Beauty: Biology or B.S.?
Ahhh Spring. The time of year when the sun is shining, the weather is warm and college students find it hard to concentrate in class. One of the results of the warmer weather is an increase in girls wearing weather-appropriate (i.e. skimpy) clothes, which brings the flirtation and distractions to a whole new level. While we may think we are in control of the animal instinct of attraction and beauty, there may be other forces at work.
One of these forces is clearly biology. After all, humans are mere mammals. But the biological forces that drive who we find attractive may be stronger than we think. Research indicates that people with the most symmetric faces are considered more attractive than others. Studies show that the preference toward symmetry may be innate – even babies stare at perfectly symmetric faces over asymmetrical ones, indicating that they find symmetry more attractive.
An article by Stanford University Researcher Charles Feng entitled “Looking Good: The Psychology and Biology of Beauty,” states that symmetry indicates a stronger immune system and a mate with better genes. The article goes on to explain that men prefer faces that look “baby-faced,” with a small jaw, small nose, high cheekbones and large eyes. Men also prefer women with a small waist-to-hip ratio, which is an indication of fertility. Women, however, prefer men whose faces are more mature, with stronger, more prominent features. However, biology plays a crucial role in what women find attractive, as they prefer men with more feminine features during menstruation. What does this prove? It proves that women can’t make up their minds — it’s biological. Sorry guys, you just can’t win.
These biological preferences seem to exist only in Western cultures. For example, in some African tribal cultures, men like women who insert large rings into their lip. This throws off the idea of symmetry. Similarly, the Karen tribe in Southeast Asia favors women who elongate their necks with brass rings. In Uganda, obese women are considered beautiful, with visible stretch marks adding to their sex appeal. It seems that the biological factors that drive our ideas of what’s beautiful or sexy are influenced by social norms.
The big winner in the Western world of beauty is the cosmetics industry. The Western ideals of beauty bombard every aspect of our lives, and these products only assist men and women in achieving the ideals of symmetry and youth. Want wide, child-like eyes? No problem. A simple eyeliner, eyelash curler, and sweep of mascara will do the trick. Want that innocent, alluring (or post-coital) flush? A dash or blush — perhaps the best selling Nars blush in a peachy-pink hue entitled “orgasm” — will do the trick. Women are fortunate in that they can create artificial symmetry with the use of cosmetics. Men, however, are not as lucky. Still, the nature of attraction and sex appeal is somewhat beyond our control. When was the last time you saw a hot girl or guy and thought “Wow what a symmetrical face?” Probably never.
Clearly, innate biological and social forces are at work on a subliminal level when it comes to beauty and attraction. I guess it’s nice to know that in the dating game, Mother Nature has your back.