Monday, August 6, 2012

Wherein I measure Audrey Hepburn's eye sockets

I often hear people gripe that ideal female beauty is based on teenaged girls, or that society puts pressure on grown women to look like teenagers. And I hear "scientific" minds back this up with explanations that men are naturally attracted to very young girls, citing the theoretical biological advantages of impregnating a virgin. I also hear people complaining that there is only one standard of female beauty, which is defined in accordance with what men find attractive. That "beautiful" = "ideal" = "sexy." Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

However, when I compare images of iconically beautiful women, I see something else: the ideation of pre-pubescent features-- of childhood. I also see ideals split roughly between "pretty" and "sexy," along gender lines-- that is, the female ideal of female beauty is different from the male ideal of female beauty, in extremely general terms. Here I'll make the case using images and facial measurements, then speculate about the social implications-- so if you find that mind-numbing you should probably just skip this whole post. I should also state, before I dissect these ladies' appearances, that I think they're all gorgeous; and that although I find all sorts of people very attractive, I'm well aware of social norms of beauty. For those just tuning in to this blog I am a portrait artist, which explains why I spent so much time looking at facial proportions in the first place-- that and a certain Chez Naïf, se quoi? (I belong to the House of Overcomplicated Thinking.) Since beauty ideals are ever-changing and culturally specific, I'll stick to mainstream icons in post-1950s Western (mainly US) culture.

First, I'd like to gently remind everyone of what adolescence actually looks like:
Stephanie from "Full House"
Tia and Tamera Mowry of "Sister Sister"
Anonymous girl from an internet meme (poor kid). Text reads, "Blurt out to guy, 'I love your long flowing hair' / Too Embarrassing to speak to him again."

Jennifer Aniston headed to Prom

Anonymous woman from
You'll notice that some common demarcations of adolescence-- when a male can see that a female is becoming "fertile"-- are a face with an adult skeletal structure that is slim with the exception of fat deposits surrounding the mouth and chin; intense facial expressions, breathlessness and exaggerated movements; greasy blotchy skin, large pores and zits; hunching shoulders; baby fat and/or gangliness; snaggle-toothedness; large meandering eyebrows; fully-formed defined nose; and tortured hair. Should a male desire to impregnate a newly fertile female, he should seek these physical attributes, no?

Yet few women pursue these attributes when they get dressed or do makeup (the beauty industry pushes anything but) and few men seem particularly drawn to these. Most women and girls probably have in mind the appearance of a poised film star, a toned pop singer, a sultry sex symbol or a lithe dewy-faced model-- some of whom are teens, but who tend not to look very "teenaged."

Now that I've pointed out the difficulties in claiming adolescence as the visual ideal in our society, I'll break up ideal beauty into iconic beautiful women with large female fanbases, and those with large male fanbases (keeping in mind that I'm massively generalizing and completely excluding countercultures, non-hetero sexualities, and sticking only to mainstream trends, and comparing dissimilar genres due to differing gender appeal).

Ladies first:
Audrey Hepburn's head and neck viewed from front and back.

Audrey Hepburn, probably practicing ballet, with her hands on her hips viewed from the side.
Audrey Hepburn has been described as androgynous, fairy- and elf-like, elegant, and timeless. She was famously thin, petite and small-chested with a long skinny neck. I'll break this down:

-While she is quite thin and petite, her oversized head (as compared with an average head) draws attention to her small body, giving her a doll-like (as opposed to the typical emaciated Amazon-shaped model) look. She shares this in common with children up to around age 8 who have enormous heads in relation to their bodies. Large-headedness is a common signifier of childlike cuteness from cartoon birds to Precious Moments figurines.

-If you drew lines from her jaw to her temples-- up the sides of her face-- they would angle out slightly. Hepburn also shares this in common with pre-pubescent children. Because of the way the brain develops, children are born with almost adult-sized brains and eyeballs. That's why the forehead and temples of children and babies are very wide, but the bottom half of the face is much smaller. As they mature the vertical distance between their eyes, nose, mouth and chin grows; their jaws widen to more or less match their temples, which makes their eyes appear closer together; and their soft nose cartilage hardens and becomes more prominent, causing the button nose and wide round nostrils of childhood to become sharper and more defined. Though Hepburn is pictured as an adult, her unusual skeletal structure happens to mimic a child's.

-Her eyes are wide-set and disproportionately large, like a child's.

-Her mouth, though somewhat full-lipped, is small in proportion to her eyes, bringing to mind the typical childlike cupid's bow lips.

