Variations in Anatomy - anyone know about this?

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  08 August 2005
Variations in Anatomy - anyone know about this?

It uccurs to me that we are often shown quite idealised forms in anatomy books. Although there are some studies on the differences between noses and eyes, they don't seem to be quite as far reaching as they could.

Also, people often crit work by saying "the face is wonky" or "there is an odd line on his chin". But when I keep my eyes and mind open whilst looking at people on the street or on the train I see all kinds of variation which would be laughed at if I painted it.

I guess that part of the problem is that 90% of the people we see on the TV and in magazines are idealised in some way - and the photos doctored as well.

There are some quite marked differences in the way that flesh folds in people around the world - particularly around the eyes.

Also, differences in the amount of fat or the age of a person can cause features to arise which arn't otherwise there (like creases and bends in the spine). There can be a lot of variety in the way that this happens.

For instance, I know people with no chin at all. They arn't particularly fat, they just have a small chin and flesh under it which means that there is no line there. I don't see many people painting chinless people.

I try to make sure that I represent a wide variety of body/face types in my work so I would be interested to know if there any good sources of information about the normal variation between people rather than just the similarities and how these variations are created - whether that be through lifestyle or genetics or a combination of the two.




There are wide extreems of height between the pygmees and the Dinka. Pygmees don't get much above 5 ft and it is thought that this is because it helps them to live in caves and other places where other people cant go.

The Dinka people of Africa average at over 6 ft (including women). This height is attributed to the need to keep cool (long thin legs=cool).

There are congenital characteristics such as dwarfism (see "significant Variatoins) and *blank* which can lead to people being very small. Whilst dwarfs have a "normal" size head, people who are *blank* have a smaller head and brain.

Some people lack certain growth hormones as they develop. Modern medicine can help with the perscriptoin of growth factors or the progressive breaking/heeling of bone.

Diet plays a factor in height. The western diet brings with it increased height over the traditional chineese diet. There was a time in the eightees when the average hieght of 14 year old Chineese boys was higher than their fathers. This diet also tends to bring with it obecety desiese.


The width of people is another characteristic given largely by climate. People in cooler climates tend to be wider - for instance the Vikings are very wide at the chest with shorter arms. This is to increase the body/surface ratio so that they don't get cold.

The width of the shoulder can vary depending on how well built a person is. This is both because of the extra muscle on the outside of the shoulder (deltoids) and also because the arm and shoulder bones are free-floating and supported by muscle.


There are also wide variations in colour. These variatoins are due to the amount of sun that people recieve. There is no strict correlation between race and colour as the Aboriginees are black whilst being most closely related to the chineese who range from light brown to very pale.

Some people are albino which means that they have no pigment in thier skin. There are examples of this from all around the world - for example the singer "Saif Kiata" (sic?) is African albino.


There are wide variations in the ways that eyes look. For instance the eyes of asians and some Africans have 'almond' eyes. Since almond eyes appear in many groups of people, it has been suggested that all humans originally had them and people such as Europeans lost them.

I found this link which has more anatomical detail:

More Here:

Eye colour varies from dark brown through grey, green and blue. Some peple have different colours for each eye (for example, David Bowie)

There is a condidition called 'seaman's squint' where a person who spends a lot of his time squinting so as not to be blinded by light reflecting from under them. Their lower lid ends up higher than it otherwise would be. (Thanks Robin Wood.)


I found this:

"The zygomatic head of the Quadratus labii superioris and Risorius are frequently absent and more rarely the Zygomaticus. The Zygomaticus and Risorius may be doubled or the latter greatly enlarged or blended with the Platysma."

I found it here:

If anyone has the feintest clue what it means then I would be glad to know.


When people frown, lines can appear in several different places. The usual thing as far as I can tell is that a crease appears iether side of the area between the brows. However, in some people there will be just the one crease which appears right in the middle. Where there is a heavy brow that extends forwards from the bridge of the nose, there may be a horizontal crease above the nose.

The height of the brow can vary a lot with some people having a very prominent ridge while others have hardly any. The appearence of a ridge can be effected by the height of the top of the nose. Men tend to have a larger brow than women. It is thought that this is to pretect from blows to the head (from women? ).


