Monday, August 6, 2012

Wherein I measure Audrey Hepburn's eye sockets

This ever-popular post has been updated in 2017 to make my writing more clear and understandable, and to include a few extra examples from pop culture.

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 idealization of pre-pubescent features-- of childhood, not adolescence. Second, I also see ideals split roughly along gender lines between "pretty" and "sexy"-- that is, the female ideal of female beauty is different from the male ideal of female beauty. Here I'll make these two case using images and facial proportions, then speculate about the social implications. Since beauty ideals are ever-changing and culturally specific, I'll stick to mainstream icons in post-1950s Western (mainly US) culture.

Some disclaimers: Since I'm talking about trends over large populations, of course I'm generalizing very broadly. I'm not discussing the many men and women who don't fit in with these trends, including gay people and people who aren't attracted to the Hollywood standard. I'm also limiting myself to what's commonly available in pop culture (straight, mostly white). Third, I'll be dissecting the appearance of several celebrities, but I'm not trying to tear them down. I think they're all gorgeous

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 BadYearbookPhotos.com
The signs of adolescence are commonly associated with males being able to see that females are becoming fertile. They're usually discussed in pop culture as things like thinness, smooth poreless skin, full lips. But if we pause and appeal to common experience (and the photos above), we'll notice that some common demarcations of adolescence are in fact:
  • a face with an adult skeletal structure that is slimmer than in childhood with the exception of fat deposits surrounding the mouth and chin ("baby fat"); 
  • 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; 
  • bushy arm pits and thick dark leg hair; 
  • and being very loud in groups.
If a adolescent does not have these features (or childhood features), we tend to think they're older-- that is, not newly fertile.

In contrast, children also have signs that they haven't yet reached puberty. Obviously, they're short; but also,
  • the early development of their large brains and skulls gives them heart-shaped faces with very large eyes, forehead and crown of head in relation to their nose, mouth, chin and jaw; 
  • they have big bobble heads in relation to their small necks, shoulders and bodies; 
  • they have squishy cheeks; 
  • small straight teeth, many of which may be missing; 
  • all of their body hair is downy and not noticeable; 
  • their skin appears poreless, even, matte, and untroubled (except for their mouths and nostrils which always seem to look like they've just eaten jam that they're allergic to); 
  • their noses tend to be small and ski-sloped because their cartilage hasn't yet developed into bone; 
  • they tend to have small rosebud shaped mouths with especially full upper lips, which will morph as their jaws grow larger in puberty;
  • they have squeaky voices.
To get more of 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 adult 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. Coincidentally she has puffed the top of her hair which mimics a large childlike cranium.
Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen as children. Heart shaped faces with wide foreheads, small ski sloped noses with soft squishy nostrils, large heads in relation to shoulders and bodies, wider set eyes, up to no good.

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 smaller size of the head in relation to the shoulders. Their necks are longer, thicker and more muscular than in childhood. These women have not styled themselves to appear childlike in proportion, perhaps because these former child stars have a vested interest in appearing adult. Though both women have made their eyes appear larger and evened out their skin-tone and texture 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 their adult-looking narrow temples and hollow cheeks. No volume is added to the hair at the crown of the head (where children's heads are larger). 

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

Jodie Sweetin as a very young teenager. Though she still looks childlike you can see that her adult bone structure is basically in place by puberty. Her face is now longer and slimmer, but she has the hallmark adolescent fat deposits around her mouth and chin. Her neck is longer and thicker than in childhood and her shoulders wider.

Jodie Sweetin as an adult.
 You can see childlike proportions taken to exaggerated extremes in anything designed to be "cute:"
sanrio characters
Anything kawaii is going to involve wide set eyes, large foreheads, big bobble heads and small noses. These are a bunch of Sanrio characters.
lap dog
To be cuter, lapdogs are bred to have big heads, small short muzzles like button noses, and big wide eyes.

The theoretical male desiring to impregnate a newly fertile female should seek the adolescent physical attributes listed, no?

Yet few women pursue these attributes when they get dressed or do makeup-- the beauty industry pushes anything but. And few grown men seem particularly drawn to these. Most women and girls probably aspire to 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." The ones who escaped actually looking adolescent.

I'd venture that the #1 sexual fans of actual adolescent girls, are other adolescents.

Now that I've pointed out the complications of claiming adolescence as the visual ideal in modern Western society, I'll illustrate which iconic beauties have large female fanbases, and which have large male fanbases (some of them have both).


Women tend to be fans of these ladies, whose adult features mimic pre-pubescent proportions:
Audrey Hepburn.
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 may have her legions of male admirers, but it is women who have really carried the torch of fandom. She 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 was quite thin and petite, her oversized head (as compared with an average head) drew attention to her small body, giving her a doll-like look (in contrast with typical fashion models who are also quite thin but look more like mythical Amazons in comparison). She shared this in common with children up to around age 8 who have enormous heads in relation to their bodies.

-If you drew lines from her jaw to her temples-- up the sides of her face-- they would angle out slightly. Hepburn also shared this in common with pre-pubescent children.

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

-Her mouth was small in proportion to her eyes. Her upper lip was also prominent, which was exaggerated with makeup in the 1950s nearly to the point where she had a lipstick moustache.

