Sitting in my hairdresser’s chair, after the small talk had been dispensed with, the request was always the same: “Could you cut it below my jaw, please, because of my robot head?”

My square face has long been a defining characteristic, for years a source of embarrassment to be covered up at all costs. So scientific research that was revealed recently really struck home.

Researchers at Australia’s University of New South Wales found that, in a study which asked volunteers to look at 17,000 passport photographs, people with square faces, or a high face-width-height ratio (FWHR) – the distance between the cheekbones divided by the distance between the mid-brow and the upper lip - were more likely to be perceived as aggressive. Those with oval shaped faces were judged as placid or meek.

OVAL: Kate Winslet
Oval faces have a narrow forehead and jaw and are widest at the cheekbones. A study from Carnegie Mellon and Princeton universities found that people assume those with oval-shaped faces are extroverted and outgoing. In the same study, facial characteristics usually found on oval face shapes – prominent cheekbones and high eyebrows – were associated with friendliness and honesty
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The people in the study judged more men as aggressive between the ages of 27 and 33, and women between 34 and 61 – possibly, the researchers said, because men with aggressive features ended up in jail, skewing the ratio to women in later life.

At 43, I fall, um, squarely, into this demographic, although it is an issue I’ve been aware of since I was 11, when a boy at my school told me I had a face shaped like a rugby ball.

On an unconscious level, perhaps I felt unfeminine. Whatever the case, it hurt. After that, I went to every effort to disguise my face shape, whether by growing my hair long or avoiding facing the camera full on when having my picture taken. Later, I used brown contour along my jawline to try to detract attention (it didn’t work).

My strong jaw comes from my paternal grandmother – perversely, my immediate family all have narrow faces. “I wish I had your triangle face,” I’d moan to my brother growing up. “I want your square face,” he’d reply.

SQUARE: Tom Cruise
Square faces are angular with a wide forehead and jaw. Researchers from the University of New South Wales analysed over 17,000 faces and found that squarer faces are perceived to be more aggressive, possibly because they’re seen as an indicator of physical strength. “Young men have a more square face shape than women, so it could be that we associate square faces with more aggressive characteristics, even though that’s inaccurate,” says DeBruine.
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I didn’t realise at the time, but there were scientific reasons for us wanting to switch.

A broader face can be a marker of high testosterone exposure in the womb, and studies show we associate it not only with aggression but leadership and power too – for men, at any rate.

A study of 55 male CEOs of publicly traded Fortune 500 businesses found those with a wider face relative to its height performed better financially than CEOs with narrower faces. Meanwhile, hockey players with wider faces have been shown to spend more time in the penalty box fighting.

Research at the University of Colorado Boulder examining the 2010 World Cup found the ratio and width of the footballers’ faces predicted the number of goals scored, and even capuchin monkeys with wider faces have been found to hold a higher rank in their group’s hierarchy.

Square faces aren’t the only ones subjected to scrutiny. Those with oval faces have been found to be more friendly. American research on hundreds of small claims court cases found those with a baby face – more rounded, with bigger eyes and foreheads – were less likely to be found at fault.

ROUND: Ed Sheeran
We assume those with round faces are more approachable and warmer than those with narrow or angular faces. “There’s been a lot of research into ‘baby faces’; we perceive younger-looking faces to be less dominant,” says DeBruine. A 2002 study in the journal Political Psychology found that politicians with more baby-like features were regarded as more honest – but were also assumed to be less competent.
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“From an evolutionary perspective square faces meant breadth and therefore a larger surface area that could withstand attacks from animals and other humans,” explains psychologist Dr Sheri Jacobson, co-founder of Harley Therapy.

But what about women? “A woman with the same characteristics might not have been seen as so appealing. More attention would have been paid to features that reflected fertility and the ability to bear and raise healthy children – physically that would have included her breasts and hips,” she says. “We all still instinctively rush to conclusions about people’s appearances, but we are more accepting of our natural born qualities these days and somewhat less judgemental about others.”

However, while we may be hard wired to associate certain facial characteristics with behavioural traits, many dispute the idea these characteristics have a correlation to people’s true selves.

The snap judgments we make based on people’s face shapes aren’t backed by evidence, says Dr Lisa DeBruine, who runs the Face Research Lab in the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow. “Research shows we make judgments based on people’s faces all the time, and everyone agrees a face looks ‘aggressive’ even if it doesn’t correlate with their behaviour,” she says. “We know these social perceptions of different faces exist, but they don’t make sense.”

While I wouldn’t describe myself as aggressive, I’m also not “placid or meek” and do have a tendency to lash out when I’m stressed or when learner drivers make me late. That said, as a self employed writer I have never aspired to any form of leadership. My husband says my square jaw makes me “unique and beautiful”.

Indeed, if those of us with square faces are considered more aggressive, is this really such a bad thing?

HEART: Naomi Campbell
Heart shaped faces have a wider forehead, prominent cheekbones and a narrow chin. And if you have one, you’re in luck – they are the most ‘mathematically beautiful’ faces, according to one study. Scientists at the Temple University in Philadelphia analysed the most desirable facial proportions in 2017 and found that having cheekbones as wide as your eyebrows is the most “harmonious, balanced and attractive” of all face shapes.
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Perhaps the more important message in all this is that aggression has been considered less appealing in women than in men - a stereotype which may break down as debates about gender bias continue. Looking like I mean business might work in my favour. “In a world where we are constantly battling unconscious bias, if a square face is perceived to be more assertive and add authority, it may be an asset,” says Dr Thuvarahan Amuthalingam, an aesthetic doctor and GP at Dr Derme clinic.

Two years ago, in one of my most radical gestures, I had my long hair cut short – not in spite of my robot head, but because of it. Afterwards, I felt liberated. My hair has now grown out slightly, but still exposes the square face I was once so desperate to hide. Rather than balk at the prospect of looking different, I relish it – whether I look aggressive or not.

The Daily Telegraph

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