Tag Archives: japanese faces

Average Beauty

If you have migrated multiple times in your life, you may have noticed a strange thing. The first time you end up in a new place, most people around you look positively weird. Ugly even. But slowly, after a year or two, you begin to find them more attractive. This effect is more pronounced if the places you are migrating from and to have different racial predominance. For example, if you migrate from the US to Japan, or from India to China. As usual, I have a theory about this strange phenomenon. Well, actually, it is more than a theory. Let me begin at the beginning.

About fifteen years ago, I visited a Japanese research institute that did all kinds of strange studies. One of the researchers there showed me his study on averaging facial features. For this study, he took a large number of Japanese faces, and averaged them (which meant he normalized the image size and orientation, digitally took the mean on a pixel-by-pixel basis). So he had an average Japanese male face and an average Japanese female face. He even created a set of hybrids by making linear combinations of the two with different weighting factors. He then showed the results to a large number of people and recorded their preference in terms of the attractiveness of the face. The strange thing was that the average face looked more pleasant and attractive to the Japanese eye than any one of the individual ones. In fact, the most attractive male face was the one that had a bit of female features in it. That is to say, it was the one with 90% average male and 10% average female (or some such combination, I don’t remember the exact weights).

The researcher went one step further, and created an average caucasian face as well. He then took the difference between that and an average Japanese face, and then superimposed the difference on an average face with exaggerated weights. The result was a grotesque caricature, which he postulated, was probably the way a Japanese person would see a caucasian for the first time.

This reminded me of the time when I visited my housemate’s farm in a small town in Pennsylvania – a town so small that the street in front the farm was named after him! I went with his parents to the local grocery store, and there was this little girl sitting in a shopping cart who went wide-eyed when she saw me. She couldn’t take her eyes off me after that. May be, seeing an Indian face for the first time in her life, she saw a similar caricature and got scared.

Anyway, my conjecture is that an averaging similar to what the Japanese researcher did happens in all of us when we migrate. First our minds see grotesque and exaggerated difference caricatures between the faces we encounter and the ones we were used to, in our previous land. Soon, our baseline average changes as we get more used to the faces around us. And the difference between what we see and our baseline ceases to be big, and we end up liking the faces more and more as they move progressively closer to the average, normal face.

Here are the average male and female faces by race or country. Notice how each one of them is a remarkably handsome or beautiful specimen. If you find some of them not so remarkable, you should move to that country and spend a few years there so that they also become remarkable! And, if you find the faces from a particular country especially attractive, with no prolonged expsosure to such faces, I would like to hear your thoughts. Please leave your comments.

[I couldn’t trace the original sources of these images. If you know them, please let me know — I would like to get copyright permissions and add attributions.]

There is more to this story than I outlined here. May be I will add my take on it as a comment below. However, the moral of the story is that if you consider yourself average, you are probably more attractive than you think you are. Than again, what do I know, I’m just an average guy. 🙂

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