Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty

Ever wonder why babies are cute, why gentlemen prefer blondes, or why the human ballsack is the size that it is? Hmmm, ok maybe not that last one, but the answers are pretty interesting.

The subject of beauty is far from only skin deep, and it strikes me how very perfect the book’s title is. Beauty isn’t just incidental, and the source of frivolous fun or petty envy. It’s deeply tied into our instincts as living things, something we share with even the flowers, and goes back virtually as far as we do. This book leaves no stone unturned, and encompasses science, sociology, and of course biology in a way that’s truly fun to read. Not only that, but Nancy Etcoff’s own personal touch is extremely compelling, and this alone makes the book worth a read. This combined with the huge amount of learning inside is likely to leave you with a whole new perspective on a subject you once held strong and long-lived opinions about.

What’s interesting here is the particular way that this information offers up new meaning to the subject of beauty. To understand how beauty has transformed us biologically and culturally into the creatures that we are, it becomes both more important and yet less important all at once. Without beauty, we simple would not be, but who we have become also gives us the power to appreciate it in the most enlightening way possible. This isn’t a book so much about sitting in front of the mirror, putting on makeup and poking at your belly as it is about humanity itself. It strikes me as extremely valuable, and it can and should be read by people of all genders and ages. This book is awesome, and as it meets both my demands of educational and entertaining, I can’t recommend it enough.

Rather just see the movie? Well, there isn’t one exactly, but you might want to check out The Human Face.

Other recommended reads:  The History of Beauty, Sex in History.

It’s Nice Not to Wear Makeup Sometimes

Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve me standing in the hallway outside the bathroom doorway, looking up at my mom as she did her makeup every day. It was the 80s, so the colors she used were bright; I distinctly remember fuschia and royal blue. I associate a lot about appearances with my mom. She has a very low self-esteem (I recently told her I liked her hair as it was growing longer, and she responded by saying she felt like a cow), was worried about how we made her look as kids, and threatened (probably not 100% seriously) to not let me walk in her wedding when I had a big zit when I was 11. I remember how deeply humiliating it was for her and her friend to spend so long fussing over it trying to pop it and make it go away. I didn’t think it should matter, I mean was it REALLY that big a deal? I’m your own family, Mom! But whether consciously or because she was just unknowingly perpetuating the pressures she felt growing up herself, one of the lessons she worked hard to teach me was that looks were Very Important.

School didn’t help either. I wore hand-me-downs and got made fun of constantly. I didn’t agree with their judgments  honestly, I think I was probably mentally healthier as a kid than I am now, but I was sick and tired of it enough that before 7th grade rolled around I was trying very hard to choose clothes that they couldn’t tease me for, and the All Black Era was ushered in. Then the teenage angst kicked in, and I specifically recall that unlike being an adult and sighing wistfully at a magazine ad thinking how nice it would be to look like that model, you wouldn’t just like to look that way, you think you NEED to look that way. These women are *everything* and you are *nothing.* Everything is a bigger deal when you’re younger.

But what happens when you grow up? You don’t take it quite as seriously – you at least become aware on a logical level that perfection isn’t even a thing, if not on an emotional one. But old habits die hard, especially when we’re surrounded by the same pressures we always were. And it’s that divide between logical and emotional that often needs to be addressed. I believe in taking pride in yourself and not being just gratuitously gross, but what’s all that gross about a natural face on an ordinary day? This sort of cultural assumption that it is is a big problem.

So I think it would be fantastic if every so often we could take a break from makeup to just plain get over ourselves. On days I’ve worn little enough that people at least thought I wasn’t wearing any, nobody died, or even insulted me. One day I even got a very nice and deliberate compliment from a coworker. Of course, I was not literally without makeup, I’m not there yet. But part of the reason for that is that I don’t like my skin, and one way to get better skin is to stop putting so much shit all over it. So stepping out of my comfort zone could have multiple benefits.

I think makeup is one really great method of artistic expression and some women really enjoy it. Sometimes I’m one of them. But when it becomes more of a chore than a joy, a feeling of obligation more than enhancement, then we need to take a step back a bit and put makeup in its place. We own it, it doesn’t own us. And the more we’re willing to let go the easier it will be for us to realize it.

And if anyone has any advice on helping my mom with her self-esteem, that would be great too.