31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Mankind's love of the beautiful explained!,
This review is from: Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty (Paperback)
In "Survival of the Prettiest," Nancy Etcoff states that beauty is *not* (ahem) in the eye of the beholder. Instead, she claims that beauty exists beyond personal preference, and offers evidence that our "love of beauty is deeply rooted in our biology." This argument is quite convincing. Below is a summary of just two of the points she makes:
1. While the ideal of beauty changes with the times, Etcoff pinpoints similarities across time and cultures. First and foremost, people are attracted to those who are similar to them. For example, Brazilians might feel that beautiful Brazilians are more attractive than beautiful Asians. Yet when asked to pick attractive Asians out of a crowd, Brazilians will generally identify Asians who are considered attractive by other Asians. So, people who are very different in appearance can still agree on some level about beauty in others! This indicates that preferences are at work which transcend continent and culture, making "the role of individual taste is far more insignificant" than we want to believe.
2. All people everywhere are hardwired to think that babies are beautiful; after all, babies are so needy that their survival depends on their appealingness. Intuitive, yes -- but when the research on infant beauty is juxtaposed with research confirming the worldwide male preference for women who look young, lots of things begin to make sense. For example, it shows that the common male desire for women to be "infant-like" -- or helpless, weak, and in need of a caregiver -- is part of the same process.
These are just a two of the interesting points that Etcoff raises in this worthwhile book. It's well written, enjoyable, and unapologetic about its finding that instinct triumphs over common sense. Thus, although the book is about biology, the analysis it presents is sure to provoke thought among those who are interested in Darwinism, the media, and/or women's issues.
Etcoff's conclusion: Although we may be dissatistfied with the emphasis our culture places on beauty, our desire to seek out beauty is neither good nor bad. It just is. And that's a good thing to know.
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Initial post: Jan 24, 2008 6:11:25 PM PST
Naoise Irwin says:
The second point is debatable. Clearly it's plausible that babies cared for by parents who had a tendency to find them cute and beautiful would have a higher likelihood of surviving infancy and ultimately reproducing, spreading this tendency throughout the gene pool. However, the male preference for younger women has much to do with female fertility and capacity for caregiving being higher at a younger age - ie. men who mated with younger women were more likely to get them pregnant and the women were more able to care for the children than older women. Therefore there are quite different selection drivers behind the tendency to find babies cute and beautiful and the tendency to find younger women attractive.
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