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There’s an ugly colloquialism in the urban lexicon describing a woman with a hot, bangin’ physique, but a less-than-stellar mug: butterface. As in, “Damn, that waitress has a smoking bod … but her face.” It’s horrible, but it exists.
Now, a new study lends credence to the butterface phenomenon. Grad students Jaime C. Confer and Carin Perilloux, along with University of Texas at Austin psychology professor David M. Buss, showed 375 heterosexual college students an image of a person of the opposite sex with his/her head and body covered up. The individual in the photo was described as either a potential short-term fling or a longer-lasting partner. Each study participant then had a choice to make: Did they want to see the potential partner’s a) face, or b) physique? (Check out page 351 of the study to see the images they saw.)
The results were far from shocking: While women wanted to see their new man’s face, regardless of whether they were just hooking up or walking down the aisle, far more men elected to see their new girlfriend’s body (51 percent); 75 percent of male participants who were asked to choose a wife elected to see her face.
The authors blame the discrepancy on evolution. They say facial features in women, from large, baby-like eyes and pink cheeks to crow’s feet and sagging jowls, serve as reliable cues of youth and health to a potential father. So when a man is choosing a long-term partner to procreate with, he wants her to be young, firm and ready to ovulate (and, therefore, pop out babies) for years to come.
However, when babies are not the goal -- but a fun roll in the hay is -- the body takes on newfound importance. For example, if a woman is already visibly pregnant, she’s considered “taken” by the primitive male mind, and therefore unsuitable for a short-term romance.
Bottom line: A woman’s body typically provides information about her state of fertility, while her face offers insight into her long-term reproductive value.
What does this mean for women? If we’re gearing up for a night on the town with the goal of hooking a hottie, we should pad our bras and Spanx up our thighs … but our Match.com profile pic should feature exquisitely applied makeup and expertly styled hair? Actually, women can’t cry too much foul, as we’re just as guilty of making snap insta-judgments about men based on their looks. Research has shown that during ovulation, our brains light up over men with masculine features. (Think David Beckham.) During the other three weeks of our cycle, we tend to favor men with more feminine features who our brains believe would be more dedicated to future offspring. (Like Leonardo Dicaprio.)
Granted, the current study participants were in college, and still have a lot to learn about what matters most in a partner. Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, put a more positive spin on the results: “One possibility is that we judge people’s characters from their faces -- whether they are honest, kind and smart. These matter a lot more when you're married to someone than if you’re just having a one-night stand.”
What do you value more in a mate -- face or bod? Chime in below!