-The crown of her head was wide.

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.

Emma Stone:
emma stone
Emma stone, with large forehead, very large wide-set eyes and round sweeping brows, a tiny nose, and soft heart shaped chin and jawline.
Meg Ryan:
Meg Ryan: cute as a button and famously likeable. Round, open eyebrows that lend an air of surprise and earnestness, slightly down-turned puppy dog eyes, button nose, prominent upper lip, a heart shaped jawline and chin, and an overall endearing gangliness. Her most popular haircut with women has been this one, which made her bobbly head,  always cocked playfully to one side or the other, look bigger and cuter.
Reese Witherspoon:
reese witherspoon
Another queen of Likeable. Reese has a very heart shaped face, wide set eyes with wide, open brows, a large forehead and large wide crown of her head. Her head is a bit large for her body, giving her a bit of a doll-like appearance.

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


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. Why? I don't know, but maybe it's a combination of internalized misogyny and slut-shaming. If you accept that "womanly" attributes, realms and interests are devalued by this society, that society actively dislikes women (and I do), it follows that women might aspire to a form of femininity that is dissimilar from adult womanhood. At the same time, a negative attitude toward sex, and especially female sexuality ("slut shaming"), might cause women to aspire a pre-pubescent version of 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 pretty woman is, the more human and three-dimensional she seems to an audience. This is why women with childlike features tend to be the heroines of films aimed at women.

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


Now for men.

Famously beautiful women who have mass appeal among straight men tend to be sex symbols... for obvious reasons. Interestingly, men seem to embrace much more deviation from classic Hollywood facial proportions than women do. That said, men seem more likely to idealize women with typically adult facial proportions. Chiseled cheekbones loom large in the world of male fandom. 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.

Megan Fox, for instance:
Megan Fox
Fox has an oval face, which is a classically feminine face shape. It strikes me as odd that this common face shape has been idealized as overtly feminine in past centuries, yet it is so uncommon in modeling and advertising, where the square forehead is the order of the day. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

Notice how Fox's eyes are elongated horizontally (and enhanced with makeup to look even longer), as opposed to wide open like Zooey Deschanel or Anne Hathaway. Much moreso than women, men tend to embrace eye shapes seen as sultry, calculating or bossy, such as horizontally narrow, "cat" shaped, or heavily lidded.

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 sized 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. Her cheekbone-chiseling makeup techniques are famous.
Kim Kardashian.
Sofia Lauren:

Sophia Loren, with a small head in relation to her body, the 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. Hers isn't a body type you typically find in women admired by mostly other women.

Sophia Loren.
Rosie Huntington-Whitely:
Here we go again: narrow elongated eyes and brows, sharp features, large mouth, very chiseled cheekbones and jaw.

Some women from DC Comics. These women are imaginary ideals drawn mostly by men, for men. They've got small heads, large bodies, wide shoulders and narrow eyes.
But like I said, men are appreciative of a wide range of divergence from standard Hollywood proportions. The above photos are more illustrative of what features women fans don't tend to value that male fans do, rather than the complete parameters of which beautiful women have large male fanbases. Here are some photos to illustrate just how much more diverse a category "sexy" is than "cute" in terms of proportion:

Pam Grier
Pam Grier
Cameron Diaz
Salma Hayek
Salma Hayek
Alyson Hannigan
Alyson Hannigan
Eva Green
Eva Green
Scarlett  Johanssen
Scarlett  Johanssen
Shannen Doherty
Shannen Doherty
Eva Mendes
Eva Mendes
Penelope Cruz
Penelope Cruz
Tia Carrere (Cassandra from Wayne's World)

To illustrate the gender differences I've just outlined, here are two fashion models: Coco Rocha, who became popular with young women, and Gisele Bundchen, who became popular with men as a sex symbol:

Coco Rocha

Gisele Bundchen: thicker neck, taller and more muscular, smaller head in relation to her shoulders, boxier face with a sharp prominent nose and jaw, pointy eyebrows.
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 with her bangs, counteracting her pointed brows, when she played a gullible love-sick hippie in the movie Practical Magic.
Ursula and Ariel
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.

But I'd like to bring the reader's attention back, for a moment, to the list of adolescent traits at the beginning of this post. The women with male fanbases do have more notably post-childhood features, but are they adolescent or adult features?

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 separate women-- one for dirty sex (treated with disrespect) and a 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 extreme complexity in mind it is understandable that many women have had crossover success with male and female fans. Emma Stone is a notable fan favorite of both men and women. Cameron Diaz is another. Notably, both are commediennes, which always helps make overt sex appeal palatable to women. 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 obviously 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 appearance. Her crossover appeal to women might also lie in her classy, good-girl persona (prior to her 2013 visual album, anyway) 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!

victorious secret said...

Very interesting read!

Desi Maal said...
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Rubina Tender said...
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Ayesha 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.

Unknown said...

This is a very evil comment.
I hope you have changed your ways of thinking, considering this was written 9 years ago.

Everyone is beautiful. Regardless of surgery or not. We all can attain beautiful. One proportionately bad feature, doesn’t make a woman ugly.