All children are born with a small nose, round chubby cheeks, soft skin, big eyes that are set low on their faces, and a big round face. We call these features “neotenous” as they remind us of characteristics found near birth. As early as the 1940’s it was found by researchers that these features make infants appear cute and lovable and increase the likelihood of eliciting care behaviour from parents. Even cartoon characters directed at children take up similar morphology. If you’ve ever compared Mickey the famous mouse to a real life mouse, you will note the difference in ratios their eyes hold. Real mice have very tiny eyes when compared to a creature that is much more beloved.
Studies show that women who have big round eyes are seen as more attractive a trait that goes across cultures and ethnicities. Thus, the preference for the neotenic condition also persists throughout adulthood. The studies also found that a “halo effect” surrounds women with big eyes and that we naturally feel that they are warm, caring, honest, naïve, kind, agreeable, sociable and trustworthy. Mature faces with small facial features, on the other hand, elicit the opposite set of characteristics. We see people holding these more adult-like traits as physically strong, dominant, competent, experienced, independent, shrewd, and in control. Obviously, either condition can be advantageous depending on whether one wishes to be lead, or one wishes to lead. However, what the study does reveal is that neither condition is up to our willful choice, but rather has been decided for us through our inherent traits.
A very popular surgery for Asian women is to create the double eyelid which is called “blepharoplasty.” Asian people lack the fold or eyelid crease and so their eyes are narrowed and oval in appearance. The surgery adds a second fold or crease in the eyelid from an eyelid without a crease, producing a rounder westernized eye. This cosmetic surgery is the most popular among Asian women, even more so then breast augmentation showing just how strong neoteny is rooted in our nature.