Well, if it is the prettiest who survive, my chances are not good! Still Shakespeare was surely onto something when he wrote in Sonnet 1, lines 1-2, kicking things off: “From fairest creatures we desire increase, / That thereby beauty’s rose might never die.” Earlier the ancient Greeks held that the beauty of mind, body and soul is what constituted true humanity. For Plato, beauty was the pathway to the good and true, and the true, such as in mathematical forms, was beautiful. John Keats (1795-1821) agreed that truth as beauty and beauty truth, an essential unity.
Yet, in this sage of Left-wing deconstruction, ideas of beauty have gone the way of morality, all socially constructed and not universal. While not as radical as some more recent texts, Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth (1991), did the critique thing, proclaiming that there was no universal conception of human beauty, and in the West (the East, China, Japan?) existed to keep “male dominance intact.” Yep, male dominance no matter how many female politicians, prime ministers, business leaders. You name it. Male dominance, maybe even if no males even existed, I suppose. It is amazing that the feminist conspiracy theory, that almost everything is a plot by men to keep women down, seldom gets public challenges, while every other conspiracy theory does. Surely the feminist conspiracy theory would have the intrinsic weakness of all the others, one would think?
One critique of Wolf, has come from Nancy Etcoff in The Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty (2000). She came to realize that the Wolf thesis was totally incorrect, when as a practising psychologist, she treated a male patient who had severe head injuries, the patient was unable to make sense of people’s faces, not being able to distinguish between them. However, he still described some women as beautiful. This led Etcoff to realize that the concept of beauty must be hard-wired into the human brain. From an evolutionary perspective, beauty is a biological adaptation, not a social construction. She set out to show that there is a “core reality” to beauty, and despite racial and ethnic differences, there is still a core set of facial features that humans find attractive, be they Nordics, Aboriginals or Zulus. “Despite the vagaries of fashion … all men and women find lustrous hair, clear taut skin, a woman’s clinched waist and a man’s sculpted pectorals attractive. Beauty is one of life’s ways of perpetuating itself, and love of beauty is deeply rooted in biology.”
The ancient Greeks first recognized the role of symmetry in the concept of beauty. In modern times, psychological research has confirmed this. Randy Thornhill investigated which humans mate with whom, and the reasons why. It was found that for both men and women, attractiveness was closely correlated with symmetrical body features. And, the degree of a person’s facial and body symmetry correlated with IQ, with more symmetrical people scoring higher IQs than those less symmetrical.
It was hypothesized that symmetry is a phenotypical guide to genetic quality, that people who are lop-sided may have some sort of genetic defect, among other things.
Culturally, the ideal in the West of female beauty was the fair headed Nordic, with light eyes and hair, and sharply chiselled features. That type of person is being culled out by the modern cosmopolitan sexual market place, where Nordic woman who in past generations would have had multiple children, now do not, following the dictates of mammon, or marry richer partners from other races, as occurred during the decline of ancient Greece and Rome. Since one group of people is not acting to conserve beauty, and this is likely to be a trend across the rest of the developed world, as people forego reproduction to pursue money, human beauty, along with much else, may perish in this century.