Your nose. Sometimes it’s in the center of your face, sometimes it gets in the way of a passionate kiss and other times it’s in your neighbours business, but that doesn’t make it any less significant in how it influences your face.
If you look at a skull, what should be the nose is actually a cavity. The nose is not defined by bone like our features but instead by cartilage and soft tissue. It’s one of the main reasons why rhinoplasty is such a common, and relatively minimally invasive procedure, but that doesn’t mean getting the proportions right is easy.
The Role of the Maxilla
The entire nasal region, lies on the maxilla (upper jaw) and is the first thing we need to look at to understand the role it plays. Here’s where this whole discussion on mewing comes into play. The skull isn’t one solid piece of bone but a combination of many pieces joining together like a puzzle. The regions where they meet each other are called sutures and theres a prominent one that joins the maxilla and browbone.
The concept of mewing suggests that consistent force from our tongues on the upper palate of the mouth (which is essentially the maxilla) can very slowly push the maxilla outwards. Mewing does hold some scientific merit in theory and its been found time and time again, children who don’t mouth breathe and rest their tongues on the roof of their mouths, provide sufficient force and support to desirably shape the maxilla outwards.
An outward growing maxilla is important because it’s essentially your midface, influencing the appearance of your cheekbones and eye socket (orbital bone). A recessed maxilla simply won’t provide the physical bone support to help the soft fleshy cartilage grow outwards and into a desirable shape.
A well proportioned face can be split into 3 thirds, from trichion to glabella, glabella to subnasale, subnasale to menton. The glabella is understood to be the beginning of one’s forehead. The angle the nose makes with the forehead is called the naso-frontal angle and is within 115-130 degrees (Becker rhinoplasty center). In general more obtuse angles look better on women and more acute ones on men.
This shouldn’t be confused with the nasofacial angle which is a measure of how well your nose sits in relation to the chin and glabella, normally within 30-40 degrees. If the nasofacial angle is too large, then it’s more than likely that the nose protrudes too far from the face or the opposite vice versa.
Nose projection as shown in this diagram is measured using Goode’s Method which is simply a ratio of horizontal projection to vertical length of the nasal structure itself, normal ranges are 0.55-0.60
There’s also the nasomental angle. Anatomically, the chin is referred to as the mental region and so the nasomental measurement determines the angle of the nose in relation to the chin.
There’s also additional criteria rhinoplasty surgeons would consider before operating such as the relationship of the lips; where the upper one should be 4mm behind the nasomental line and 2mm behind at the lower lip. Or columellar show which determines how much of your nose interior is exposed from the side.
However, the biggest differences caused by Eurocentric beauty standards comes from the nasolabial angle which is a measure of how upturned or downturned the tip of one’s nose and nostrils are. This ranges between 90-120 degrees with more obtuse angles being preferred in women and more acute ones in men. This angle is what gives the impression of the ski slope button nose that the majority of rhinoplasty patients are striving for.
Case Study: Ideal Nose Projection
Now thats a lot of very technical information that’s difficult to remember but it will help with breaking down the following 2011 study on Nasal Tip Projection and Facial Attractiveness by the American Rhinological society.
Some caveats to note with this study: there are differences in nose shapes by ethnicities, whereas this study specifically looks at one aspect of the overall shape i.e. projection. For this reason, the study was done with only Caucasian women and is performed in the west, so its safe to assume they’re following the eurocentric standard of beauty when evaluating the nose.
Features from different test subjects were morphed together while keeping the nose the same to test its influence on the face. Nose projection measurements were taken using 6 different methods. The Goode method mentioned earlier was one of the 6. The image below references the parts of the face that were changed to match the change in nasal projection and shape.
The results were ranked with the most unattractive faces rated on the top and the most attractive at the bottom. It is important to note that these are morphs of different features and these faces don’t actually exist, although people that look similar to them definitely do in reality. The study found that the Goode method of measurement was better at predicting ideal nose ratios as it took into account total nose length and total face height.
All of the voted attractive women had an ideal mentocervical angle which is a measure from your chin to your glabella, whereas the unattractive morphs had recessed chins and less prominent jaws which did not line up with the glabella. The participant with the lowest mentocervical angle actually got the highest mark, whereas the participant with the greatest angle in the attractive group got the lowest. If anything this study highlights the importance of the jaw in making the nose and not the other way around as the mentocervial angle is more dependant on jaw growth.
However some limitations of the study exist. The unattractive group do not have clear skin whereas the attractive group does, similarly the unattractive group have higher perceived body fat percentages due to their jaws being less prominent than the attractive group. Controlling for these characteristics would be difficult but they present confounding effects that would definitely influence overall facial attraction as clear skin and a lean face are universal health indicators, even if in a limited group of Caucasian test subjects.
A separate study 2014 study found that attractiveness increased the closer the nose was to the center of the face. Straight, aligned noses supports our understanding of human attraction being in favour of facial symmetry.
Case Study: Ideal Nose Averageness
As the nose projection deviates away from the population average ratios of 0.55-0.6 for Goode and the 5 other methods, facial attractiveness goes down. Which makes sense, as averageness is a universal beauty standard that transcends race and colour in human beauty. The less ‘odd’ (for lack of a better word) one’s features are the more conventionally attractive they are to a larger majority.
Vogue’s Gao Qizhen
Vogue’s selection of model Gao Qizhen (Tin Gao) has caused a lot of controversy in China. Many were quick to criticise Vogue for their choice in casting her as a representation of China,
“I feel offended by the Vogue’s aesthetics,” wrote a netizen, questioning why fashion brands always promote the stereotype of Asians (small eyes, pie-shaped face) while picking (generally recognized) beautiful or handsome faces of Westerners.
“I personally am kind of done with ‘unusual’ beauty. It’s all gone a bit too far into disturbing territory now. Interesting? Yes. Beautiful? No. Bring back the classic beauties, please. They exist in all races,” wrote another.
The issue lies in how unique her features are. For instance her alar width (the width of the nose base) is almost 2 standard deviations away from the population average for Chinese citizens. As alar width is proportional to inter-canthal distance (how far apart the eyes are), her features seem to appear warped outwards which many feel as wrongly exoticising the Chinese stereotype. Her face exhibits high levels of neoteny, much more so than the average Chinese person, who already as a race have the highest levels observed. Neoteny, in short, is the concept of retaining juvenile features through maturation such as a flat nose bridge and maxilla as seen with her. This further distorts her nose into looking incredibly flat and disproportionate to her round face which again, exotifies the Chinese stereotype.
Although beauty standards are slowly moving away from eurocentrism, feature averageness is still the largest determinant of facial attractiveness. As Vogue tries to change the standard it’s met with criticism for doing so in a culturally insensitive way, especially when other editorials chose conventionally attractive Asian models.