Ear size varies a great deal between people and ears are smaller in babies than in adults. (see also ageing).

The lobe length can vary a great deal with some people having virtually no lobe whilst others have a large lobe.

Some ears hug the head whilst others stick out. Surgery is sometimes used to make people with 'sticky out' ears feel 'normal'. "Some people have sticky out ears" (jmBoekestein). See also "significant variation".


There are many colours of hair from a strong red to a dark black. Hair colour genes can be recessive or diminent so that a couple with brown hair may both have the recessive gene for red hair which will only show up when thier child gets both the red genes. This means that 1 in 4 of thier childeren will have red hair.

Hairyness varies a great deal. Some people are born without hair an never develop it whilst others have hair all over. It is thought that this is due to a recessive gene left over from the past but it could be as a result of the combination of other genes.

The hair line can vary in hieght a great deal. Some women will shave thier hair line to where they want it. Some see this as an advantage, giving them the choice as to where it goes.

The length of hair varies a great deal too. Some men are capable of growing very lengthy beards whilst others can't.

In much of the shikh community it is the custom for men to grow thier hair long and wrap there hair in a turben. This signifies strength. Others, such as the Bhuddist monks, shave thier head as a sign of purity.


It seems evident that sexual selection or natural selection, or both, has resulted in us having a small jaw - certainly compared to our ancesters. This has led to a great number of people having more teeth than can comfortably fit into their mouths. In many places, teeth are left alone but elsewhere they are extracted strategically and a brace put in place to push the remainting teeth together.

Some people on the other hand are borne with gaps between the teeth.

There is a condition called *blank* where the teeth grow very thin.


The Jaw can vary in size a great deal and this is one of the main differneces between the male and female heads. It is thought that the jaw of men is larger because this pretects the head in fights.


There are variations in finger length which are largely caused by variations in the exposure to sex hormones in the womb (testosterone for example). These can be linked to personality types etc. (thanks PSR for this)


Here are some feet which are quite different. They are each the property of middle aged women. (thanks to Stahlberg for this one). I believe that one of those feet has been squeesed into ill-fitting shoes in its time.


The amount of fat on a body varies a lot for both cultural and genetic reasons. Fat and Sugar have, until recently, been hard come buy and we have no mechanism to tell us to stop eating them other than our common sense. This has led many people in wealthy countries such as America and Australia to be over-weight.

Fat diposits uccur on the belly, the upper back, around the kidneys and the neck for both men and women. Women accumulate more around the breasts and men more around the belly.

The large belly of many men is caused by sub-cutaniouse fat which forms around the vital organs as a buffer from poisoning - often caused by the excessive consumption of alchahol.

In many countries and in times past it has been considered attractive for women to be fat
Whilst the degree to which fat is considered beautifull varies, the waste/hip/chest ratios of the ideal are constant.

Quote Robin Wood:

"...there is an extra subcutaneous fat layer all over the body in Chinese people, because of the extreme cold of the winters in the interior. This is why their muscle definition is softer, and their surface veins not as prominent, as, say, people from Africa (where cold isn't a problem.)"


Symettry is generally regarded as beautifull and the rational for this is that it shows 'good genes', good developement and few desies. For the most part this is true enough. However, few people, however beautifull have completely cemetrical bodies - and if they do then there is sometihg wrong with them. It isn't only the internal organs (heart, liver) which are a-symetrical but the eyes.

It is normal for one eye to be higher than the other and this aids depth perception. The degree of a-symmetry in this regard is subject to some variatoin.

Some people have heads which grow larger on one side than on the other. This is probably to do with developement in the womb.

Some people have a preference for eating on one side of their mouth and the mechanical strain can cause a-smmetry.

Some people have a leg that is longer than another. This can be alleviated by use of a shoe with a large heel.

Evolutionary mechanisms

Quote Robin Wood (page 6 of this thread) :

"it has been discovered that there are clusters of attributes that show up together, for whatever reason. [...] when animals are bred for docility, they also come out with short legs, short round snouts, droopy ears, soft hair, curly tails, and piebald coats. (Research from the 40+ year Belyaev Silver Fox experiment.)"

