Nov. 13, 2005. 07:50 AM
Beauty, as it turns out, isn’t skin deep. A study at the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, has shown that attractiveness in females relates to the hormonal composition of blood.
Researchers found that men tend to be attracted to women who have high levels of estrogen, a naturally occurring sex hormone linked to fertility. The report also found that women with high estrogen levels had more feminine features, such as bigger eyes, fuller lips and smoother skin.
The researchers photographed 59 women between 18 and 25, who were wearing no makeup, and took a urine sample from each subject for hormone analysis. A group of men then rated the women in the photographs for health, femininity and attractiveness.
The results showed that men were most attracted to the women who tested for high levels of estrogen. Miriam Law Smith, who helped carry out the research, says men were, in effect, choosing the women best poised to bear children.
“From an evolutionary point of view, it would now make sense that men prefer feminine female faces because those are the women who have higher estrogen levels, and who are ultimately more fertile,” says Law Smith. “In our evolutionary past, men who favoured women with feminine features would be choosing the more fertile female, thus would have had more babies and be passing on more of their genes.”
The study also suggests cosmetics do much more than merely add a touch of colour to a woman’s face.
Law Smith believes women wear makeup to mimic the facial cues that allude to heightened fertility. A woman with low levels of estrogen, then, would be more likely to wear more makeup.
“What we think is happening here is that women are using makeup to cover up the cues of low fertility that would normally be found in the face,” she says.
It seems to work. In an alternate test, photographs were taken of the same women, this time wearing makeup. The rankings showed no correlation between beauty and estrogen levels. The women had successfully mimicked the facial fertility cues.
Law Smith has been asked repeatedly if the study will result in new beauty treatments.
The point of the experiment, she says, was not to find a way to enhance female beauty but to explore the workings of human attraction. She points out that while estrogen supplements have been known to clear up skin, they aren’t likely to give a developed woman more feminine features.
“We wouldn’t suggest that this research could implicate the use of estrogen supplements to improving women’s (attractiveness),” says Law Smith. “I would never recommend giving adults or adolescents estrogen in the hope that it would make them more attractive.”
That men are hardwired to be attracted to the women at the peak of fertility Ã³ an affinity that doesn’t lessen with men’s age Ã³ seems to paint a bleak picture for older women.
But Smith Law says the test shows only men’s initial reaction and doesn’t take into consideration the other elements that come into play when choosing a partner.
Interestingly, the phenomenon doesn’t appear to apply when the genders are switched.
“Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine-looking faces, but it’s different in terms of determining attractiveness because masculine men aren’t always found more attractive,” says Law Smith.
“Females tend to have a lot more variation on what they find attractive. A handsome, rugged man might ultimately not make a good father… Multiple motives contribute to female preference, whereas male preference, across all cultures and time, tend to favour the most feminine-looking females.”
Answer: The composite image of 10 women with high estrogen levels is the one on the left.
CHRISTOPHER HUTSUL – The TORONTO STAR
Nov. 13, 2005. 07:50 AM