Of all the qualities that give an attractive person an edge, here’s one you’ve likely overseen: the limbal ring, the dark circle around iris. The limbal ring is the line that separates the colored part of the eye from the white (the sclera).
It’s completely unconscious, the way we all judge others’ limbal rings. In the 20 milliseconds or so it takes to assess a person’s attractiveness, you’re factoring in the size and shade of the limbal rings. The bigger and blacker they are, the more attractive the eyes. People with the prettiest eyes have the most prominent limbal rings.
This, anyhow, is the upshot of a recent study by Darren Peshek and his colleagues at the Department of Cognitive Science at the University of California at Irvine. The researchers showed volunteers eighty pairs of male and female faces. Each pair of faces was identical except the eyes: one had dark limbal rings and the other had no limbal rings. The volunteers were asked to pick which face was more attractive and to indicate their degree of preference.
Men thought women with the dark limbal rings were more attractive than those without, and women thought the same of men with dark limbal rings. Men and women also judged faces of the same sex as more attractive when the limbal rings were large.
Looking into my baby daughter’s eyes, I see the blue of her iris is framed by a thick black limbal ring. The contrast makes the white of her eyes so white they look blue. The very young have the thickest, darkest limbal rings.
Which is exactly the point. The limbal ring serves as an honest signal of youth and health-desirable qualities, reproductively speaking. The ring fades with age and with medical problems. It’s thickest from infancy through the early twenties. A thick, dark limbal ring may make us appear younger. It makes the whites of the eyes whiter. This might be why so many people think light eyes are so sexy: the limbal ring, when present, shows up more.
There are so many ways to fake the appearance of youth. You can wear makeup and wigs and get tummy tucks, plastic surgery, Botox, and boob jobs.
But a fake limbal ring?
Yes, this too. Long ago, Japanese schoolgirls discovered the edge a limbal ring can give you by wearing “limbal ring” contact lenses. They make the eye look bigger and more defined. And while you’re eyeing these contacts, you might as well buy a set that expands your pupils too. Big, dark, dilated pupils signal emotional arousal. They, too, act on the unconscious favorably.
The limbal ring is well-named. Limbis means border or edge, and it’s related to limbic, meaning emotion or drives. The limbal ring, seen from inches away, is an intimacy zone. Don’t flirt until you see the whites of their eyes.
Earlier this month I was sent a new study that found that there’s yet another bonus of being blonde, and this one is unexpected: Blondes get paid more than women with any other hair color. This surprised me, and so I read further.
David Johnston, an economist at Queensland University in Australia, scoured a database of 12,686 Caucasian women ages 25 and older living in the United States. The database identified the natural hair color of each woman [light blonde (1.6%), blonde (19.0%), light brown (21.8%), brown (51.2%), black (2.4%) and red (4.0%)], their hourly wages, their marital status, their husbands’ hourly wages, and their education level. Johnston controlled for height, weight, eye color, education, and other variables.
Contrary to the (silly) perception that blondes are dumb, the data reveal that they have as much education as women of any other hair color. But, interestingly, they earn 7 percent more than women with any other hair color — the market equivalent of an extra year of education. (For the same job that pays darker-haired women $50,000 yearly, blondes would get paid $53,500). No other hair color but blond appears to influence a woman’s salary.
Blondes in the marriage market also appear to get a monetary boost. The data show that blondes marry men who earn 6 percent more on average than the husbands of women with other hair colors. Blondes appear to attract and marry higher-earners. Or wealthier men appear to marry blondes.
Johnston speculates tepidly on the reasons why blondes appear to have an advantage wage-wise. Skin color is one. Although all the women were Caucasian, natural blondes may have fairer skin, associated with countries with a strong work ethic (Northern European).
More plausibly, he cites attractiveness as a paycheck-plumper. Blondes may be perceived as prettier, and beauties are known to get paid more than plain Janes. Even if they aren’t inherently more beautiful, blondes, boosted by public perception, may be more confident, social, and therefore have better communication skills. They may be (wrongly) perceived as being more productive and valuable as employees.
What Johnston doesn’t break down are the types of occupations in which the women are employed. Among waitresses, dancers, Fox newscasters, and Mary Kay saleswomen, perhaps blond hair is a bonus. But do blond doctors and librarians, physicists and writers really earn more than their darker-haired colleagues? I hope not.