Have you ever been stuck in a hospital waiting room, where the reading material is very restricted? Say a 1972 issue of National Geographic, with pictures of naked jungle dwellers whose privates must be jiggling really fast as they are all blurry. And an article about another discovery of a half-dozen fossilized bones, and one of them is hollow, from which our imaginative anthropologists conclude that our remote ancestors must have spent a lot of time swooping around in the trees, supported by big flappy folds of skin. And an article noting it has been the coldest decade in a while, which indicates that the planet is cooling down, and we can expect an ice age in oh, about 50 years, and it is all our fault because all our human activity is putting too much dust in the air, which reflects the suns heat away, and the solution is we must all adopt a greatly reduced lifestyle. And maybe a copy of a HotRod magazine explaining in really cool language how to hop up your 1969 Pontiac. And of course a collection of what we chauvinists call ‘women’s magazines’.
As a result of such a situation, I learned way too much about what makes us attractive to one another. It seems we are genetically programmed to be attracted to those giving signs of being a good gene pool for our offspring. I was traumatized to learn that women are genetically programmed to be attracted to wealth and power; here I thought all those gold-diggers were just doing it for the money! And it seems it is programmed into males ever since we grunted instead of speaking, and dragged our hairy knuckles through the jungle looking for grubs to eat, to be fixated on the ratio of waste to hip dimensions. Apparently, a ratio of 70% is maximum hot, anything lower means too skinny and poor health, and anything higher means that space is taken, the lady is pregnant. And it doesn’t matter if it is 70% of a hammer-handle or an axe-handle, it is the ratio, not the dimension that is important.
Apparently culture also intervenes, for example, they say our fixation on breasts is cultural, not genetically programmed. They say 200 years ago a pot belly on a man was maximum attractive, it meant he was not a manual labourer, and prosperous enough to feed himself well. Born 200 years too late!
Physical appearance, that is, whether folks of either gender would consider you good-looking is more complicated than you might think. Of course, features have something to do with it, especially the eyes, but it seems the main factor is symmetry – if the left half of your face is identical to the right half, you will be judged attractive. It seems that few of us have perfectly symmetrical faces. As glasses-wearers can attest, our ears are each independently attached, and if a carpenter did such sloppy work he would be fired!
Think about it, you can recall somebody about whom you might say ‘she has such beautiful eyes, too bad she is so homely”, or “sure he has a nose like a twisted banana, but he is a very attractive man”. Think about the homeliest person you know, and his features might not stand out, but according to the magazine, the two halves of his face do not match.
All societies discriminate in favour of the good-looking, and it is saddening to think how many lives are diminished because the individual got misaligned with the exit passage as he made his journey from the womb to the outside world. O well, nobody said life had to be fair.
Here are some quotes from an article by Charles Gillis, titled “Pretty and Mean”, published in Macleans magazine, March 21, 2016 issue.
(We) “persuade ourselves of their greatness, projecting virtues onto the beautiful without the slightest knowledge of whether they possess them. — assume them to be smarter, kinder, more generous and more trustworthy than their less comely counterparts – even when we have nothing more to go on than pictures of their faces. —– “what’s beautiful is good” stereotype affects men and women; adults and children; people of every race, religion and ethnicity. It applies whether the target of our gaze is a potential mate or a prospective head of government”
“good-looking politicians of both sexes enjoy a distinct advantage when wooing uninformed voters —-unscrupulous campaign —- favouring attractive candidates over good ones, or limiting the amount of useful information available to voters.”
“Not all of this comes as a shock — disturbing to think our unconscious minds blind us to the truth, influencing decisions that shape everything from our marriages to our governments”
OK, enough from Charles. As discussed last week, being judged physically beautiful depends mostly on the symmetry of our face, rather than any specific feature, except possibly the eyes, and has nothing to do with personality, honesty, intelligence, leadership qualities. As we get to know people well, we judge them on their selfishness or generosity, compassion or lack of caring for others, empathy, ability to judge situations and personalities, and all the other qualities which go to make up a person, and not just whether their face is attractive.
So this ‘beauty’ prejudice is less of an issue where we actually know the person. However, it becomes a problem when we are dealing with public figures whom we will never know as people and we will only be able to judge based on their appearance. Modern politics has elevated this to a science, so that we are shown pictures selected to make their guy look good, and the other guy look bad, and it works. We are seeing this in action in the American election campaign now in progress, which promises to set a record on ‘ugly pictures’. And who knows how much our own recent election was influenced by photo’s selected to show the ‘in’ candidate looking beautiful, and the others at their worst.