Nicole Kidman
 Nicole Kidman also has these childlike proportions. Additionally, she has a small ski-sloped nose, an oversized forhead and childlike petal-textured skin without visible pores. Notice how her hair has been styled to make her head appear larger.


Rihanna, side view.
Here's Rihanna with a large forehead, delicate button nose, wide-set eyes and disproportionately large head for her shoulders and body. Her hair has also been styled with volume on top and back, mimicking the large cranial proportions of children.I know body politics are especially complicated for Black women within US society, but I'm not going to go into that in this particular post; that discussion is simply too large and complex to be parenthetical to the rest of this post.
Zooey Deschanel

Zooey Deschanel on the left, Katy Perry on the right.
Zooey Deschanel, whose eyes, though not especially wide-set, are famously large and wide-open, compliments her looks with a somewhat childlike manner of speech and gesture which has endeared her to her female fanbase.

Anne Hathaway
And finally Anne Hathaway, who has disproportionately large, wide-set eyes and eyebrows.

To get an idea of what I mean when I say, "childlike proportions," take a look at some of these actresses as children, adolescents and adults:

Candace Cameron (DJ from Full House) as a child and as an adult. Notice how her face appears longer, her eyes closer together, her nose longer and pointier, her mouth wider, her forehead less prominent, her cheekbones wider in relation to the top of her skull, her head smaller in proportion to her shoulders, and her cheeks slimmer. She has puffed the top of her hair which mimics a large childlike cranium.
Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen as children.

Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen as adults. Notice the distance between their eyes, the tips of their defined noses, and the corners of their mouths-- much longer than as children. Also notice the size of the head in relation to the shoulders. Aside from evening their skin with makeup these women have done little to appear childlike, perhaps because these former child stars have a vested interest in appearing adult. Though both women have made their eyes appear larger with makeup the dark smudging of the lower lid gives a sunken, narrow and elongated appearance rather than a perky or innocent wide-eyed look. I'm guessing they've also contoured their faces (i.e. adding faux shadows with lighter and darker skin makeup) to emphasize narrower temples and hollower cheeks. No volume is added to the head with the hair. 

Jodie Sweetin (Stephanie from Full House) as a child.

Jodie Sweetin as a teenager. Though she still looks childlike you can see that her adult bone structure is basically in place by puberty.

Jodie Sweetin as an adult.
The case I am making is that women who are considered beautiful AND who appeal to female fans tend to be adults whose features mimic pre-pubescence. The reasons why this is so are less clear to me, but my best guess is it's a combination of internalized misogyny and slut-shaming. If you accept that things considered womanly are devalued by this society, that society actively dislikes women (and I do), it follows that women might idealize a form of femininity that is dissimilar to adult womanhood. At the same time, a negative attitude toward sex, and especially female sexuality ("slut shaming"), might encourage the idealization of pre-pubescent femininity-- a sort of eternal "good girl." I'm guessing this is also why women tend to appreciate thin small-breasted women; the less overtly sexual(ized) a woman is, the more human she is to an audience, and women tend to idealize the women they'd like to be. This is why women with childlike features tend to be the heroines of films aimed at women.

Alternatively it could be because women tend to be attracted to baby-like things, whether biologically or because of social conditioning; but my money's on the first explanation.

Now for men. Famously beautiful women who have mass appeal among men tend to be sex symbols, for obvious reasons. Yet men seem more likely to idealize women with adult facial proportions than women. While these women do tend to have some childlike characteristics-- smooth silky skin, full lips with a larger upper lip, large hair and sometimes a Lolita persona-- they tend to have alternative facial shapes, more substantial bodies, much more pronounced curves, and smaller heads. Their eyes also tend to be narrower (as in horizontally elongated), more heavily lidded, or more upwardly slanted, which are seen as sultry (as opposed to the wide open eyes of Zooey Deschanel, Anne Hathaway and Audrey Hepburn, which are seen as innocent and vulnerable). Take Megan Fox, for instance:
Megan Fox
 Fox has an oval face, which is a classically feminine face shape. The fact that it is so common in real life and that it has been idealized as overtly feminine in many past centuries, yet is so uncommon in modeling and advertising, where the square forehead is the order of the day, strikes me as odd. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

Angelina Jolie. Notice her square jaw, boxy face, thin sharp nose and gigantic turgid mouth. Her eyes are heavily lidded, particularly the lower lids, which is a very adult feature. They could be considered "bedroom eyes" because they indicate earthiness or a visceral intensity of gaze-- almost a gritty Clint Eastwood-type squint.

