The Differences in Mr Right and Mr Right Now’s Choice Of Women
Lately, I’ve encountered a lot of what’s called Butterface—as in, when a man’s date has “a fantastic body…but her face…”
And it’s genuinely surprised me. Because I’ve always assumed that The Face trumps The Body.
After all, our beloved’s face is what we are presented with continually—so we’d better like what we see, yes? When men share snapshots of their wives and fiance’s, they’re usually headshots, not bikini pix, right? And when lovers fall in love, the length of their future relationship and the depth of their love can be measured and predicted by how much time the women *and men* spend gazing into one another’s eyes—not at one another’s bodies—, right? Not only that, but facial beauty showcases health (past and future) and fertility *plus* expressions of commitment and love—right?
Right. Empirically, emphatically, right.
Yet a recent spate of Butterface Sightings—wherein wealthy men displayed their Body-By-Barbie/Face-By-Flicka (the horse, not the website) squeezes—has me questioning my long-held assumptions.
Is The Body As Important As The Face?
Clearly, most of us, whatever our sex or orientation, would rather not choose. Given the option for a face *and* body that are lovely to behold, who wouldn’t want both?
Research concurs. For instance, pretty much everyone, male and female, recognizes when we’re in the presence of an over-all “10”. And pretty much everyone expresses attraction to that winning combo, although most sagely choose a partner both immediately (as on dating sites) and for the long-term who *matches* rather than excels our own physical beauty.
Men in particular care that their mate is generally pleasing to behold. Even blind men who will *never* see their partners are known to enquire of others as to their date’s appearance. Beauty is not only a sexual attractant and health/fertility sign, after all; it’s also a marker of Status—status which puts men one-up or one-down compared to other men. And Men Seek Status in all things—most definitely including their partners. (Trophy wife, anyone?)
Sexy images that cater to The Male Ideal underscore the masculine preference for total beauty. Whoever saw a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model or Playboy centerfold with a perfect body and a fug mug? Call it airbrushing, call it what you will, these publications cater to their readers’ tastes. And their readers are mainly men whose tastes run to fantasizing over The Total Package. No trade-offs.
Yet I always assumed that if a trade-off *had* to be made, men would sacrifice the Fair Form for the Fair Face.
When Is The Body More Important Than The Face?
Trouble is, my assumption arises from predictable female—but not necessarily male— biases towards The Face and the Long-Term. I’m assuming men value Faces in the short- and long-term because *I* do. I’m assuming through my examples at the article’s start that we’re all aiming for long-term relationships, because that’s what *I’ve* aimed for.
Most women share my biases. New research shows that women tend to value The Face of a prospective partner —short-or long-term—more than The Body. And extensive evolutionary science has found that women tend to think of Flings and Affairs mostly when ongoing mateships are either not an option (Johnny doesn’t come marching home), or when our long-term objectives have already been met (we’ve got the husband and might now chance a Spare Rib).
Yet I’m committing mating-centrism by assuming men think like women. Indeed, as many Love Science articles have detailed (see beneath my signature), men’s Ms. Right and Ms. Right Now mating strategies run in tandem; both operate at the same time, nearly all the time, to various degrees in various men. And men use *different* markers for Which Woman Fits Which Category.
So, whether men value The Body over The Face should depend on whether they are in Short- or Long-Term Mating Mode…
And according to two articles—one so new, it’s not yet published,— that is indeed the case.
As Jaime Confer, Carin Perilloux, and David Buss found, men seeking long-term love –like women in general— value The Face first. But men anticipating Sex For Tonight are somewhat more swayed by The Body.
Specifically, men were told to assume they were either seeking a one-night stand *or* long-term love—and were then forced to choose whether to see *only* the prospective Miss’ Body or Face. One-night-standers elected to view The Body twice as often as long-termers (51% vs. 25%). Mr. Right Now also gave The Body substantially higher priority ratings.
Who The Man Is matters, too. Men who say they habitually pursue short-term relationships in real life place greater importance on The Body than men who think of themselves as more long-term kinda guys.
Evolutionarily, this makes sense: Men in short-term mode are operating from a Sex-Now/Progeny-Now inherited mating mentality where they are valuing signs of women’s *immediate fertility*, and these signs are readily conveyed by the woman’s hourglass shape. Is she already pregnant—however gorgeous her face? No go. Can she get pregnant right now? Let’s go.
And Mr Right uses a beautiful face to gauge women’s *ongoing reproductive value*: Can she get pregnant many times in the future, over the course of a long mateship? Let’s marry. (Some restrictions apply, see offer for details.)
Applying this to the real world, men—especially those in the One-Nighter habit— should be ready to pursue women with fantastic Bods (albeit usually with matching Faces) for short-term liaisons, and women with a pretty Face (with or without the corresponding Bod) for their long-term Choice. Right?
Maybe. This is just one study—one of the few of its kind, and important, but far from answering All The Questions. Even it shows that far more men value The Face than The Body, unless we’re talking very casual sex and Players. Even then, The Face tends to be always quite important.
So, if science shows that men in Ms.-Right-Now mode have only a slight to moderate preference for The Body above The Face, what’s with the Butterface Sightings? Are they exceptions that surprise *because* of their exceptional quality—or is something more going on? And how large can the Face-Body mismatch be, in general, before the mismatch is just too great?
So far, it seems no Body knows.
(Photo By Beercha (Flickr: Love is in the air) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
The author wishes to acknowledge the following scientists and sources:
David M. Buss, for his assistance with this article, and for his riveting presentation of what men (versus women) want—what happens when mates mismatch—and why, in The Evolution Of Desire – Revised Edition 4 .
Jaime Confer, Carin Perilloux, and David M. Buss, for their article, “More than just a pretty face: men’s priority shifts toward bodily attractiveness in short-term versus long-term mating contexts”. Soon to be published in the journal of EvolutionAnd Human Behavior.
All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D. and LoveScience Media, 2010, 2014