'Beuty' Tips: A Darwinian view on the laws of attraction
When I was in first grade, I wrote a book about beauty. It was entitled Beuty Tips — hey, I was close — and was intended to be an instructional guide for my teacher, a young single lady who I thought could benefit from a 7-year-old’s advice about eye makeup and exercise.
Sample advice included:
How to flirt effectively (In case you’re wondering, you’re supposed to make eye contact and smile, but don’t pursue him too hard — he needs to chase you).
How to match your eye makeup to your clothing (Um, it was the ’80s … enough said).
How to keep your “figure” by eating right and exercising regularly (I probably copied that last one out of a health book).
I honestly believed that if I provided Miss Susan with some input on “how to catch a guy,” she’d look prettier, and she’d catch a guy and get married. And then she’d be happy.
In retrospect, I’m not sure which is more disturbing, the fact that I thought beauty was so intrinsically linked to catching a guy, or that happiness was so intrinsically linked to having a guy.
Jury’s out on the happiness factor, but the laws of nature may be on my first-grade self’s side when it comes to catching a guy. Even a naïve 7-year-old can see what we all hate to admit: pretty people get more attention.
It’s just a fact of life, and it’s even evident in nature. From an entirely unscientific point of view, most people get more excited about seeing a brightly colored cardinal or blue jay than a common crow or robin. If you prefer scientific proof, a study recently published in Frontiers in Zoology states that blue male tits — those are birds, people — are more attentive fathers to their babies if the mama bird is “pretty.”
It’s certainly not a one-way street; male peacocks display their substantial tail feathers to attract females, and bowerbirds craft a song and dance to woo the lady birds. But in most animals, mating rituals relate to how “attractive” the potential partner is in respect to survival and reproduction. Evolutionary scientists argue that the same features are present in humans, from the shape of a man’s jaw to the circumference of a women’s hips in relation to her waist. Seems unfair, but I guess we can do something about our waist-to-hip ratio, whilst a man with a skinny chin is a little stuck.
From sky to land, and land to sea, everyone feels the pressure to look hot — even fish. No joke, our fish friends feel the pressure to get attention from the opposite sex — the title from a ScienceDaily article from 2010, “Female Fish Flaunt Fins to Attract a Mate,” pretty much says it all. (Come on, girl, you know you flaunt your “fins” when you want attention, and you cover them up when you don’t.)
But we humans, we are not animals, are we? According to PBS.org, only about 10 percent of animals mate for life — the other 90 percent are cheaters. But while multiple mates might fly in the animal kingdom, the pressure to find a happy, monogamous, life-lasting relationship is often top priority in humankind. And since nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, at least we’re trying. And every relationship starts with someone being attracted to someone else, so how do we get an advantage?
Well, we get prettier. Seriously, women might be evolving to be more beautiful. According to a University of Helsinki study from 2009, “beautiful” women have more children than “plain” women, and a larger number of these offspring are female, who tend to be attractive. Before you start snickering at the idea, the study used data from America — specifically, a random sampling in Wisconsin, a fine-looking state — and followed roughly 2,000 women and men for four decades.
They reached the conclusion that “attractive” women — assessed as so through photographs taken during the study — had 16 percent more children, and “very attractive” children had 6 percent more children than their “less attractive” counterparts. Furthermore, “beautiful” people are 36 percent more likely to have a daughter as their firstborn.
Should we thank these gorgeous people for proactively procreating or curse them for giving us, and our future offspring, such stiff competition? Is it offensive to admit that physical attractiveness is more important to men than to women, and to a level that is causing us to evolve to better appeal to a potential mate? Do we have to worry about the 2112 population being completely overtaken by supermodels???
Although we all have our preferences when it comes to beauty — I’m a major sucker for a tall, dark-haired dude who looks like trouble — there are certain physical traits that are universally considered superior, such as facial symmetry or the aforementioned jaws and hip-to-waist ratios.
The undeniable strength of these genetically superior physical traits is linked to the root of the issues that many people have with plastic surgery: it’s not fair to cheat nature. I say, why not? If you bother to run a comb through your hair and throw on a little under-eye concealer before you walk out the door, aren’t you altering your natural state? Is it really cheating to make your nose thinner or your boobs bigger? I suppose that a less intelligent person may not be able to purchase a better brain, but they can certainly crack open a book or two. Guy with the skinny chin, perhaps a visit to the plastic surgeon would make everything a little bit better?
But if people continue to get more beautiful, from either this Miss Evolution America theory or plastic surgery, what is going to separate them from the rest of the crowd? Isn’t part of the reason that women like Angelina Jolie, Beyoncé, Gisele, etc., are so stunning, because they’re unique? Beautiful people are kind of like freaks, because they’re not like everybody else. In the future, will the ugly people, by proxy, become the new beautiful people?
Sounds like anything is possible. But I do know one thing: not long after I gave my Beuty Tips book to Miss Susan, she met a man who she eventually married. Miss Susan, you’re welcome.