No Country for Old Men: How Our Idea of Male Attractiveness is Evolving

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You’ve heard of it. The old double standard that women become less attractive as they age, while their male counterparts become increasingly so. It’s been one of the primary drivers for the historical imbalance between the number of women versus the number of men who seek out cosmetic treatments. But what if I told you that this idea could be on its way out — maybe even gone for good in another generation or so?

This idea struck me recently when I stumbled up on a blog post from 2011 by Lisa Wade, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology at Occidental College. In the post, Dr. Wade screenshots two groups of photos from an internet search for “woman face” and “man face.” As she notes, the women’s faces all look similarly young, “girlish,” she writes, hence representing what society idealizes, values, and considers “acceptable” for the female face.

The collection of men’s pictures returned in the search, however, are very different. She describes them as “interesting, weird, wizened, humorous, and more,” which sends a very different message about how we see and accept the male face — at least how we saw it back in 2011.

So I wondered: What do you get if you do that same Google search today? Turns out you get a similar result for women, but a different representation for men. While there are still some quirky looking faces that my search returned, many are much more youthful-looking and not nearly as varied as they were five years ago. Could it mean that what we see as the ideal appearance for men is becoming more homogenized? Maybe so. It certainly supports the theory that our idea of male “attractiveness” is evolving. If we are regularly exposed to more youthful images of men, then we will also eventually begin to evaluate our personal reflections by that standard.

By no means is this a scientific study, but it does suggest that we may be becoming more conditioned to see the male face in a different light. (Sorry John Wayne, but old and wrinkled isn’t as handsome or distinguished as it used to be.) If you’re a guy who’s a sharp dresser and prides himself on staying fit, you may be more inclined to say “no thanks” to the heavy brow and deep lines that may show up down the road.

And, brother, there’s nothing wrong with that.


Article by
Shrewsbury Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon