On Beauty

I chose my first boyfriend for his attractiveness. Tall, pretty blue-green eyes, dramatic pouty lips, and soft emo hair. That was a mistake because it turned out that it was harder to hold a conversation with him than with an inanimate object. At seventeen, he still didn’t know what mathematical integration was. He also believed so strongly in the evils of GMOs that he spent a series of Saturdays designing and making a papier mâché costume of corn with a lobster head and claws to wear in an anti-GMO parade. I told him merely that if such a thing existed I’m sure it would be delicious.

Since then I’ve had many discussions on the merits of choosing a partner based on beauty. The strongest argument against has been that it shouldn’t be relevant because it is neither a lasting feature, nor indicative of anything else about the person.

I agree with the first reason, but I’m less convinced of the second. There has been research (mentioned in the article linked below) that seems to indicate a few interesting things:

1. Perception of beauty is innate: babies reliably prefer more beautiful faces long before society has a chance to tell them what they should find beautiful.

2. Beautiful children are treated better by their parents. They are looked after more carefully, and less likely to be abused.

3. Beautiful children are better adjusted, more popular, and more intelligent.

I think findings 2 and 3 need to be carefully controlled for things like socio-economic status of the parents, and I haven’t read the original papers, but I would not be surprised if they were true. I see the same bias in myself: ascribing positive traits (interesting, intelligent, kind) to people because I find them beautiful. I pay more attention to them. Confirmation bias and the Pygmalion effect are at play, but I’m not sure it matters. Just like it doesn’t matter if my headache is cured by a placebo.

Perhaps there is a reason that the French language has no notion of beauty that doesn’t also have connotations of goodness.

The Evolution of Beauty

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