Jolie as Lara Croft, who is based on a video game vixen famous for her body. Now compare Jolie's body proportions with the photo of Audrey Hepburn above.

Kim Kardashian. While Kardashian does have wide-set eyes favored by women she also has an oval face, wide cheekbones, a narrow somewhat short forehead, a long face, and a head that is average or even small for her body. Her eyes are more narrow than doe-eyed, and her makeup helps to give the impression of narrow, elongated upwardly slanting eyes. The barrel of her mouth in particular is dissimilar to a child's. She doesn't usually style her hair with much volume on top either. While Kardashian usually has big hair, emphasizing a sexualized female trait, she doesn't style it in a way that mimics childlike cranial proportions.

Kim Kardashian.

Sophia Loren. Small head in relation to her body, prominent cheekbones and hollow jaw of an adult, narrow forehead, close-set eyes, wide mouth, prominent nose. Her eyes slant upward dramatically, and her makeup is a perfect example of "cat eyes" or "winged" eye liner that is considered vampy. Again, I'm edging into racialized territory: sexualized stereotypes of Asian women are difficult to ignore when discussing the eroticization of "slanted" eyes. But again, there is so much to discuss that I'm not going to go into it in this post.

Sophia Loren.

Some women from DC Comics. These women are imaginary ideals drawn mostly by men, for men. They've got small heads, wide shoulders and narrow eyes.
To illustrate the gender differences I've just outlined, here are Coco Rocha, a fashion model who became popular with young women, and Gisele Bundchen, a fashion model who became popular with men as a sex symbol:

Coco Rocha. Not only are all of her features great examples of childhood mimicry, her eyebrow arches, like Deschanel's, are high, round and downward sloping, giving the impression of an innocent or guileless expression (compare Ariel the Little Mermaid's eyebrows to Ursula's-- whose brows are pointy like Loren and Jolie's-- and you'll see what I mean). The downward slope of the outer corner of the eyes can give the same impression, such as Anne Hathaway's eyes. Deschanel emphasizes this expressive eyebrow curve with the cut of her bangs, which follow the same line; Nicole Kidman did the same, counteracting her pointed brows, in the movie "Practical Magic," where she played a gullible love-sick hippie.
Ursula and Ariel

Coco Rocha

Gisele Bundchen: thicker neck, taller and more muscular, smaller head in relation to her shoulders, boxier face with a defined nose and jaw, pointy eyebrows.
Now, as for the reason men don't seem to idealize the exaggeratedly childlike form, I'm not as clear because I'm not a dude. I'm guessing that since they want the woman instead of wanting to be the woman, the misogyny and slut-shaming are not really obstacles for them.

Of course, "ideal feminine beauty" is only part of a much more complicated societal attitude toward women. For instance the famously sexy women I just described-- Fox, Kardashian, et all-- exist within what many call a "virgin/whore dichotomy," wherein men stereotypically want "a lady on the street and a freak in the sheets," or two discreet women-- one for dirty sex (treated with disrespect) and clean innocent one for introducing to Mom and Dad over dinner. So although I called women such as Jolie sexually "ideal," her persona isn't necessarily "ideal."

With this complexity in mind it is understandable that many women have had crossover success. Marilyn Monroe, who began as a sex symbol for men, has become a favorite of women over time:
Monroe is a great example of adult features that mimic a child's proportions. At odds with this is her makeup, which broke some rules of the time-- for instance her lips were lined outside the natural lines and her hair was shockingly platinum. But most interestingly her eyeliner and false lashes were applied too far to the outer corners, giving her droopy "bedroom eyes." Liner and lashes were ordinarily applied to give a wide-open perky look, like Rita Hayworth's. Notice how Monroe's elongated droopy eye makeup is a sultry counterpoint to her wide-eyed vibrant onscreen persona.
Marilyn Monroe: impossibly wide forehead, eyebrows and eyes; childlike skin texture; weak jaw and small chin; large head in relation to her body; petite; childlike voice. This would normally situate her as a female fan favorite, but I'm guessing her curves and her overtly sexual mannerisms cemented her status as a sex icon for men. She parlayed the childlike qualities into a bit of a "Lolita" appeal, managing to portray both the "virgin" and "whore" of the centuries-old dichotomy.
And Brigitte Bardot:

Brigitte Bardot. Though she has similar bust-to-waist-to-hips proportions to Sophia Loren, her height and oversized head (emphasized by her trademark gigantic teased hair) give her that doll-like appeal popular among female fans.
And finally, Beyonce.
Beyonce has wide-set eyes but a narrow forehead and oval face shape. Though her head is average-to-small in proportion to her curvaceous yet formidable body, she wears her hair very large, which gives her that doll-like appeal. Her crossover appeal to women might also lie in her smiley good-girl persona and energetic, traditionally feminine voice.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure that Angelina Jolie is a nice person,intelligent and obviously a good actress,but sorry Angleina Jolie is ugly and it's her huge *UGLY TROUT SHAPED LIPS* that makes her ugly!

