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November 12, 2005

Comments

Factory

Hmm I'm not too sure about general beauty, but OTOH I reckon that there is a very specific 'newsreader woman' look which appears to be universal around the world.

Abiola Lapite

I find the notion that there are multiple beauty standards within any society, with one for "newsreader women" and one for others, extremely dubious. The markers of attractiveness in women are pretty much the same all over the world: an oval face, a small chin, smooth skin, bright and prominent eyes, full lips, etc., and all these things have been clearly linked to female fertility, as in the following study for instance.

http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8251

In short, the "newsreader woman" of which you speak IS the universal beauty standard, and the only differentiators of what constitutes "beauty" from region to region are relatively superficial matters like preferred weight, deportment, choice of makeup, hairstyles, status markers, etc.

PS: Take a look at the following paper which contains references to several more studies on the subject.

http://www.cs.tau.ac.il/~ruppin/beauty.pdf

Beauty is definitely *not* in the eye of the beholder, so much so that even infants are able to reliably indicate which faces are more attractive than others, regardless of the age or race of the individuals with whose faces they are presented.

Anon

Just a couple of questions:

1. If the "newsreader woman" is the standard, then one would think they would be held in higher esteem as models of beauty. While many do have a fondness for their local presenters, the general gist seems to be a mild feeling of attraction, sufficient to keep you from changing the channel. Or do you mean that they are the standard in the literal sense, and so those we consider very beautiful or very ugly must be measured against these "basic" types? In this context it would seem that the "superficial matters" you refer to would actually be more relevant to what the _current_ notion of beauty is, even if in the long term these effects are averaged out in some way. (Although an argument could be made that a culture with a memory might build upon earlier notions of beauty, rather than discarding them periodically.)

2. Do you feel that the correlations between the types of features mentioned and attactiveness is increasing, decreasing, or flat? It seems to me that in the long run (a _very_ long run) it has to be decreasing, because a) it is slowly but surely becoming possible to generate those features without necessarily possessing the corresponding fertility, and b) inherited fertility capacity is no longer the only fertility measure, and eventually may not even be the strongest one.

3. To make your point you should really make some _comparative_ statements. In other words, can you (or I) correctly guess which of the linked women, both entertainers or performers or what have you, will be considered _more_ attractive by their countrymen? For example, of the two Korean actresses(?) shown, I really only find the woman on the right attractive. Of the three women linked, I only find the third particularly attractive. (I am willing to concede that the photography itself may be deceptive, and perhaps I'd need to see some live action.) Does this correspond to their relative popularities, or statuses as sex symbols, or what have you?

Anon

Abiola Lapite

"While many do have a fondness for their local presenters, the general gist seems to be a mild feeling of attraction, sufficient to keep you from changing the channel."

You're being too literal here. No one is saying your actual typical newswoman represents the epitome of attractiveness in her culture - "actress" or "music video singer" would probably have been better choices to represent what's being hinted at.

"Do you feel that the correlations between the types of features mentioned and attactiveness is increasing, decreasing, or flat?"

Plastic surgery isn't so common that it can have decreased by very much, and a surgeon's knife can only do so much anyway.

"it is slowly but surely becoming possible to generate those features without necessarily possessing the corresponding fertility, and b) inherited fertility capacity is no longer the only fertility measure, and eventually may not even be the strongest one."

Even if true, why does it matter? What we've been selected for is a preference for certain *markers* of fertility, and whatever the fertility of even the plainest women might be, it isn't much of a constraint on the number of children they'll bear - which in most societies is asymptotically approaching 1 per woman.

"To make your point you should really make some _comparative_ statements."

And what exactly do you think I did?

"In other words, can you (or I) correctly guess which of the linked women, both entertainers or performers or what have you, will be considered _more_ attractive by their countrymen?"

This is just plain silly: we're already talking about the top percentile of females in a given society here, and my argument isn't that everyone must agree in lockstep for every possible pairing, even when we're talking about women who would rate as no lower than 9 in 10 in most men's eyes.

"For example, of the two Korean actresses(?) shown, I really only find the woman on the right attractive."

