this does seem to be the case . When dominance is valued, meanwhile, women may also prefer men with squarer chins – and higher testosterone. It has been found that exposure to cues of male-male competition, such as seeing men fight each other, increases women’s preferences for masculine male faces.
There are even some good evolutionary reasons why beauty might be timeless. Certain biological features might signal health, fitness, and fertility – the makings of good mate – and we should find these features sexually attractive.
Consider the apparently received wisdom that we prefer symmetrical, evenly balanced features. A slightly lopsided face should therefore be a sign of physical weakness – making them less appealing as the parent of your children.
When choosing our partner, looks play a decisive role. Research has shown that features such as symmetrical faces, good health, or female traits (when it comes to women) might prove quite essential when deciding whether the person in front of us is worth or not taking the risk of starting a relationship.
Today, many brands are acknowledging a need for gender fluidity in cosmetics; this means cosmetics brands can market to an entirely new demographic, resulting in an increase in sales).
Historically, makeup was never something associated with gender in the first place. In Ancient Egypt, for example, the use of eyeliner and other cosmetics was a sign of wealth—usually one that men donned to signal their status to passerby’s and strangers. In more recent history, people in the LGBTQ+ community have always used makeup as a way to connect with femininity and identity in a way they could not without it.
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