“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” You've probably been told that by your mother as she guided you through your awkward teenage years, or as consolation when your head hadn't quite grown into the size of your ears yet. According to Merriam-Webster, the word “beauty” is defined as “the qualities in a person or thing that give pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.” Underneath all that mumbo jumbo lies a paradox: an undefined definition. Beauty is the host of an incomprehensible number of ideals about attractiveness that differ from culture to culture and from person to person. So if the meaning of beauty has an inherent amount of wiggle room, doesn't it make perfect sense that beauty is based on individual preferences and perception? Don't we make our own choices on what we consider beautiful?
As reassuring as mom's idiom may have been, new research has revealed that the perception of beauty may be driven by evolutionary factors beyond our control. The relationship between beauty and evolution has been studied extensively by biologists, psychologists, and sociologists. In order to distinguish beauty within people, these scientists don't use intricate face measurements or rely on classic beauty ideals like long legs and broad shoulders. Instead, they came up with a different way of measuring beauty. Beautiful people are not just beautiful people, they are the people that we are more interested in having sex with. Thus, the incredibly scientific measuring stick of beauty was invented: sexual attraction.
History's earliest people probably thought about sex just as much as our society does, but there was a greater and more urgent meaning behind their desire to engage in sexual activity. It's been proven that early man felt the need to reproduce and populate the earth. But back then, healthy people were harder to come by. It didn't take them long to figure out that if they bore children with a healthy person, their kin would live past childhood. Thus, healthy-looking people were sought after for mating for purely evolutionary reasons. It's called “sexual selection.” It's not a totally new term-- Darwin himself created it and said that it played a large role in the overall process of evolution.
Dr. Randy Thornhill of the University of New Mexico is one of the top researchers in the field of evolutionary aesthetics. "There are always beauty judgments. Darwinian selection put these mechanisms of selection in our brains, because hanging out with attractive people is associated with hanging out with healthy people."
So how did society go from healthy-looking mates to surgical breast augmentation, nose jobs, and hair transplants galore? All of these procedures still signify health and the ability to bear children. Breasts are a feminine body part, and enlarging them just makes them that much more apparent. Even those smaller surgeries like eye surgery have something to do with the outer appearance of health. A more symmetrical face has long been associated with beauty because it is indicative of regularly functioning internal organs. Thick, shiny hair is also a sign of good health.
That's not to say that beauty ideals insinuated by pop culture don't play a large role in what's hot and what's not. Historically, societies have looked upward for their beauty standards. "We pay attention to people in the upper class," Thornhill said. And for many Americans, today's upper class consists of pop idols and movie stars. "The drive is to mimic people in your social environment that have high social status."
Evolution continues to affect beauty in other ways. Let's go back to that sexual selection bit by Darwin. Apparently, attractive people have stronger lineages than less attractive people. A study by researches at the University of Helsinki found that beautiful women had up to 16% more children than their less beautiful counterparts. It seems as though the caveman-era idea that beautiful people have more children still holds true. The study also found that these beautiful women were far more likely to have daughters than sons. And from there, these children were likely to be attractive as well.
“Physical attractiveness is a highly heritable trait, which disproportionately increases the reproductive success of daughters much more than that of sons,” said Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics. This simply translates to more and more attractive women evolving as time goes by. Men, however, haven't progressed in attractiveness since the current hominid type, the Homo sapien.
We all have our own interpretation of beauty, but you can bet that it's influenced by our innate drive for the perfect mate. Perhaps the latest plastic surgery procedure, the Brazilian buttock lift, is deeper indicator of a healthy woman. Because when it comes to beauty, there's always going to be an underlying goal to seek mates that are healthy and ready for baby-making.
If cosmetic enhancement is something you have considered or would like to learn more about, feel free to contact us at SignatureForum. We can arrange your private consultation with a top rated cosmetic specialist in your area of the country.
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