Are people today less attractive than their ancestors?

Science and Health

An Australian anthropologist claims that our faces are “becoming more and more inferior” and names, among the culprits for this, the modern diet, sleep patterns, and light exposure habits.

Humans are becoming uglier – and it has nothing to do with aging, claims a plastic surgeon and expert in facial surgery, who explained the theory of why people become less and less attractive from generation to generation. The surgeon says that some of the reasons for this are related to the modern diet and changing sleep patterns.

Shafi Hassan, an anthropologist and engineer who founded Sydney-based facial aesthetics consultancy QOVES, answered this question on TikTok and in a recently released YouTube short.

The need for an explanation arose after a viewer asked why old high school yearbooks had “so many attractive people… was it something in the water?”. In the caption of the video, Hassan explained: “The average person’s face is becoming increasingly inferior due to modern diets, sleep patterns, pollutants and light exposure habits that create greater inequality between the ‘attractive’ and the ‘unattractive’.”

At the beginning of the video, he asks if anyone has wondered why teenagers or high school students in the 1950s look “so much older” than teenagers and high school students look today. Shown a photo of an attractive old-school student, he pointed to his ‘defined’ gonion (apex of the lower jaw) and his ‘projecting’ zygoma (cheekbone).

He explains: “There are several theories as to why this is so, but the theory that makes the most sense, at least to me, is presented in the book Contemporary Orthodontics by the American orthodontist William Proffit and his colleagues who use what is known as the functional matrix hypothesis. Their theory states that facial development depends on the forces you exert on the upper and lower jaw, which are the two features that tend to define a face as ‘nice’ or ‘attractive.'” Hassan claims that the tongue or “other forces” may affect the development of the jaw, “pushing it down or out” and causing the new bone to grow in.

He adds and gives an example of how an infection in the sinuses of a little girl, whom he shows in the video, affected the growth of her lower jaw. He said a long-term sinus infection had affected the growth of her lower jaw because she was breathing through her mouth and not keeping it closed enough to “develop properly”.

At the end of the video he said, “With 70 percent of the Western world having some kind of malocclusion or receding gums, something like hers, this is a very good explanation for why faces become less and less attractive as time goes by.” “Malocclusion” is the term used to describe a condition where the teeth don’t line up perfectly, while “gingival recession” occurs when your gum tissue recedes and exposes more tooth space.

About 22% of people worldwide suffered from a level 2 malocclusion (overbite), the Colgate company previously published, citing a global study published by the Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics.

His hypothesis also suggests that the way we use our mouths—and the food we put in them—affects the development of our jaws.

Maybe it’s photo quality?

The video received more than 2.3 million views on YouTube and another 3.2 million on TikTok. Some viewers of the video were not convinced and claimed that it was “fashion, photography quality, and factors such as cigarette smoking” that made previous generations look older than their age and incredibly handsome. “It’s worth noting that everyone looks better on a film camera compared to a mobile phone camera. It brings out the features and makes the face look more defined,” wrote one in response.

“People are definitely not getting uglier. You haven’t seen enough old photos if you believe that,” wrote another, with a YouTube user adding: “Exactly lol, I actually think it’s the opposite. We’re just getting prettier.” A third person offered an alternative theory: “It’s a beauty bias. Photos of ugly people are less likely to be seen/published compared to their more attractive counterparts.”

Another commenter referred to the claim that the children of the past look older than those of today: “They don’t look older, they have children’s faces, but they have an older haircut.” Another viewer agreed: “They look older because they have hair and clothing styles that we associate with grandparents, so they automatically look older.” Another suggested changing their hairstyle to a contemporary hairstyle and seeing how the “maturity effect” would disappear.

Another person tried to find another explanation though, saying: “One thing people don’t think about this is diet. Your jaw gets a lot stronger if your diet consists of whole meat, whole vegetables, whole fruit, etc. Things you have to chew with force. A lot of people switched the best home cooking to softer and more processed foods and snacks and it does its job.”

The New York Post reported that at least one fellow expert agreed with Hassan’s theory, writing: “I practice dentistry and this is absolutely accurate.”