Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Feminine Beauty and Public Health

A cynic might imagine that Betty Friedan’s extended screed on “the feminine mystique” was yet another battle in the ongoing culture war between the pretty girls and the not-so-pretty girls.

Mystique or not, femininity is real. It is associated with fertility. Men value it. Women seek to project it.

Naomi Wolf notwithstanding, femininity is associated with beauty, and with characteristics that can be measured. It is no more a myth than it was a mystique.

For all the feminist caterwauling it appears that men still associate femininity with beauty. And yet, there is a limit. Recent studies have shown a direct correlation between what men find to be attractive in women and the overall healthiness of a nation.

In a nation that enjoys generally good health men are more likely to find more feminine women more attractive. In a nation that suffers generally bad health men are more likely to find more masculine looking women more attractive.

Surprisingly, it’s not just about the health of an individual. It involves the general health of the nation, the group, the community.

Moreover, it does not correlate with the ratio of men to women.

The Economist reports:

THAT health and beauty are linked is not in doubt. But it comes as something of a surprise that who is perceived as beautiful depends not only on the health of the person in question but also on the average level of health in the place where she lives. This, though, is the conclusion of a study just published in Biology Letters by Urszula Marcinkowska of the University of Turku, in Finland, and her colleagues—for Ms Marcinkowska has found that men in healthy countries think women with the most feminine faces are the prettiest whilst those in unhealthy places prefer more masculine-looking ones.

If you examine the chart you will find that the United States falls in the middle of the nations on the basis of health.

Apparently, in a country where people are more sickly, men prefer women with more masculine features. The researchers suspect that in such conditions, men are not confident that they will live long enough or be strong enough to support their families on their own:

Previous studies have shown that women with feminine features are more fertile. A man’s preference for them is thus likely to enhance his reproductive success. Ms Marcinkowska speculates that testosterone-induced behavioural characteristics like dominance, which might be expected to correlate with masculine-looking faces even in women (they certainly do in men), help in the competition for resources needed to sustain children once they are born. But why that should be particularly important in an unhealthy country is unclear.

And yes, we know that a statistical correlation does not spell causation, but still….


Lastango said...

"But why (masculine-looking faces and competition for resources) should be particularly important in an unhealthy country is unclear."

Unhealthy = poor. From a distance, a man lays eyes on a potential mate. Try saying this approvingly, in your best eastern European accent:

"Hah! Strong woman! Pull plow!"

Sam L. said...

If the overall health is lower, a sturdy woman (more masculine looking) is the better option for progeny.

Reminds me of a '40s movie I saw; man is looking for a woman, his mom told him to look for a wide-hipped woman--gives birth easier.

Anonymous said...

"In a nation that suffers generally bad health men are more likely to find more masculine looking women more attractive."

Not more attractive. More useful... like a horse.

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