Most women admit, they look better if they use a little make up. A brush of mascara or a dab of lipstick seems to do wonders to brighten up our faces. Now with the advent of computer technology, researchers have been able to test why subtle changes in color make women not only appear more beautiful but demonstrate what cues us that someone’s face appears more masculine or feminine.
Psychology Professor Richard Russell from Gettysberg College has recently published a study that compares how the contrast of light and dark in photos of female and male faces contributes to our perception of attractiveness and gender. Dr. Russell found that the main difference between male and female faces is that female faces have greater contrast between the eyes and lips as viewed against the rest of the skin on their faces.
To test this, Dr. Russell took computerized photos of the same androgynous face which he titled “Illusion of the Sexes”. (he actually won 3rd prize in the 2009 optical photo contest with these photos) http://thegrandnarrative.wordpress.com/2009/05/23/the-illusion-of-sex/ He lightened the areas around the eyes and mouth on one photo and then on the exact same photo darkened those same areas. The “woman’s” face was also made lighter overall as women, regardless of race. tend to have lighter skin tones than men. Even though each photo was in reality the same face, Dr. Russell found that changing the contrast in these different areas of the face make people perceive it is female or male.
For centuries, women have been applying mascara and eyeliner to emphasize their eyes, and lipstick which darkens their mouths to appear more attractive. Until now, there was no science to explain why we feel it improves women’s appearance. The wearing of make up exaggerates the contrast around the eyes and mouth and not wearing make up makes a female face appear more masculine and in our society, less attractive. Conversely, when men wear make up we think they look less masculine and, for hetereosexual women, are less attractive.
In a slightly different vein, another researcher, Tony Little at University of Sterling, who also studies the human face and visual perception of attractiveness found that facial symmetry is another factor in determining how masculine or feminine a person appears. Dr. Little’s group found in their study that symmetrical male faces appear more masculine and symmetrical female faces appear more feminine. Make up can assist in creating the illusion of facial symmetry. One method is using colored make up pencils to make eyebrows or lips appear more even which creates a more “balanced” attractive face.
Dr. Russell points out that we are unaware of these differences but subconsciously people look for these cues to let us know which sex a person is and how attractive they are. Both these studies demonstrate how influenced we are visually but combine this with smell or the sound quality of a person’s voice it is easy to see how sexual attraction becomes amazingly complex to explain.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele can be read at http://www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles