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Beauty is not a myth. According to scientist and psychologist Nancy Etcoff, the pursuit of beauty is neither a cultural construction, an invention of Madison Avenue, not a backlash against feminism. Survival of the Prettiest the first in-depth scientific inquiry into the nature of human beauty posits that beauty is an essential and ineradicable part of human nature, from what makes a face beautiful to the deepest questions about the human condition.

Every human civilization has revered beauty, pursued it at enormous costs, and endured both the tragic and the comic consequences of that pursuit. Provocative, witty, and insightful, Etcoff sheds light on every aspect of human beauty, including why we devour fashion magazines, check our waistlines, and gaze longingly at objects of desire.

Survival of the prettiest: the science of beauty - Nancy L. Etcoff - Google книги

Informed by state-of-the-art theories of the human mind from cognitive science and evolutionary biology, Survival of the Prettiest tells us why gentlemen prefer blondes, why high heels have never gone out of style, why eyebrows are plucked and hair is coifed. Etcoff also explains how sexual preference is guided by ancient rules that make us most attracted to those with whom we are most likely to reproduce.

Research on why we find infant features irresistibly attractive, as well as controversial new work that suggests parents show more affection to attractive newborns, is part of a broad investigation that includes insights into how beauty influences our perception, attitudes, and behavior toward others. When the attainment of beauty is viewed in the context of a Darwinian struggle for survival, many of the most extreme practices surrounding our looks, such as body piercing serial plastic surgeries, suddenly seem less outlandish.

In fact, those very practices may ensure the survival of our genes. Agree or disagree, you will never think about human beauty the same way again. Table of Contents 1. Introduction: The Nature of Beauty 2.

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Beauty as Bait 3. Pretty Pleases 4. Cover Me 5. Feature Presentation 6. Size Matters 7. Fashion Runaway 8. But to spin this another way. Like any economy, it is determined by politics, and in the modern age in the West it is the last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact. Their beauty is like the tales of Aphrodite, the judgment of Paris, and the apple of discord: made up.

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Beauty is a convenient fiction used by multibillion-dollar industries that create images of beauty and peddle them as opium for the female masses. Beauty ushers women to a place where men want them, out of the power structure.


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Capitalism and the patriarchy define beauty for cultural consumption, and plaster images of beauty everywhere to stir up envy and desire. The covetousness they inspire serves their twin goals of making money and preserving the status quo. Since it explains nothing, solves nothing, and teaches us nothing, it should not have a place in intellectual discourse. And we are supposed to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

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After all, the concept of beauty has become an embarrassment. Outside the realm of ideas, beauty rules. Nobody has stopped looking at it, and no one has stopped enjoying the sight. Turning a cold eye to beauty is as easy as quelling physical desire or responding with indifference to a baby's cry. We can say that beauty is dead, but all that does is widen the chasm between the real world and our understanding of it. Suggesting that men on Madison Avenue have Svengali-like powers to dictate women's behavior and preferences, and can define their sense of beauty, is tantamount to saying that women are not only powerless but mindless.

Survival of the Prettiest The Science of Beauty

On the contrary, isn't it possible that women cultivate beauty and use the beauty industry to optimize the power beauty brings? Isn't the problem that women often lack the opportunity to cultivate their other assets, not that they can cultivate beauty? Advertisers and businessmen help to define what adornments we wear and find beautiful, but I will show that this belongs to our sense of fashion, which is not the same thing as our sense of beauty.

Fashion is what Charles Baudelaire described as "the amusing, enticing, appetizing icing on the divine cake," not the cake itself. A crowd-pleasing image becomes a mold, and a beauty is followed by her imitator, and then by the imitator of her imitator. Marilyn Monroe was such a crowd pleaser that she's been imitated by everyone from Jayne Mansfield to Madonna.

Racism and class snobbery are reflected in images of beauty, although beauty itself is indifferent to race and thrives on diversity. As Darwin wrote, "If everyone were cast in the same mold, there would be no such thing as beauty. When we examine the historical and anthropological literature we will discover that, throughout human history, people have scarred, painted; pierced, padded, stiffened, plucked, and buffed their bodies in the name of beauty.

When Darwin traveled on the Beagle in the nineteenth century, he found a universal "passion for ornament," often involving sacrifice and suffering that was "wonderfully great. During a reported , Americans underwent voluntary aesthetic surgery that involved tearing or burning their skin, shucking their fat, or implanting foreign materials.

Before the FDA limited silicone gel implants in , four hundred women were getting them every day. Breast implants were once the province of porn stars; they are now the norm for Hollywood actresses, and no longer a rarity for the housewife. Kathy Davis, a professor at the University of Utrecht, watched as more than fifty people tried to persuade surgeons in the Netherlands to alter their appearance. Except for a man with a "cauliflower nose," she was unable to anticipate which feature they wanted to alter just by looking at them.

She wrote, "I found myself astounded that anyone could be willing to undergo such drastic measures for what seemed to me such a minor imperfection. Every person knows the topography of her face and the landscape of her body as intimately as a mapmaker. To the outside world we vary in small ways from our best hours to our worst. In our mind's eye, however, we undergo a kaleidoscope of changes, and a bad hair day, a blemish, or an added pound undermines our confidence in ways that equally minor fluctuations in our moods, our strength, or our mental agility usually do not.

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They invest so much of their resources in beauty and risk so much for it, one would think that lives depended on it. In Brazil there are more Avon ladies than members of the army. In the United States more money is spent on beauty than on education or social services. During famines, Kalahari bushmen in Africa still use animal fats to moisturize their skin, and in riots broke out in France when the use of flour on the hair of aristocrats led to a food shortage.

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The hoarding of flour for beauty purposes was only quelled by the French Revolution. Deep inside we all know something: no one can withstand appearances. We can create a big bonfire with every issue of Vogue, GQ, and Details, every image of Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, and Cindy Crawford, and still, images of youthful perfect bodies would take shape in our heads and create a desire to have them. No one is immune. When Eleanor Roosevelt was asked if she had any regrets, her response was a poignant one: she wished she had been prettier.

It is a sobering statement from one of the most revered and beloved of women, one who surely led a life with many satisfactions. She is not uttering just a woman's lament. I imagined that there was no happiness on earth for a man with such a wide nose, such thick lips, and such tiny gray eyes as mine Nothing has such a striking impact on a man's development as his appearance, and not so much his actual appearance as a conviction that it is either attractive or unattractive.

It is our sacrament, the visible self that the world assumes to be a mirror of the invisible, inner self. This assumption may not be fair, and not how the best of all moral worlds would conduct itself. But that does not make it any less true. Beauty has consequences that we cannot erase by denial. Academics may ban it from intelligent discourse and snobs may sniff that beauty is trivial and shallow but in the real world the beauty myth quickly collides with reality.

I will argue that our passionate pursuit of beauty reflects the workings of a basic instinct. As George Santayana has said, "Had our perceptions no connection with our pleasures, we should soon close our eyes to this world.

An evolutionary viewpoint cannot explain everything about beauty, but I hope to show you that it can help explain a good many things, and offer a perspective on the place of beauty in human life.