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Changing standards and perception of male beauty

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By David Robson 23 June 2015 The plus-sized comedian Dawn French would be unlikely to describe herself as a sex symbol, but was she simply born at the wrong time?

Well, she would have been the paintbrush. Do standards of beauty change over time?

The myth of universal beauty

Or are some features universally accepted, across the centuries and across cultures, as being universally appealing? Has our notion of beauty always been the same? 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.

Yet the more biologists and psychologists have looked, the harder it has been to find a purely biological basis for beauty. View image of Credit: Getty Images Consider the apparently received wisdom that we prefer symmetrical, evenly balanced features. The scientific explanation seems sound: A slightly lopsided face should therefore be a sign of physical weakness — making them less appealing as the parent of your children.

A Society’s Perception of Beauty

The problem had been that many of the previous experiments had asked just a small number of subjects to rate different faces — making it easier for fluke results to jump out. When Stefan Van Dongen at the University of Antwerp conflated the results in a large meta-analysis, he found the effect almost disappears when you consider enough people. In fact, facial symmetry may not even say much about your health. Although previous research had found some evidence for the idea, a 2014 study took 3D scans of nearly 5,000 teenagers and quizzed them about their medical history.

It found that those with the most symmetrical features had been no fitter than the others. View image of The deeper you look, the harder it is to define beauty Credit: Again, the rationale was sound: In some places, feminine-looking men rule over their masculine counterparts Yet most studies had only examined Western societies.

When Isabel Scott at Brunel University, and colleagues, decided to cast their net wider — across communities in Asia, Africa, South America and Russia, they found a variety of preferences. Getty Images The same goes for body shape. And although an hourglass figure in women, and men with broad, V-shaped shoulders tapering at the waist, are admired in most places, the ideal extremes depend on the society. Where starvation is a risk, heavier weight is more attractive Perhaps our choice of mate needs to be flexible, so we can choose the best partner based on our current circumstances.

  1. This added level of pressure distracts young people from more important things in life. Although previous research had found some evidence for the idea, a 2014 study took 3D scans of nearly 5,000 teenagers and quizzed them about their medical history.
  2. But is cosmetic surgery an evolution of beauty, a new way of self-expression, and rebirth of identity?
  3. In August 2015, South Korea was found to have the highest ratio of people who underwent cosmetic surgery in the world. By David Robson 23 June 2015 The plus-sized comedian Dawn French would be unlikely to describe herself as a sex symbol, but was she simply born at the wrong time?

By the same token, someone who faces higher risk of illness will be more primed to value the signs that signal good health — like facial symmetry — compared to those who are relatively safe from infection. When dominance is valued, meanwhile, women may also prefer men with squarer chins — and higher testosterone. Getty Images So although our changing standards and perception of male beauty of beauty may seem ethereal and timeless, they may just be the direct product of our immediate circumstances.

In this way, tastes for certain types of people could spread throughout a population, shaping our norms for what we consider beautiful. The researchers used a dating website that allowed users to rate random people. After they had made up their mind, some users were shown the average score from other visitors. This is despite the fact that it was completely anonymous — there was no benefit to going with the status quo.

It is easy to imagine how this kind of herd behaviour has benefited certain celebrities. On a smaller scale, you can achieve similar effects simply by being seen with people who you could potentially couple off with, such as members of the opposite sex.

Others will assume that you are already a hit, and follow suit. Our attraction is also shaped by familiarity: 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.