Sexualy selected traits

Humans are neo-genic to a degree. This means that we have evolved to look more child like. This is a common process in evolution and in our case is possibly partly down to sexual selection (as well as the fact that neogeny produces larger heads). The argument for sexual selection is that we find youth attractive - particularly as we have an instinct to pretect our childeren. We then select for these traits.

There is a notion of ideal beauty and those who support it often talk of evolution and survival of the fittest. Such ideas are largely ignorant of developements in evolutionary understanding. There can be multiple evolutionary strategies within a species. This is in its most extreem form in the Chiclid fish but is present in humans also.

For instance, men can look feminin or masculin. Women tend to prefer feminin looking men a lot of the time and masculin men when they are at the firtile period of the month.

The size of the brow, jaw and penis of a man are effected by the amount of, or sensitivity to testosterone. This is also the case for baldness.

Many women (but not all) have high cheek bones and this is considered attractive. Fleshy pads on the cheeks have evolved (probably through natural selection) to cause this to happen.

Large breasts are universally deemed attractive in women although the idea shape is not quite so universal, some men prefering the hanging kind. Womens breasts are far larger than they need to be and this is a clear sign of sexual selection. It has been suggested that large breasts resemble buttocks which are deemed attractive for obviouse sexual reasons.

Significant Variatoins

People have been born with a number of fingers other than the usual including 4 and 6 on a hand.

Some people have webbed feet and sometimes hands too. It has been suggested that this may be a residual characteristic by those who subscribe to the contravercial but plausable "aquatic ape" hypothosis which supposes that humans evolved around the coast. There are other possible explanations however. People often have these webs removed with surgery.

There have been people borne with an extra leg.

One in every 2000 people are borne with de-formed or ambiguous genitals. These are usuallly operated upon at birth although sex is often mis-identified which causes complicatoins later on.

Dwarfism effects around one in every 40,000 people and has many causes. Achondroplasia is the most common, affecting about 80% of 'little people'. See more here:

There is a rare condition called *blank* which causes people to be small and have pointy ears. It is also said that such people have unusualy well developed musical abilities. It is possible that they are the original source of the elf myth.

There are many variatons which are regarded as 'freakish' such as siemese twins etc. Here is a link showing waxwork models of such things: (thanks Kargokultti)

Minor mutations

One of my toes is a little shorter than the others. I have no explanation for this.

Cleft palletes are fairly common and it is usual for these to operated on at birth to aid eating and speaking.

Examples of culturally enforced variation of shape.

In much of the western world, women have the desire to be thin. Many people who see images of western models assume that they have diareah and are about to die. However, some people are naturally very thin and this can be considered normal.

In the *blank* tribe, two girls are selected to be the breeding stock and are kept in cages to be force fed.

There is the case of the *Blank* tribe where a woman with plump calves is considered beautifull. This has lead to some sexual selection which is accentuated by the binding of the legs.

In China, it was the custom to bind womans feet so that they don't grow large. This is considered beautifull but caused a great amunt of pain. The causet is similar example.

One of the most extreem cases of beauty through disfigurement is in the *blank* people who bind the heads of childeren to make them grow into extended shapes.

Another example is that of the girraffe women who earn a ring around thier neck for each year of fidelity. Through time, this streaches their neck - sometimes to a hazardus extent. Should they be un-faithfull then one of these rings is removed. This increases the danger that their neck will collapse and they will become paralysed.

The *blank* people have a custom of filing the teeth of women down to stumps as this is considerd beautifull.

The woman of the *blank* tribe insert ceramic discs into holes in their lips and thier lower front teeth are knocked out. The discs are replaced from time to time by larger ones. The larger the disc, the more that the girl will recieve from the Grooms faimily upon marriage. It is thought that this practice began fairly recently as a measure to prevent slave traders from taking people who didn't look like they would be able to work well. It is a tradition that is now seen as pointless and is dying.

Examples of variations in features causing other variations.

