That health and beauty are linked is not in doubt. But it comes as something of a surprise that who is perceived as beautiful depends not only on the health of the person in question but also on the healthiness of the country she lives in.
This, though, is the conclusion of a study just published in Biology Letters by Urszula Marcinkowska of the University of Turku, in Finland, and her colleagues–for Ms Marcinkowska has found that men in healthy countries think women with the most feminine faces are prettiest whereas those in unhealthy ones prefer a more masculine look.
Ms Marcinkowska came to this conclusion by showing nearly 2,000 men from 28 countries various versions of the same female faces, modified to look less or more feminine, and thus to reflect the effects of different levels of oestrogen and testosterone. Oestrogen promotes features, such as large eyes and full lips, that are characteristically feminine. Testosterone promotes masculine features, such as wide faces and strong chins.
As the chart below shows, the correlation is remarkable–and statistical analysis shows it is unconnected with a country’s wealth or its ratio of men to women and thus the amount of choice available to men. The cause, though, is unclear.
Previous studies have shown that women with feminine features are more fertile. A preference for them is thus likely to enhance a man’s reproductive success. Ms Marcinkowska speculates that testosterone-induced behaviours like dominance, which might be expected to correlate with masculine faces even in women (they certainly do in men), help in the competition for resources needed to sustain children once they are born. But why that should be particularly important in an unhealthy country is unclear.
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