She has had at least 1 or more nose jobs too,her old nose was cute,but it was not narrow like it is now.

Many men and women have said the same thing about her on many different message boards. Many said her lips look like a Carp,Trout,Blow Fish or Kissing Gourami Fish. One gut said she looks like one of those half fish half human things from the Island Of Dr.Moreau.

She only really belongs on the Ugliest Celebrity Lists and she has been on them on other sites and I see she's on one on this site too.

Marilyn Monroe,Sophia Loren,Elizabeth Taylor and Brooke Shields and others all had pouty full lips,but their lips weren't overly big and most importantly they had a very pretty shape not like an ugly trout shape like Angelina's. On a site that had pictures of celebrities as children there was a picture of Angelina at about 5 years old,and a guy said Angelina Jolie was really ugly she still is! And I saw a picture of her on some other site a few years ago at about 12 years old,and she was so ugly,she looked like she came from a horror movie,her lips were even huger with even a more fish like shape,and her eyes were bulging.

There are so many beautiful women famous and not famous,and she's definitely not one of them.I can't even look at her ugly big fish shaped lips,and it's really mindboggling to me how anyone can find her even remotely attractive. A guy on a celebrity plastic surgery site said in seeing her before and after plastic surgery pictures,"Really ugly woman with a fish face and a skeleton body." And another person said she's obviously had plastic surgeries but it didn't help because she she still looks like a fish.

On a site for Black people they were discussing women celebrities they think are beautiful and a woman said Hallie Berry is gorgeous(she is) but she's not a good actress,and she said Angelina Jolie is too skinny and looks like a fish in the face. On another site a woman said I think Angelina Jolie has an ugly mouth. And on the site The Examiner a woman said she has the ugliest mouth she's ever seen.

I think Jaclyn Smith was one of the most beautiful famous women ever with a perfect naturally gorgeous face.

Anonymous said...

Also Liv Tyler,Jessica Alba and Scarlett Johansson all have lips that are kind of too big but they all have very pretty shaped lips,not like an ugly fish like Angelina's.Model Kelly Lebrock has really full lips so did Bridget Bardot and so does Denise Richards,Adriana Lima and Doutzen Kroes but they too had and have very pretty shaped lips.

Ciana Pullen said...
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Anonymous said...

This was a really interesting read, thanks for posting!

Victoria said...

Very interesting read!

Jayshree Patel said...
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Rubina Tender said...
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Ayesha Magi said...
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Anonymous said...

Bizarre comment from Anonymous above, as Angelina Jolie and Kelly LeBrock look very similar as young women. Even though they all look different beauty comes down to numbers if the thirds of your face are even then chances are you will be beautiful. Angelina is beautiful but Megan Fox is fabulous she looks better without make up. As for the comment about models being square faced, that is just a trend. Cindy Crawford has an oval face, one of the most famous models to date. A lot of 50s starlets had oval or heart shape faces like Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardener, Gene Tierney. 60s saw the rise of the square probably due to Jackie O and Katherine Ross. 70s was a mixture of everything square Ali MacGraw, long Jerry Hall, oval Jaclyn Smith. 80s was the square with Brooke Shields, Clotilde, Michelle Pfieffer, Paulina Porizkova, Christie Brinkley. 90s was a mix like the 70s Cindy Crawford oval, Helena Christensen square, Naomi Campbell long, Sophie Dahl heart, Drew Barrymore round, Winona Ryder elfin, Jennifer Aniston pear, Julia Roberts oval, Sharon Stone oval, Pamela Anderson round. Now anything goes and the overall trend is to be relatable not unattainable, that is why Megan, Angelina, Anne H and Kim K are not popular. Attainable is Jennifer Aniston, Blake Lively, Kate Hudson, Keira Knightly, Emma Watson all average looking women with immaculate makeup and style. They are not pretty looking women just normal looking that is why they are popular anyone can be like them with a little grooming.