We're all entitled as individuals to make our quirky choices - I don't find Kate Moss even slightly attractive, for instance - but that doesn't mean that in the statistical aggregate different groups of judges will make substantially different judgments. In any case, we're already talking about a highly constricted sample of women here, so I don't see why you expect any great agreement on who is most attractive amongst them. Remember that the point of this entire post is that the assessment of who is considered beautiful and who isn't *within* any given society doesn't really vary much: if I gave you a sample of 10 randomly selected Korean women and asked you to rate them alongside the 10 in the Chosunilbo article I linked to, I'm pretty confident that your rankings of all 20 wouldn't be much different from that of an average Korean male.

"Of the three women linked, I only find the third particularly attractive."

This is irrelevant to the point I'm making. I'm talking about comparisons *within* societies, while you're making one *between* them. Besides, I suspect the fact that you can see her ample bosom and no one else's probably has more of an effect on your assessment than you realize. In any case, that you, I and most any heterosexual male can agree that the former Miss India *is* attractive is precisely the point I'm getting at - beauty isn't so relative that there are any societies in which she'd be thought a dog while some no-hoper in the Indian beauty stakes would be found drop-dead gorgeous.

PS: Actually, I don't think it would be all that difficult to obtain near-universal agreement on who was the *least* facially attractive individual of the 10 women in the Chosunilbo article ...

Chuckles

Hmmm:

There is something here; viz, the Westernization (or Globalization) of Beauty standards. It could be that what you are observing here now is a phenomenon after the fact.

I am not commenting on the standards of beauty you mentioned (chin, skin etc) - but I have heard it opined in several places that Nigerian men from older generations like their women rather robust - and that there is a generational gap: with the younger generation (yours, I presume) preferring slender types. The idea is that standards of beauty have been Westernized.

Can't say that there is much to this theory, although I am aware that a time of solitude in the "fattening room" was a prerequisite for new brides from certain ethnicities in Nigeria (certainly among the Calabar).

Now, I never particularly liked Norimitsu Onishi's reporting on Africa, but do you think there is anything to this piece composed after the Miss World debacle?

http://www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz/cultural/2002/1003beauty.htm

Abiola Lapite

"It could be that what you are observing here now is a phenomenon after the fact."

An utter impossibility - what do 6-month old infants know about globalization? Yet their assessments are consistent with those made by adults.

"I have heard it opined in several places that Nigerian men from older generations like their women rather robust - and that there is a generational gap: with the younger generation (yours, I presume) preferring slender types."

To the extent that this is true - and without hard evidence I'm unwilling to believe it - this very same trend has been taking place in the West as well, going through multiple cycles in the last 100 years alone. Anyway, I doubt the truth of it; look at Michael Palin's "Sahara", for example, and the women the nomadic, unwesternized Fulbe prefer: you won't see a single heavy mama amongst the lot, and the same goes for the Biaka Pygmies, who are hardly known for their consumption of TV soaps and fashion magazines. There is a certain range within which women's body fat levels maximizes their fertility, and only strong cultural pressures can be expected to override male attraction to those who fall within this range, and even then only for small groups of men - I'm sure a few deluded and impressionable souls really do relish the prospect of sex with women who look like famine victims, but most won't, no matter what FHM and Vogue say to the contrary.

"do you think there is anything to this piece composed after the Miss World debacle?"

Not really: I think Onishi must have moved in the sorts of highfalutin' circles in which such academic urban legends are taken as historical facts, Margaret-Mead-Myth style. I don't recall fat girls ever having been in fashion while growing up - on the contrary, they were figures of mockery - and while super-skinny has never been thought attractive in Nigeria, that hardly differentiates the place from the West - most men would say Lindsay Lohan looked a LOT better before she lost weight, for instance. The boyish stick-figure thing is mostly an obsession of fashion designers rather than an indicator of what ordinary guys actually want, i.e the "zaftig" [sic] Marilyn Monroe type.

dsquared

how come this doesn't hold over time then, presuming that the women portrayed in historic portraits were the raving beauties that contemporary accounts say they were? (and what about all those Wilendorf Venuses?)

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