"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Beautiful Women Will Always Have An Advantage–The Fallacy Of Physical Equality

Tuba Büyüküstün is a Turkish actress of remarkable beauty well-known for her work on the television series, Kara Para Aşk.

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Despite the claim to the contrary, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, and even those who may prefer a woman of less classic, dark looks and more sensuously alluring (Marilyn Monroe), will agree that Büyüküstün is beautiful.  Her type of beauty, with predictable cultural variations over time, is reflective of those characteristics which have always made women attractive. Symmetrical features, luminescent eyes, full lips, and luxuriant hair all express health, wealth, and well-being as well as being pleasing to a natural sense of geometrical order (the golden mean is universally appealing), and sexual appeal.  There is little difference between the women painted by Leonardo and Tuba Büyüküstün.

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Such beauty has always assured success.  All things considered, beautiful women will be hired first, promoted first, married first, and sought after always.   Beauty has been less important for men whose success and sexual appeal has come largely from professional ambition, family status, and wealth; but still, the tall, handsome man is always noticed, deferred to, and given the benefit of the doubt.  While women may reasonably doubt these men’s fidelity (for how could such attractive men stay faithful to one woman), they are drawn to them.  Male beauty implies good breeding, good nutrition, and good genes.  It is a stand-in for the more easily assessable and practical qualities.

It is no surprise that the women portrayed in art – the women of Botticelli, Leonardo, Caravaggio, Ingres, and the sculptors of ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome – have been beautiful.  The wives and courtesans of royalty, the aristocracy, and the socially prominent have been beautiful, and while kings like Henry VIII, desperate for an offspring, chose as much for fertility as for beauty as he continued to remain childless, most demanded only the most attractive.

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It is also not surprising that the standards of female beauty in non-Western cultures which have in recent years emerged from poverty – India, China, and Korea – have become more universal, remarkably similar to those in the developed world.  This is in part due to competition – It is understandable and normal for women in formerly poor countries, now rich, to emulate women in the West. The factors of economic privilege, health, and well-being also come into play; but it is the undeniable quest for the perfect female beauty which has endured for millennia that is perhaps the most important factor in this evolution.  This is not to say that the ancient Asian standards of beauty were not admired, but that exposure to the more universal characteristics of beauty derived from classical civilization and continued, assured physical homogeneity.

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The enduring standards of female beauty while valued as signifiers of health and well-being are even more indicative of an inherent male sexual preference.  Heads will turn and have turned for centuries for beautiful women, women whose facial symmetry, balance, and sexual suggestion are desirable regardless of status and class.  While the circumstances of poverty and social disadvantage have inhibited women’s sexual choices, and while most poor women in difficult circumstances have no opportunity to expand the gene pool, to marry up and more attractively, some are discovered or manage to expand their opportunities.

The point is less about social mobility than a seemingly innate, hardwired, male preference for classic female beauty.  Men may choose to ignore a woman’s lack of physical attractiveness for her intelligence, talent, charm, and sexual allure; but all things considered, they would prefer a woman with all these attributes and beauty.

Since most women are not beautiful, sayings like ‘Beauty Is As Beauty Does’ or ‘Beauty Is Only Skin Deep’ reflect a cultural compromise.  It is within that one should look for beauty; for the intelligence, compassion, consideration, talent, warmth, humor, and energy that are far more important than superficial looks. These qualities to not level the playing field, but they help adjust it.  At the same time appreciating female beauty and appreciating its economic value does not preclude an appreciation and acknowledgment of a woman's intelligence, creativity, insight, or savvy.  The two are not mutually exclusive.

Feminism was particularly significant because it attempted to redefine beauty and change perspective from a purely male one to a female one.  What men thought of women was irrelevant, said feminists.  Every woman’s ‘beauty’ was relative to her and her alone; and that female value and worth had nothing whatsoever to do with looks or appearance.

This new perspective was indeed radical because it challenged the notion of essential beauty and challenged men’s authority at the same time.  It was appealing to women not only because it gave them new authority, esteem, and privilege but because it marginalized the idea of physical beauty.

Or so feminists thought.  Women today might be more self-aware, confident, ambitious, and powerful than ever before; but classic beauty has not lost either its appeal or place in popular culture.
Study after study have shown that beauty has benefits far beyond the bedroom.  Attractive women and men are given preference in hiring.  While supervisors may not admit it, a candidate with all the professional qualifications plus beauty, is more likely to get the job.  Professor Shahani-Denning of Hofstra University has compiled the most important research on the subject.

The bias in favor of physically attractive people is robust, with attractive people being perceived as more sociable, happier and more successful than unattractive people (Dion, Berscheid & Walster, 1972; Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani & Longo, 1991; Hatfield & Sprecher, 1986; Watkins & Johnston, 2000).  Attractiveness biases have been demonstrated in such different areas as teacher judgments of students (Clifford & Walster, 1973), voter preferences for political candidates (Efran & Patterson, 1974) and jury judgments in simulated trials (Efran, 1974).
Recently, Smith, McIntosh and Bazzini (1999) investigated the “beauty is goodness” stereotype in U.S. films and found that attractive characters were portrayed more favorably than unattractive characters on multiple dimensions across a random sample drawn from five decades of top grossing films.  The authors also found that participants watching a biased film (level of beauty and gender stereotyping) subsequently showed greater favoritism toward an attractive graduate school candidate than participants watching a less biased film.  In the area of employment decision making, attractiveness also influences interviewers’ judgments of job applicants (Watkins & Johnston, 2000).

Beauty is a fact.  It is a tradable commodity, a factor in natural selection, a variable in most social and commercial transactions, and the first and last thing we remember about people.  It is no surprise at all that some of the most famous paintings and sculptures in history have been of women. Artists since Greek and Roman times saw a sublimity in the female form.

So what of the ninety-five percent of women who do not measure up to the classical beauty of Ava Gardner, Hedy Lamarr, Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, and Gene Tierney – Hollywood actresses who have kept the idea of eternal beauty alive? It is not surprising, that billions of dollars are spent on women’s cosmetics alone (an estimated $62 billion in 2016) and many billions more on clothes and apparel.  If one is not born with natural beauty, there are many ways to compensate.  Cosmetics which accentuate naturally attractive features and disguise the unattractive; or clothes which complement skin color, natural line, and physical attributes will always be in demand.  Beauty is big business, and with the weight of social history and biological imperative behind it, high revenues should be no surprise.

And for those who cannot afford even these cosmetic enhancements?  Those at the bottom of the socio-economic scale, consigned to mating within a narrow range of unattractive options, must live not only outside the socio-economic mainstream, but the cultural one as well.  The diamonds-in-the-rough, natural beauties who appear in all generations and at all socio-economic levels, will either be ‘found’ or will marry as best they can to the most promising, attractive man of their milieu; but most women will muddle through, painfully aware of beauty and their lack of it each time they turn on the television, and settle.

There is no shame in this, nor any lesson.  Just as there are bell curves for intelligence, talent, and athletic ability; so is there one for beauty.  The marvelously beautiful and the pitifully ugly lie near the asymptotic ends of the curve, and are small percentages of the population; but just as it is no accident that the economic and financial One Percent is small because the number of people with high intelligence, unique ability, ambition, will, and talent are few and far between; so the Beautiful One Percent is equally small.  Both, however, exert a disproportionate influence.  No one ever said that societies are equal.

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