Female beauty standards (part two)

This is kind of an offshoot of Dave Swaney’s thread about female beauty.

Lets play with the evolution arguement.

The standard of beauty typically is nice skin, symmetrical features, bright eyes and a good head of hair. From an evolutionary standpoint, good indicators of healthy, well nurished girl and a mate that will produce many healthy offspring (I won’t even get into the breast size thing), so men should (and do) find them attractive.

But why is it the modern standard of beauty for women doesn’t include wide hips or body fat? Things very important from a childbearing standpoint? How did boyish hips and an improbably low percentage of body fat become attractive to men (myself included)?

Explain to me why societal concepts of beauty can so often short circuit and REDUCE a womans ability to bear children.


Brass-ringed, elongated necks (Mali)
lips stretched around wooden plates (Africa)
distened earlobes (south America)
Bound feet (China)
Full body tattooing (south pacific islands)
Flattened foreheads (aztec)
Facial scarring (middle east)
Silicon titties (America & elsewhere)

and those are just off the top of my head…


Well, first off, I don’t see how any of the things you mentioned effect a womans ability to bear children successfully. At least within the societies that created them, only to survive in the wild and bear children which is a different thing.

Secondly, we use evolutionary logic in social circumstances. We compete among ourselves for wealth, power and celebrity, and emulate those that are successful. Right or wrong, we view notoriety and celebrity as signs of success in intraspecies competition. In the sense that wealth and influence can protect a child, I guess this is not entirely wrong, but we tend to think that Oscars and magazine covers are an example of the successful, and therefore attractive, human.

Good point. Donald Trump is always goin’ around with one of those skinny-ass chicks on his arm, so I guess they must be, y’know, hot.


My theory is, someone in Advertising or Marketing somewhere wants the societal standard of beauty to be something that only a very few people can attain, making the rest of us feel inadequate so that we spend obscene amounts of money on beauty products.

In those standards, there is always some stereotypical indication of health and wealth.

While very low body fat, small hips, and silicon breasts doesn’t sound healthy, it shows that a woman has enough money and leisure time to:

  • go to a gym and work out
  • afford relatively expensive foods like fruits, vegetables, bottled water, and SlimFast ™
  • have plastic surgery

That kind of money and time means the woman isn’t living a hard scrabble life working double shifts at the Quickie Mart and eating Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. That translates into more time, money, and energy to care for the kiddies, which in turn translates into fertility of a slightly different kind.

Will work for sig line.

I personally feel that the evolution argument is largely hooey. If we wanted “healthy” to be a major factor in our standards of beauty, whence “heroin chic”? Twiggy? It seems to me that cultural standards of beauty have more to do with attaining that which is unusual in that community. When food is scarce, extra pounds appear more attractive; now that we have food in almost obscene abundance, we want waifs.

I think wide hips and body fat IS the modern standard of beauty for much of the world. There was an interesting study put out a while ago (my books are in storage, so I can’t find it) that suggested that “fleshy” is in fashion in times/places that have a more traditional idea of women’s roles, while thin is in during times when women are expanding their horizons. The one example I recall compared the thin flappers of the twenties (when women were winning the vote and gaining some sexual freedom) to the curvaceous look of the '50’s (when women who were in the workforce during the war were sent back to the kitchen). I don’t know if it holds up, but it’s kind of an interesting idea.

I’ve also heard stories from women who would be considered too plump in America who go to places like Mexico or Italy and find they practically have to beat off the guys with a stick.

Wait…that didn’t come out quite right. :slight_smile:

I dunno about you, but I like women with wide hips much more then women with hips like my own. Same goes for the thighs. I also like women with normal body-fat and find the “skin & bones” look repulsive. Who wants to cuddle up to a bony skeleton that resembles an as yet undeveloped prepubescent child? The “hour-glass shape” is my idea of an attractive woman and is indeed one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring things in the world.

Ivic said:

“I don’t see how any of the things you mentioned effect a womans ability to bear children successfully. At least within the societies that created them, only to survive in the wild and bear children which is a different thing.”

On the contrary, before the advent of antibiotics the heavy piercing nessasary for platelips, earlobe extention, tribal scarrification and the large area skin penetration of body tattooing were real infection risks. Chinese footbinding required the breaking of the metacarpal bones of the foot and the cutting off of circulation, wich quite literally produced necrotic flesh and crippled the women who underwent it, guarenteeing they couldn’t raise any children they bore unaided. The extention of necks with brass rings (actually its more of a pushing down of the clavicals and and gradual compression the chest)is a practice of higher social status women who are afterwards unable to work or nurse children. The aztecs bound the heads of high caste girls with wooden planks, as they grew their skulls grew and fused into flattened, malformed shapes. Don’t tell me that wasn’t detrimental to a productive life.