Some people have small chins (receded chins) and others have large front teeth. This can result in their lower front teeth extending further forward than do their upper teeth. If this is combined with a large lower lip then the lower lip can be pushed down by the teeth and will over-hang.

Tall but timid people will often slouch and this can lead to them having a curved spine. A similar thing uccurs in people who hang thier head where the head ends up in a forward position.


Features such as the nose and ears become larger over time. It is generally accepted that this is due to the force of gravity.

Variation around the world

Whilst the notion of descreet races has not been backed up by science and many notions of race been proven incorrect, there are genetic variations that have, in some cases a braud Geological correlation. I will try to collate some information on this subject here.

First off, some links about the subject can be found here:

American indians:


Some people are said to be double jointed. They are not really double jointed but rather have the ability to bend an extraodinary amount or otherwise perform feats of bodily movement which break ice at parties.

Young girls are generally more flexible than old men.

A school friend of mine was able to bend his fingers right back to touch his wrist. It is not advized that one attempts this.

I am able to perform all of the standard tricks with my tongue. I can roll it into a tube latteraly or length wise, roll it entirely upside down clockwise or anti-clockwise and touch my nose with it. I have been christened "the tongue" as a result. I have yet to find any practical use for my abilities.

General reference:

Section on about The nature of normal human variation If you are going to read this then please read ALL of it for a balenced account.

The book "1000 on 42nd street" Thanks Ekah

And "Human"

The books of Desmond Morris

http://www.female-anatomy-for-artis...ntent/index.htm (thanks Llynna)

I found these references all about anatomical variation but I can't begin to work out what all the terms mean:

Lots of face images to look at (click on the letters) (thanks Alice)


Last edited by John Keates : 09 September 2005 at 10:19 AM.
  08 August 2005
there is so much truth in what you posted John Keates. There are many people out there which just dont't look like the standart types, if you were to pant them anyone would complain about the anatomy^^. i have this kind of problem with my hands, i am not able to use them as reference, the fingers are too short, whenever i draw them the look false.

whatever, have a look at http://www.female-anatomy-for-artis...ntent/index.htm, they different models at least.
  08 August 2005
Thanks for the link Llynna,

I guess that there are a lot of photo references out there which are handy. I am wondering if anyone has done an analysis on the subject.
  08 August 2005
I think what people are commenting on is construction of the face, for instance a typical arc on the jaw simply is there because the muscles and bones are like that in every human, even in some more closely related animals, even on the elephant man.

And then you'll find you need to understand the human form and inner workings to understand why they crease and wrinkle differently, this will eventually lead to psychology which hasn't been brought back to genetics/physical biology properly and will lead you to observing by yourself.

I'd just like to add that some deformities/extremeties of growth are just ugly/unbalanced and that's not anything to be painting imho. I really can't enjoy them and I imagine similar of my audience, if any exists, lol. So you get back at that again, an idela base shape, and then some characteristic features.
modelling practice #1
  08 August 2005
Originally Posted by jmBoekestein: I'd just like to add that some deformities/extremeties of growth are just ugly/unbalanced and that's not anything to be painting imho. I really can't enjoy them and I imagine similar of my audience, if any exists, lol. So you get back at that again, an idela base shape, and then some characteristic features.

I don't know if I can agree with you on that. Between painting someone with a deformity that has an interesting attitude or deep expression and someone just cute with a few characteristics but a plain boring attitude, I'd definitely go for the former.

The same goes for what I long to see in a picture.

John Keats, I understand your concern. I've been looking for the same thing but haven't found much. So I'm going for thorough observation until then...
  08 August 2005
Can you tell me this then. If the parts of the face that you are looking for to be representing a certain property are deformed would you still like them? Because they usually still adhere to the same principle if they work. Same thing for cartoons, they nearly always still fit the the guidelines .

