By: Stephanie Riesenman for Uterus1
Brad Pitt’s desire to start a family and his attraction to Angelina Jolie may have an evolutionary explanation. New research suggests that the facial features Ms. Jolie is best known for – those full lips and big eyes – are linked to higher levels of the female hormone estrogen and are a sign of higher fertility.
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According to researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, their study is the first to demonstrate that female facial appearance is connected to reproductive health. Estrogen levels determine the development of facial features, and the more estrogen a woman has the healthier and more fertile she tends to be.
The link between female attractiveness and fertility was demonstrated by St. Andrews researcher Marian Law Smith. She and her team took photographs of 59 women who were between the ages of 18 and 25. Each woman was asked to provide a urine sample at exactly the same point in their menstrual cycles, so that the researchers could ascertain their levels of sex hormones. A different group of volunteers was shown the photographs of the women and was asked to rank all 59 for attractiveness and health, based on the pictures of their faces. Both male and female volunteers rated the faces of the women with the highest levels of estrogen as most attractive.
The study, as well as some sample photographs, was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences in November 2005.
Facial appearance in males and females diverges during puberty. The level of estrogen a woman has during puberty affects how much the bones of her face will grow as well as the texture of her skin. Higher estrogen levels cause the bones to grow less, particularly the nose and chin. Estrogen also leads to larger eyes in women along with fuller lips and fat deposition in the cheeks. The hormone is also the catalyst for a curvy figure – depositing fat on the hips and buttocks. In men, that Brad Pitt-like chiseled jaw is the result of testosterone. This male hormone causes men’s faces to grow larger and their jaw and brow bones to become more pronounced during puberty.
What Brad sees in Angelina’s face is similar across cultures. Studies have shown that men on average prefer women with fuller lips, a shorter jaw, and a smaller chin. Law Smith and her team suggest the link between estrogen and facial appearance may be the reason why men prefer feminine faces.
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“Women are effectively advertising their general fertility with their faces. Our finding could explain why men universally prefer feminine women’s faces,” said Law Smith in a university press release. “In evolutionary terms it makes sense for men to favor feminine fertile women, those that did would have more babies,” she added.
Hundreds of years ago, men may have adapted this screening tool to select a future mate. Or perhaps, in a Darwinian sense, the most “fertility fit” women adapted these facial characteristics to attract a man and ensure survival of their genes. For many of today’s women, putting their best face forward often means enhancing those estrogen-given facial features with a little bit of make-up. In the study, there was no relationship between facial appearance and estrogen levels in the women wearing make-up. Perhaps when it comes to assessing female fertility in the modern age, beauty really is only skin deep.
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