After the youngest Kardashian sister admitted that she has benefited from temporary lip fillers, the internet has been abuzz with the #KylieJennerChallenge, as people all over the world are putting their lips to bottles and sucking in to create a fuller, plumper lip. Why is it that girls are interested in obtaining Kylie’s plump pout? Is it some sort of obsession with looking like a Kardashian, or is there more to it? Although the answer may be a little bit of both, there is indeed a psychological underpinning to the desire to obtain these features.
Facial features serve as a cue of attractiveness. A great deal of research on facial attractiveness tends to focus on symmetry, in which both sides of the face are proportional and perfectly mirror one another. Based on principles of evolutionary psychology, there are three major cues that underpin our “… biologically significant assessments of mate value: symmetry, averageness, and nonaverage sexually dimorphic features.”2 The latter are physical traits which differ between the sexes (such as reproductive organs). With regard to these features, men tend to prefer women with large eyes, small noses, small chins, narrow cheeks, high eyebrows, and large, full-lipped smiles. Other research makes note that large lips on women suggest a strong mating potential.5
Another facial feature linked to mate value, which is highlighted on Kylie Jenner’s face, is eyes. Women often choose to use eye liner or mascara to frame and exaggerate the size of their eyes. Large eyes are considered a baby-like or neotenous feature. Nobel Prize winning ethologist Konrad Lorenz introduced the idea that the physical features of infants will activate the innate desire in adults to take care of them.
Other researchers3 note that these characteristics, which imply “babyness”, differentiate infants from adults, and include such features as a large head relative to the body, large forehead and eyes, as well as protruding cheeks. Research has shown that adults show a preference for and make more positive evaluations of infant faces when compared to adult faces, with these positive evaluations of infants most pronounced amongst females. Still other work4 has shown that younger appearing adults are also more attractive than more mature appearing adults. In fact, younger individuals may be preferred because the baby-like features elicit positive caretaking responses from others.1
These standards of beauty appear to be largely universal; and being that people of all cultures exhibit the same preferences, it suggests that there is an evolutionary basis to attraction. Another celebrity who appears to have won the evolutionary jackpot: Angelina Jolie, with her large curved forehead, big eyes, and pronounced lips. So when someone shares the age old adage beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, you can respond, “No, it is in the face of the subject.”
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Dr. Marisa Cohen
Marisa, along with a colleague at St. Francis College, founded the Self-Awareness and Bonding Lab (SABL) in Fall 2014. Research has focused on the development of relationships throughout the life span, including factors influencing mate choice and peoples’ perceptions of what makes relationships survive and thrive. Her specific focus is on how various relationship configurations impact the satisfaction derived from them.
1Cunningham, M. R. (1986). Measuring the physical in physical attractiveness: Quasi-experiments on the sociobiology of female facial beauty. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(5), 925-935. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1685
2Fink, B., & Penton-Voak, I. (2002). Evolutionary psychology of facial attractiveness. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11, 154-158.
3Fullard, W., & Reiling, A. M. (1976). An investigation of Lorenz’s “babyness.” Child Development, 47, 1191-1193.
4Korthase, M. & Trenholme, I. (1982). Perceived age and perfective physical attractiveness. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 54, 1251- 1258.