Good example of it being the recent ALiens vs. Predators movie, they gave the predators cute and likeable eyes, according the mold, because otherwise it probably wouldn't work. (the human main character bonded with one of them)

I think it's probably similar to natural selection, some characteristics stay because they represent something useful/beautiful. Like rich feathers are only able to grow if the bird is healthy enough. Same for a healthy expression .
modelling practice #1
  08 August 2005
well yess there are of course different faces, shapes, proportions for every human being. and knowing what is 'perfect' is something everyone argues over.

but, as for people saying your face drawings look 'wonky', its probably more to do with the construction in your drawing, rather than the construction in the face. if you follow some basic anatomical rules and follow the rules of shadow/light, the faces will always look good even if the subject isnt 'pretty'.

for example look up leonardo da vinci's drawings of grotesque people. they are all old, deformed, and ugly. but they are 'convincing' as real people.

  08 August 2005
I accept that my figures may appear wonky becase of the way that they are constructed... I wasn't trying to make excuses for myself. I was just using wonkyness as an example of something which is quite normal in a face but tends to get ironed out when people paint.

I see a beauty in reality - warts and all, so I don't accept that we shouldn't paint this.

Thanks for the reminder tha Leonardo rocked
  08 August 2005

[QUOTE=jmBoekestein]Can you tell me this then. If the parts of the face that you are looking for to be representing a certain property are deformed would you still like them? Because they usually still adhere to the same principle if they work. Same thing for cartoons, they nearly always still fit the the guidelines .[QUOTE=jmBoekestein]

If we are talking about complete deformation to the extent that it can barely be recognized as a human being, then I probably would'nt be attracted to it at first sight.

However, if it ressembles that of a cat or some other form that brings comfort, I might be very attracted to it.

I know the importance of familiarity, most of all in proportions and body language. But I find a distorted person with a very rich body language more interesting than a fair person with a boring attitude.

Well, it's all a matter of degree...

Last edited by Jean Genie : 08 August 2005 at 10:50 PM.
  08 August 2005
Beautiful warts? Care to prove that? lol.

edit: @ JeanGenie, well, interesting point but now are you talking attraction or just appearance in an image. Because yes, even still with bodylanguage someone would be signaling physical health or competence/assuredness. I've thought of this many times, but never found the opposite of beautiful/competent to be 'nice'. It's always been a balance of factors for me, (or temporary insanity ).
modelling practice #1

Last edited by jmBoekestein : 08 August 2005 at 10:56 PM.
  08 August 2005

Originally Posted by jmBoekestein: Beautiful warts? Care to prove that? lol.

edit: @ JeanGenie, well, interesting point but now are you talking attraction or just appearance in an image. Because yes, even still with bodylanguage someone would be signaling physical health or competence/assuredness. I've thought of this many times, but never found the opposite of beautiful/competent to be 'nice'. It's always been a balance of factors for me, (or temporary insanity ).

I'm talking about body language in a still image. The attitude.
As for 'nice' well... Who wants nice?
I want interesting...

(Of course, it's all about balance. Even to shock people, you need the right balance.)
  08 August 2005
Originally Posted by Jean Genie: As for 'nice' well... Who wants nice?
I want interesting...

yea like gargoyles

  08 August 2005
It's not for artistic purposes, but a great deal of research has gone into anatomical variations and the construction of what we identify as features in psychology / cognitive science. One of the most interesting things about this field is the human ability to identify an individual from a single glance at almost any angle. I don't just know that it's a person. I know that it's "Susan." A lot of effort has been put into figuring out what we use to do this. I suppose I'd advise doing some online journal searches if you're up for wading through long, technical papers.

  08 August 2005
JeanGenie, I can agree with that. I'd go so far as to say I want more than that, character and depth in the personality, which is obviously very hard to do, I haven't the faintest clue in whether I'll be able to achieve that. But, I can relate most of it to proportions through the simple fact of competence and the reality of ones actions related to for instance the muscle mass and wrinkles on a face. Just about anybody likes nice cheekbones, not too snarly and not too faint.

edit: what he said
modelling practice #1
  08 August 2005
Personally I prefer looking at pictures of 'interesting' people, they seem to have more of a story behind them. I mean, compare these two:

Which picture are you gonna look at the longest? It's true, 'different' faces make for more interesting and engaging pictures. Yes, Leonardo rocks!
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