Lately, it seems you can’t toss a handful of birdseed into a newsstand without hitting a cover shot of Angelina Jolie. (Though why you’d want to throw birdseed into a newsstand is beyond me.) What is it, exactly, about the philanthropist-vixen’s face that makes her so alluring? In the name of science, I decided to investigate.
First, I visited Beautycheck, a German university-run site devoted to studying human facial attractiveness, and learned that the study of pretty people is one rife with socio-perceptual complications. For their long and involved study, scientists from Regensburg U. evaluated a bunch of hypotheses, including: “averageness is attractiveness,””attractive faces show a combination of signs of sexual maturity and babyfacedness,” and “attractive faces are symmetrical,” in addition to a couple of weirdly Aristotelian ones I won’t address here about whether beautiful people are more likely to be perceived as “good.”
Off the bat, it’s evident that Angie’s crazy alien eyes and outsized lips are anything but average, so I decided not to bother testing the first hypothesis. (Okay, so this wasn’t such a scientific investigation after all.) Next, I moved on to sexual maturity and babyfacedness. “Sexy” face characteristics are said to include suntanned skin, fuller lips, narrower eyebrows and higher cheekbones. Four gold stars for Ms. Jolie. “Babyfaced” characteristics include large, curved forehead (check), large, round eyes (check), round cheeks and small chin (not sure about these last two traits ). Although I don’t have the digital-mapping tools to rate her sexy/baby characteristics mathematically, it seems pretty clear that Angelina is more woman than girl, with a longer list of “sexy” traits than “babyfaced” ones.
Now for the most interesting part. If I had to guess where on the symmetry spectrum Ms. Jolie would fall (where, presumably, asymmetrical equals goony and symmetrical equals hot), I would put my money on the fact that her face would display a high degree of symmetry. But it turns out this isn’t necessarily the case. Using a symmetry-measuring software application, courtesy of symmeter.com, I tested two photos of Jolie—you have to use a pic in which the person faces perfectly straight ahead, which is trickier to find than you’d think—and found that the right side of her face is somewhat broader than the left, making the symmetrized (is that a word?) versions of her photos look like a starving Maggie Gyllenhaal and Sandra Bullock on steroids, respectively (see below).
Then, as a control, I uploaded a photo of myself. To my dismay, I actually found the symmetrized photo prettier than the real me. Go figure.
So what did we learn here? Well, human beauty may still be a mystery, but it’s kind of comforting to know that the most desired woman on the planet is lovely because she’s a little bit flawed. —Megan Miller