Actually, now that I consider it, maybe bieng made helpless through body modification showed that a woman was wealthy enough to afford the help nessasary to raise her children, or that she was health enough to survive the extreme abuse the modification required. Any ideas there?


Incidently, I was just bieng facitious about the silicon titties, but I suspect that in a couple hundred years the practice will be viewed in the same wey we view head flattening or tribal branding.

Well, that was my point, short term child bearing ability isn’t really impeded. Certainly longevity and quality of life are, but my idea is that wealth and celebrity( as evidenced by anything from silcone titties[I hate those], to bound feet) is taken as being more successful than the average, therefore more desirable to copy or copulate with. I’m not suggesting it’s the whole story, just a factor, one that I think a lot of people are unaware of,
AKA he who must get around to changing his name to an upper case L

What I see is basically three major factors contributing to what we think of as female beauty.

Sexual attractiveness characteristics are the fundamental underlying trends which tend to be universal and convey direct advantages in terms of fetility or disease-resistance. The 70% hip/waist ratio (indicates fertility), even features, clear skin & healthy hair are examples. These can be seen not only across cultures but are also constant over very long time periods.

Cultural norms tend to be different in different cultures and change as the culture changes. These attributes help determine each person’s place in the social heirarchy which in turn allows each person to maximize their wealth/power. Wealth/power is important in gene survival because the more wealth/power you have when necessary resources such as food are scarce, the more likely you will be to get an adequate share to keep yourself and your children alive. Also, adhering to cultural norms indicates you are willing to be a part of the culture and not rebel against it. This may be unnecessary in modern culture; however, in a situation where everyone in the group must cooperate for the group to survive, it can be critical. Note that in the historical context, cultural norms can change very quickly. A particular culture’s norms may be counter-productive in evolutionary terms but not have been around long enough to have been bred out.

Fashion - what most people don’t seem to realize is that fashion has precious little to do with beauty, except in that fashion uses beauty to further its goals. In the past, fashion was a product of conspicuous consumption: whenever the fashions changed you had to buy all new clothes, something only the rich could do. That has fortunately changed; however, the fashion designers still have to sell clothes. They do this with fashion magazines, runway showings and constant changes to what the “look” is supposed to be. (Did you know that there is an organization that determines the “in” colors 4-5 years in advance & companies pay $1000 dollars to get this information?) Runway showings are pure marketing - the wilder the fashions, the more likely a designer is to get his or her work and therefore name in newspapers across the country. Fashion models are selected solely on their ability to make the clothes look good and to convey the proper look which goes along with the style. That the models are beautiful is almost incidental - they are only beautiful because that makes the clothes look better. This is also the reason why they tend to be slender if not downright anorectic - women of this shape tend to wear a larger number of styles well. In addition, it’s easier to construct garments for women with no hips or busom.

Now, to get back to the OP: most of the things on your list probably started as an attempt to achieve a desirable sexual characteristic such as small feet or long necks. Over time they
a) became more & more extreme until they were destructive
b) became symbols of wealth, then spread throughout the population
c) eventually became so pervasive that to not bind feet, elongate your neck or whatever would have the force of taboo.

In addition, our ability to modify our bodies can far outstrip the speed at which evolution works.

How did boyish hips and an improbably low percentage of body fat become attractive to men (myself included)?


Are you sure? See if you can get the waist and hip measurements of your favorite model or actress then calculate the ratio - unless you’re a fan of Kate Moss, I’ll bet the ratio is closer to 70% than 100%

Heroin chic was a look devised by fashion designers, not a beauty standard. As I recall, it didn’t last very long either. Twiggy actually had a 70% h/w ratio. And “healthy” is not as much a factor in beauty as disease resistance.

When food was scarce, having extra weight meant that you got more food than other people (more money/power) and were also more likely to survive a famine. Now, overweight says you’re not taking care of your health, or you are too poor to eat healthily (of course, these aren’t necessarily true) Also modern fashions and the camera are very unforgiving to larger women.

Actually, this could be advantageous in evolutionary terms. If a woman survives the infections associated with these practices, she probably has more disease resistant genes than someone who dies from the process. And the various painful rites of passage applied to boys may help them face and conquer fear of pain - necessary in an environment where going to get supper carries the possibility of maiming or death, and hesitation means the difference between starving and eating.