Let’s face it, the biological imperative of our species is to survive. And research has shown us that survival pretty much comes down to the male of the species choosing a female of the species and implanting his seed. So it’s the male’s job to find a female who is fertile. Period. He is aided by three physical cues: Facial symmetry, which historically indicated good health. Waist-to-hip ratio, which indicated optimal ability to bear children. And childlike features (full lips, large eyes, smooth skin) which indicated youth.
We might not be running across the savannah anymore, chasing down the neighborhood mastodon, but there’s been enough research over the years to make a compelling case for facial symmetry, waist-to-hip ratio, and childlike features as forming the foundation for what we now refer to as “beauty.”
Across cultures, across nationalities, across the eons, you can measure facial features for symmetry and bingo, the parameters are exactly the same. From Cleopatra to Angelina Jolie to Nefertiti to Helen of Troy to the countless “great beauties” across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, faces and bodies followed the pattern.
Men fall into the facial symmetry mold as well. John Wilkes Booth, aside from his talent at killing a beloved president, was the Brad Pitt of his day. Set them side to side (Booth and Pitt, not Booth and Lincoln), and their facial symmetry will be the same. But, while the definition of “beauty” might be the same for both sexes, men are usually on their own, once they have left the starting gate of life. The looks they have been dealt, for good or for bad, are pretty much the looks they will take with them to the finish line.
In male-dominated societies throughout history, women gained power by being attached to successful men. Beauty assured a better choice of mate. The importance of being attractive was passed down from mother to daughter across the centuries, in the age-old quest to “make a good match.” The result is that to this day, the value of good looks remains stronger for women than for men.
As women, we can think back to our early childhood. Chances are, we didn’t escape without, at the very least, a bow tied in our hair every once in a while. Others of us endured home permanents, tight braids, having our ears pierced, or wearing ruffled dresses when we would have rather been wearing jeans. We might have played with our mom’s make up or tried on her shoes or watched an older sister get ready to go out on a date. And, at some point, we probably became aware of people looking at us and cooing “What a pretty little girl!” Whatever our background, and however we ultimately turned out, it’s likely that at least one of these things happened to us.
As young as elementary school age, we noticed the “pretty” people out in the world, the actresses in movies, the singers on TV, the models in the pages of magazines, maybe even other family members. It didn’t take long for most of us to want to be one of the “pretty” people.
As simple and innocent as our world may have seemed back then, without the internet and the media bombarding us on a daily basis, we were still, as women-in-the-making, subject to the expectations that society set for us. And one of the expectations was that we should be “pretty.” We were, without even realizing it, setting ourselves up against an impossible standard.
Next up: Breasts vs Brains