Every once and awhile we’re hit with a piece in the campaign against the very concept of beauty and the human desire and appreciation of attractive people (especially attractive women). Most silly among these are those that talk about what “real” women look like:
They feature “real” women – as if the models, singers, and actresses we see splashed across the media aren’t also real women (Photoshop, make-up, and plastic surgery notwithstanding). In general, the implication is that women obsess about their appearance – often about the most trivial aspects of such – because “Western” society has brainwashed us with unrealistic standards of beauty that women strive to emulate. Our concern over beauty is because of what we’ve been driven to by the media. Without this “brainwashing”, we’d naturally accept people for their “inner” beauty (or some nonsense like that – a point Dustin Hoffman recently professed) and the race to be the most beautiful would evaporate.
Sure, the media likely does compound the beauty arms race (as with many things), but if you believe that that is solely responsible for the human desire for beauty, and hence, women’s obsession over their own appearance – let me show you a few things:
Male (the peacock):
(Female left, male right)
Female left, male right:
Sense a pattern?
Throughout the animal kingdom, whenever there is a great difference in appearance of the sexes, it is almost always the male who is more ornate and decorated. That is, males pick up the majority of conspicuous secondary sex characteristics.
Humans are a distinct exception to this. While human males do have some secondary sex characteristics, such as wider shoulders and facial/body hair, women are the more ornate sex, complete with breasts, longer hair, and for Europeans, brightly colored hair and eyes (both of which are more common in women).
The reason for this boils down to a zoologically uncommon behavioral feature of humans: paternal investment. Men invest in their children. In other animal species, where there is parental investment at all, it is usually only maternal (especially for mammals). In many such species, males need to evolve elaborate displays to attract mates (to show off their fitness). Females, on the other hand, are under much less such selective pressure (i.e., sexual selection), and basically just need to be “there” in order to procure a mate.
Humans, however, are “dadly.” Because human males invest in their offspring, a man has to be more choosy about his mates than males of other species are. And since the supply of mates is finite, women are forced to compete with each other for mates. Flashiness, of the form that is usually found in males across the animal kingdom, appeared in human females. Breasts are one key example; long hair (in non-Africans) is another. As Peter Frost notes, across human races, where average paternal investment deviates from the species’ average to a large degree, there is a corresponding variation in average female attractiveness. This is most pronounced for horticultural Africans (on one end) and Northern (Indo-) Europeans (on the other). In sub-Saharan Africa, women were much more self-sufficient, hence paternal investment was low. Sexual selection more heavily acted on men – hence, the lower average attractiveness of Black women. By contrast, in Northern/Eastern Europe, the adverse conditions encountered by hunter-gatherers there made paternal investment paramount. Polygyny, as the kind found in Africa, was difficult. Hence, sexual selection acted more heavily on women. All sorts of beautifying features appeared, such as bright hair and eye colors, in the effort to attract mates. This intense sexual selection on women rendered Northern (Indo-) European women the most attractive of all, on average.
Women all around the world are concerned with their appearance. What women go through to attract a mate is not much different from what the peacock must go through when he courts the peahen:
Hence, women are often inherently insecure about their looks. This is with good reason; in the past, in the European wilderness of old, this was supremely important – perhaps even a matter of life and death. Female-female competition through attractiveness is as old as the species itself. It has been with us from the beginning, and likely will always be with us.
I feel that it’s important that all people be treated with dignity and respect – including the less attractive individuals among us. This post should not taken as some license to deride or disrespect unattractive people. To the extent that campaigns against “Western beauty standards” are in this spirit, I agree. That said, these campaigns try to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In the quest to make less attractive people feel better about themselves, they pretend that attractiveness does not exist (biologically), when there is considerable evidence to the contrary. Sure, the beauty arms race is often taken to ridiculous extremes – especially now with the availability of plastic surgery (which now even has women modifying their vaginas), but that doesn’t mean that beauty isn’t an objective biological reality or that the obsession over it doesn’t have some good practical and biological reasons. The problem with “real” women is that some real women do indeed look better than other real women. This is a fact of life, and unfortunate as it may be for some, it is something we need to learn to accept just like many other facts of life.
And speaking of facts of life, as you know, one of those facts is that we all need money. More specifically, I and my growing family need money. Winter is coming in Maine – and also coming – right in the depth of it – is one bouncing baby boy. Please see my “Donate” button at right to help keep the JayMan family warm! Note the many ways to help, PayPal via the “Donate” button, Flattr at the bottom, and Bitcoin for those who insist on that as well. Thank you very much!