The New Male Beauty

“High testosterone is about prominent chins, deep-set eyes, heavy brows, full head of hair and strong features,” Dr. Pearlman said. “That’s the caveman that could inseminate you and procreate.”

But according to Leonard Lee, a Columbia University professor who has written about physical attractiveness, recent research has indicated that women are now finding common features of the New Male Face—like big smiles, smaller chins and a wider distance between the two eyes—more compelling.

“Large eyes, for example, are a ‘neotenous’ cue, one people associate with babies and that elicits female nurturance,” Dr. Lee said.

In other words, perhaps in parallel to their own filler frenzy (see Jonathan Van Meter’s 2008 cover story on the New New Face in New York magazine), women have literally become attracted to men who look like babies. Is this what feminism has wrought?

“Maybe the guys in their 20s are now the first children of children of divorce, and so maybe that is when fathers started getting more involved, and does that make them softer and more thoughtful?” theorized Ms. Hiller, the casting director. “Or maybe the lines of men and women are getting very blurred. Guys have just started becoming increasingly more approachable.”

 

Twilight of Brad Pitt

Andrea Oliveri, the editorial projects director at Details magazine, books the magazine’s cover boys, along with the magazine’s editor, the himself slightly baby-faced Dan Peres, 37. But her job has changed recently, she said. In order to keep up with Hollywood’s hyper-metabolism, Ms. Oliveri, 33, spends her days cruising teen blogs and fan sites to find the new Zac Efronites. Ms. Oliveri got the original Mr. Efron for the cover of the magazine’s January ’08 issue. “I can’t give you figures, but it did very well,” she said.

According to Ms. Oliveri, it’s not evolutionary biology but the Hollywood factory that’s responsible for cranking out, Stepford-like New Male Beauties. The projects engender these stars, not the other way around. “High School Musical was successful not because Zac Efron was in it, but Zac became famous as a result of the huge phenomenon that is High School Musical,” she said. “I mean you didn’t know who Rob Pattinson was a year ago—you never even heard his name! And now he’s this phenomenon as a result of Twilight.”

What if the studios, growing tired of the whopping salaries, conflicting schedules and odd caprices of actors with “character,” decided to resurrect the trusty old system of interchangeable parts: an army of look-alike, antiseptically handsome boys to be inserted into this action flick or that romantic comedy? (One wonders, also, if this is a look with legs; will we be left with a troupe of out-of-work baby-faced actors in their 40s?)

“The Brad Pitts and the Clive Owens aren’t necessarily the ones bringing people into theaters,” Ms. Oliveri said. “You look at the Star Treks and the Twilights, and I think Hollywood has realized that it’s the formula that works, not necessarily the individual in it.”

A prime example is The Hangover, which doesn’t have a single star actor, and at press time had grossed nearly $153 million. Meanwhile, Sony Pictures’ adaptation of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, with Mr. Pitt set to star and Steven Soderbergh to direct, was scrapped this week due to an unsatisfactory script.

Ms. Oliveri traced the whole thing back to Spider-Man, when Tobey Maguire threatened to pull out of the franchise and the studio cavalierly prepared to replace him with Jake Gyllenhaal. Mr. Maguire eventually came to his senses, but …

“I think people realized that at the end of the day, if it’s written well, and directed well, and marketed right, then it’s going to work,” Ms. Oliveri said.

Dr. Lee, the Columbia professor, further suggested that the rise of (what else) the Internet, which allows big studios to better track the audiences’ likes and dislikes, may be in part responsible for this army of light-eyed, interchangeable drones. 

“New media helps measure how successful a company’s marketing actions are, so the studios might say, ‘Who are the most popular people now?’” said Dr. Lee. “‘And let’s try to replicate it versus building up the new Robert De Niro.’”

And the New Male Beauty is spreading, inevitably, beyond Hollywood. Dr. Pearlman’s nonfamous patients have begun to refer to Mr. Efron’s face as their ideal; Dr. Constantinides’ clients have begun requesting noses and chins that make them look less manly.

“Fifteen years ago, when men came in, they absolutely wanted to maintain that rugged look, which meant that higher bridge and stronger features, but now they want a softer look,” he said. “Our culture is leaning towards a more empathetic man who can understand a woman’s feelings, and that comes out in new facial features.”

ialeksander@observer.com