Nancy Etcoff, the author of the “Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty,” sought to acknowledge how aesthetics influence human behavior. As a psychologist, engaging in continuing education in the field, particularly in areas concerning beauty and aesthetics and its relations to the workings of the mind, and in the application of psychology through teaching in Harvard (“Nancy Etcoff,” N. D. & “Nancy Etcoff,” 2009), Etcoff has gained a wide perspective on how beauty compels and guides human behavior.
With strong supporting evidences based on research, particularly the contribution of other psychologists such as Judith Langlois, Etcoff was able to establish the notion that the concept of beauty is need learned or adapted from society – that is, from influences of the family, or the current trends in fashion and beauty, and such – but rather is an innate or biological construct that is justified by various reasons that cause human beings to regard things and people as objects of beauty.
For the remainder of this text, the most important parts of Etcoff’s book will be explored, paying attention to their relation to Evolutionary Psychology, seeking to integrate them with real-life situations that rationalize Etcoff’s arguments.
The arguments presented by Etcoff in her book may be used to explicate some real-life events and situations that justify why according to Etcoff, physical attraction is an instinctive process born out of the cycle of evolution or the need to procreate or reproduce, why the concept of beauty is part of human nature since birth and not learned or adapted, as supported by the study conducted by Langlois about the attraction that babies have toward beautiful faces, why beauty is a thing or power and influence which is one of the indicators of status or position in society, why people value beauty and aesthetics too much, why people seem to value some people according to their physical appearance the most as compared with other people, why people tend to gravitate towards other people who show their outer beauty, and why Etcoff sets a boundary between beauty and fashion stating why fashion is only used to heighten beauty but is not part of a human being’s natural beauty itself.
(Etcoff, 1999) In a typical school setting, the student population is separated into cliques. From my personal experiences, I would have to admit that dissecting the high school setting is probably one of the most effective ways to explore Etcoff’s ideas.
We have not only seen this cliche of school cliques in movies and television shows or read them in books, but have experienced it in high school ourselves, where Etcoff’s concept of beauty is personified within high school’s social structure. Various cliques in high school constitute the most beautiful people in one group, the cheerleaders and the jocks, the brainy-studious types in one group; the computer geeks in another, the rebellious types form another group, and so on. If we integrate Etcoff’s concepts of beauty in this typical high school setting, we realize how Etcoff’s theory of the Assortative Mating explicates why cheerleaders and jocks seem to bond and establish desirable relationships with each other well.
Assortative mating as a phenomenon explains why people who look alike attract each other (Etcoff, 1999) Aside from the fact that they are engaged in the same school sports activities, they also resemble each other’s beauty. Cheerleaders are supposed to be tall, ideally have flawless skin and long hair, long legs, slim figure, statuette posture, good-looking faces that are always beaming with amiable smiles, and such. The jocks, on the other hand, are supposed to have masculine bodies due to the nature of their sports, and tall and statuette figures. According to Etcoff (1999), the physical features than a human being possess becomes the reason why other people will find him beautiful or not.
In the case of the cheerleaders and the jocks, not only are they commonly attracted to each other as explicated by the phenomenon called Assortative Mating, but are objects of attraction for other people outside their clique due to the unconscious representations that people have on various physical features. Comparing all the kinds of cliques that coexist within the high school setting, cheerleaders and jocks get the most attention from other people. This kind of inconsistencies in the treatments between them and other cliques in high school is described by Etcoff by explicating the beauty and aesthetics under the context of reasons or causes for admiration and physical attraction. Etcoff (1999) mentioned how a muscular body for men constitutes sexual dimorphism or standard body structures or features that a man should possess.
In addition, a muscular build, as exhibited by jocks are symbolisms for strength and vigor that the opposite sex would admire from men. The standards as set by sexual dimorphism and the representations of the various symbolisms of physical characteristics exhibited by human beings become the reason why people regard the type, based on physical characteristics, of cheerleaders and jocks that are not found in other cliques in high school. Perhaps this typical set-up in the high school setting will also validate Etcoff’s arguments that beauty is something that is innate in nature, not dictated by culture or social dimensions such as trends in fashion and beauty, and such, and the standards of beauty is something that is common to all human beings.
The phenomenon – that is the bonding together of the cheerleader and jock types in high school, their physical attraction toward each other, and the attention that they get from other people outside their cliques – may be considered as a cliche or a typical high school setting, and we ask why is this is so. Things or situations that are described as typical are the things that have been occurring in the past until the present, justifying why they are expected in various present situations. This means that the phenomenon that describes the interaction and behavior of the high school population concerning the cheerleader and jock types have been going on a long time ago following a pattern.
Explaining why this pattern occurs is supported by Etcoff’s concept of shared standards and preferences toward beauty and aesthetics and that these standards and preferences are justified by various scientific concepts such as Assortative Mating, Sexual Dimorphism, and other concepts of Evolutionary Psychology, leading to the same phenomenon each and every year in high school. With this in mind, we realize how Etcoff’s claims may be true, that beauty is not subjective and influenced by external factors, but is something that is innate and shared by all.
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