Beautiful People = The Best People?
Yet women don’t care about looks so much because, even though women are very picky, clear physical cues to the best genes aren’t all that important. A man’s resources are what matter.
So say evolutionary psychologists.
Hmmmm. Maybe not.
Women care about resources and not looks for evolutionary purposes, they say, yet a man’s resources weren’t important to our earliest ancestors where property wasn’t especially valued and the bulk of the diet came from food that women gathered.
Turning to women’s looks, what is considered attractive varies from culture to culture, and all of the following have been considered attractive in some society: obese, plump, skinny, big boobs, small boobs, big butt, small butt… Mayans had once admired cross-eyes and the Yapese like black teeth. The Thonga prefer tall, powerful women yet Chinese women were once mutilated to create abnormally small feet.… I could go on.
So a guy called “Catfish” wondered:
Do you believe that it is possible to exclude sexual selection from human society at all? Do you think it is related to what we find attractive?
I do think that there are evolutionary adaptations. Dark coloring protects people who live near the equator from damaging sunlight, while people near the North Pole evolved to have lighter coloring to let the sunshine — and the vitamin D — in.
But that doesn’t explain why gentlemen prefer blondes.
Light color is predominantly preferred, worldwide. But not because it’s healthier worldwide.
Few instincts grant freedom
Humans have very few instincts, which gives us freedom.
We are more symbolic than instinctual, and light coloring has taken on some high status symbolic meanings. For instance:
- Colonized people wanted to mimic the lighter coloring of those wielding imperial power
- Outdoor work tends to be lower status — and it also tans the skin
But after Coco Chanel returned from St. Tropez with a deep tan, whites began seeking a deep tan, too. Because they wanted to look like they had also just returned from St. Tropez, or the Caribbean, or Hawaii, or the backyard pool.
And in fact, much of our cultural preferences are for things that are completely fake: bleached hair, fake-tan skin, abnormally skinny, unnaturally large breasts…
How can a preference for fake be adaptive?
And since such a wide variety of looks have been preferred, why can’t variety be valued?
Hierarchal preferences and domination culture
The notion that some looks are better than others creates a mindset that some people are better than others.
It’s reflective of domination culture — our continuing racism and patriarchy being expressions of that mindset.
If you can get people to believe that the world is naturally hierarchal it’s easier for rulers to rule.
But since few will end up at the pyramid’s top, most people will be hurt by this.
A few will prosper. Like those who are already at the top.
And a lot of product is sold by making people feel bad about themselves — and offering a “cure” (blonde hair dye, blue contact lenses, miracle bras, boob jobs, liposuction, gym memberships, diets, clothing to make you look skinnier or curvier…)
Fake ideals sell more product because no real person actually looks like “that.” (Even models don’t actually look like themselves once Photoshop has finished with them.) It’s not real but we all learn to value the look, anyway.
Beauty ideals aren’t adaptive
Being drawn by beauty would not create a healthier species. In fact, many beauty ideals are not healthy.
But even if beauty did alert us to the healthiest among us, it would not help the species overall. People usually mate with those who are similar on the “attractive scale” of any particular culture. So instead of lifting the species, the most attractive people would mate, moderately attractive people would mate, and people considered unattractive would mate.
Charles Darwin, himself, questioned the notion that sexual selection adequately explained human behavior, noting that in his own time men were attracted to women’s mental charms, wealth and social position. Yes, men and women, alike, are attracted to people who are smart, charming, emotionally intelligent, fun, warmhearted, high status and who share their interests.
Meanwhile, given the ideals we have, some men can’t get aroused without a particular bra size. And more than two-thirds of the young women I’ve surveyed spend at least some time distracted from sex because they are thinking about how they look.
Sex and relationships are both harmed.
How does that help to perpetuate the species?
And isn’t it a bit dull when everyone looks the same, anyway?
Posted on October 5, 2016, in body image, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism and tagged beauty, body image, Evolutionary Psychology, good genes, natural selection, sex, sexism. Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.