The Truth Behind Babyface

Have you recently been…

  • asked what grade you’re going into although you're 22?

  • carded at a PG-13 movie?

  • confused for the intern at work?

  • troubled buying age-appropriate clothes?

If you answered yes to any of these, you might have a babyface.

As someone who works with teenagers and has a babyface, I'm frequently counted in attendance as one of the students. We had a mismatch in numbers recently and I chimed in to say, “Did you count me?” which brought my coworker to laughing tears. He did.

So what exactly is the phenomenon of babyface? And is it something new?

Babyface is maintaining a young face, sometimes symmetrical, that does not appear to age as you do. It spans all different ages, genders, ethnicities, and races, and truly does what it says – makes your face look like a baby’s.

In a study released by Brandeis University professors Zebrowitz and Franklin, babyface-ness was analyzed questioning people’s competence, health, hostility, untrustworthiness, and attractiveness in both older and younger subjects. Unsurprisingly, people with a higher babyface were less hostile and more trustworthy, but they appeared about as competent and healthy as those with low babyface-ness. These questions were asked of both younger and older people, and in both groups the results were close to the same. While those of us with a younger-looking face may see it as a hassle and a problem, in actuality we may have the better end of the bargain. 

Upon judgment on first appearances, we are lucky to have our image of warmness, trustworthiness, and kindness. The innocence in our faces provides us a shroud of likability otherwise not granted to those endowed with a more mature, age-appropriate face. The phenomenon of a “first impression” is not new, stretching from ancient Greeks in 500 BCE to Mickey Mouse and gangsters in the 1930s. We make the call whether to trust someone or not in the blink of an eye.

Babyface only works to the advantage of the innocent, according to Eric Hehman of Ryerson University, “except when it is clear the person did the crime on purpose.” People struggle to equate babyface with doing wrong, so when someone breaks that mold the face can transform to a punchable face rather than innocent babyface. 

If you too look at least five years younger than your actual age, you are not alone. VH1 lists a variety of actors who kept their babyface throughout their career, including Ellen Page, Lucy Hale, and Dakota Fanning. These women hold strong roles in the entertainment industry, babyface and all. You've probably traded stories with fellow babyface survivors of times you were mistaken for the unaccompanied minor on the plane (as a teenager) or how surprised people are when you tell them you graduated college, like, years ago. The commonality of babyface is universal—just look around and you’ll see it.

Thousands of years ago, when humans started judging others based on appearance (some things never change), babyface began. Today it's a common phrase in pop culture and, if you're the bearer of babyface yourself, something you learn to laugh about and embrace. What's not to love about being perceived as trustworthy and kind? So while it doesn’t help to wear pigtails and chat loudly about Disney movies, babyface is actually a helpful tool in new social situations. Wear it strong and live life—as long as you aren’t carded to get in.

Feature photo by Tim Bish via Unsplash