The five-ninety-five rule

A few years ago, before I had children, I visited a friend who had recently had her first child. "He's cute!" I exclaimed. He was, with big eyes and a little upturned nose. I don't lie about these things. If a baby isn't attractive, I'll make some other observation, like, "He's got quite the head of hair!"

His mother responded earnestly, "Really, Martina? Do you really think he's cute? Because I don't."

I was taken aback. Didn't all mothers consider their children perfectly beautiful, blind to any physical flaws?

I've since discovered that yes, some mothers of clearly curious-looking children proclaim them stunning. But other mothers seem fairly objective about their child's appearance.

The distribution of babies' degree of attractiveness appears to be such: 90% are cute, 5% are head-turners, and 5% are odd-looking. In other words, a cute baby isn't really anything special; he's the norm, right in there with 90% of his peers. When parents-to-be worry that their child might embarrass them, I reassure them that it's unlikely, the risk being only about 1 in 20.

This rule does not apply beyond childhood. I do have the numbers for teenagers, adults and seniors, but that's beyond the scope of this post.

I am one of those mothers who can see her children's imperfections, but finds those flaws attractive. One of my kids was in the bottom 5% as an infant; I horrified a few people by freely acknowledging that. But now I'd put all three in the middle 90%.

Although, to be honest, I do think this one is right on the cusp: