Exploring being female (for that's what we are) in a world of media myths, publishing incompetence, and marketing madness -- as well as the female submission and subscription to those messages.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Biology Of Beauty Beguiles; Or, Reasons For Our Youth Obsessed Culture

"Fashion" & "the beauty industry," as if they were entities or machines unto themselves and not made up of human beings, are often blamed for imposing false beauty ideals on weak female victims.

Women are mocked for believing and following -- at best accused of falling for the insipid ploys of powerful patriarchal males, at worst accused of pandering to them. And women are also mocked for neither believing nor following beauty standards -- for not following societal norms.

(Additionally silly when you realize much of the fashion & beauty industry is run by gay males; but that's for another time.)

But behind much of what we humans call "beauty" is a biology to which men not only are the unconscious victims, but the ones manipulated by women.

Female "beauty" and "attractiveness" are directly linked to cues of youth -- or, more honestly, to fertility. At a very basic, primal level the male is always assessing women for their fertility. Because this is unconscious, he is not always aware of it and therefore cannot control it.

This is not to say that such a drive mandates males thinking only (or primarily) with their dick; but to say that the impulses are deeply rooted there. And that we women use those impulses and drives.

We are a youth obsessed society not only because the male seed is always looking to deliver its DNA but because we women use & manipulate the male sex drive.

Even the gay and those not looking to breed use "beauty" to our advantage. We know, for example, that more attractive people tend to be more liked, get more opportunities, better pay etc. -- and we use that. We all are factors in the equation -- not (just) victims of the (fashion) expression.

But staying on topic of women's magazines and the industries they support (fashion and beauty), I'm specifically going to address them in context of heterosexual male/female relations in these mainstream publications.

Here's a brief list of some of the things we call "beautiful" which are linked directly to biology as far as it pertains to attracting heterosexual males and, when males get lucky, the perpetuation of the species. All of which can now be manipulated by women to fool the male -- or his tool.

Hair:

Healthy hair is literally a sign of overall health; hair that is not grey is a sign of youth & therefore fertility; long hair, the hair of the maiden, is usually seen as signs of both health (several healthy years to grow it) and youth; blond or lighter hair color in general signifies youth since most hair darkens with age (up to and even while greying); all fertility cues putting the penis on alert.

We can buy products to make hair gleam, be longer, and we can color it (both lighten and cover grey).

Skin:

Even, symmetrical female faces -- right down to the smallest millimeter -- are the signs of strong estrogen. Yes, science points to your shifting face, girl; with your face being the most even & symmetrical when you are ovulating (most fertile). So you can imagine what even slight imperfections such as acne can do to a man 'reading' or evaluating (however unconsciously) a woman's visage.

Powders & creams enhance -- not only the complexion but can help disguise unevenness in features. Such are the skin care and cosmetic trickery which attract men into believing a female is more fertile. Thus the vials on the vanity really are to lure him on over & fill him with desire.

Body:

There are studies which indicate an (at least Western) male preferred waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) for females of 7/10ths (or 0.7). ** This ratio gives at least the bottom curvy hip of the hourglass figure of Marilyn Monroe as opposed to the stick-straight shape you find on the average runway model (the likes of which clothing is draped upon, but whose names remain unknown because we do not celebrate their beauty as individuals). The 0.7 is a also magical ratio known in the United States to be an indication of an extremely healthy and fertile woman. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Women can diet & exercise -- a natural way to provide (perhaps) more desirable ratios and better health and (perhaps) fertility. But we can also use shapewear, belts, and other fashions to shrink waists &/or plump hips and behinds; giving the illusion of a lower waist-to-hip ratio. And we can suck, insert & others sculpt our bodies via surgery to get that lower WHR.

Once you see this...

It seems to me we all would be better served if there was more honesty in the discussion of "beauty". Instead of having magazines trot out the traditional and tired beauty tips, instead of having feminists rail at the conformist nature of the beauty and fashion industry and victimization of women, instead of discussing what is 'hot' and 'how to be hot', we should all be looking at why 'hot' matters -- as well as when it should and shouldn't matter (or be used).

If we women want to "look beautiful" to please ourselves, we should be able to do so without being accused of playing into men's hands. But we should also be aware of what (and who) we trigger, for when we tamper with nature we trifle with male tools. And blaming men for thinking with the small head while we indirectly stroke it is self-defeating at best and inappropriate at worst.

More to come.

** The waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 is under heavy discussion in several arenas.

Scientifically, the debate centers around questions of the method of the study (line drawings used) and the study group (location & culture; Western v. non-Western males). For example, some studies indicate men from poor rural backgrounds in other parts of the world prefer women with a ratio of 8/10th. (This 0.8 indicates a little thicker waist, but still an hourglass shape.) Others studies indicate that in less wealthy countries where hunger is a larger issue body mass index (BMI) is the first cue; WHR the second. The non-universality of WHR prompts the discussion that if such standards of appreciation and desire are not cross-culturally in practice, and we are all the same animal, it cannot be biological.

While nature v. nurture is always a question, the science of low female WHR and male attraction seems to be holding up -- and far better than the other arguments from feminists regarding waist-to-hip ratios and the biological laws of attraction.

3 comments:

Fabulástico said...

Hi. This topic seems very interesting and I’ve been reading about it in other blogs and books.

As a Art History PhD, I’ve took acquaintance of this discussion and the over-discussed “proportion of beauty”. I’m not going to add anything new to the already settled discussion, but I would like to propose an exercise:

1. Buy a Fashion Magazine (Elle, Vogue,…) and a Men’s Magazine (FHM, GQ or even Playmate). Compare the women depicted. Many of the models in the fashion magazines are not sexually attractive for the majority of man. Most of the women on the men’s magazine will never get a job in the fashion industry;
2. Think on 2 or 3 female fashion icons. Does any of them strike you as sexy women? Does any man have wet dreams about Jessica Parker, Daphne Guinness or Anna Wintour?

There’s an idea that women obey to fashionistas (yes, most of them are gay) to be more attractive to men. But most men don’t care about fashion, don’t know about it(for example, if a dress is this season or last year’s) and find most of it simply ridiculous (as the feathered dresses you wrote about.)

As I see it, the most interesting book written about this subject is Umberto Eco’s «History of Beauty» that I strongly recommend to all.

Best wishes
Fabulastic

Pop Tart said...

Thanks -- these are all issues we plan on exploring! I hope you'll stick around and discuss this with us :)

Solanah said...

Very interesting! I admire your intelligent take on this, we are never told why something is naturally attractive, just that it is. Looking forward to more great posts :)

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