Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why I Like The Hourglass Figure: Socialization or Evolutionary Psychology?

Ask most feminists why men generally prefer women with an hourglass figure and they will most likely respond: "oppressive, artificial standards of beauty derived from the patriarchy." An article in the BBC presents biological research that casts serious doubts on this explanation. It found that the hourglass figure is highly correlated with fertility, which would come as no surprise to anyone who has read works in the field of Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology, which we will briefly explore in the latter part of this post. This brings us to the source of much of my reservations about (what we now refer to as) liberal philosophy and political movements: their underlying, explicit or implicit vision of human nature.

A brief survey of liberal thought reveals a strong inclination towards a vision of man as a create whose vices and virtues, whose very nature is largely determined by socialization and civilization. In the writings of Rousseau we see an emphasis on man as a tabula rasa, a blank slate that is shaped and ultimately corrupted by civilization. In Marxist thought we see strong reservations about the existence of human nature that transcends social circumstances. These philosophical impulses became more acute with the establishment of Marxist Regimes. Both the Soviet Union and Socialist Cuba, believed that the state could reshape the malleable nature of man and create a New Soviet Man, a selfless being, not driven by egotism and the desire for personal gain that "infected" capitalist societies. Che Guevara believed that the new man could be driven to dazzling heights of hard work and productivity, not by material incentives, but by revolutionary zeal and moral incentives. A large portion of feminist thought emphasizes that gender differences as being socially constructive and not being derived from innate human nature.

On the other hand, my knowledge of history and biology have led me to believe that much of human nature, including gender roles is to a large degree the innate products of biology and evolution. While human beings are certainly shaped by the social, cultural and economic forces, our natures are not nearly as malleable as most Marxists and Feminists would have us believe. Of particular interest is E.O. Wilson's works on sociobiolgy, which is:

"a field of scientific study which is based on the assumption that social behaviorhas resulted from evolution and attempts to explain and examine social behavior within that context. Often considered a branch of biology and sociology, it also draws from ethologyanthropology,evolutionzoologyarchaeologypopulation genetics, and other disciplines." 
Tied in with this is evolutionary psychology, which:

"seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations, that is, the functional products of natural selection or sexual selectionAdaptationist thinking about physiological mechanisms, such as the heart, lungs, and immune system, is common inevolutionary biology. Evolutionary psychology applies the same thinking to psychology, arguing that the mind has a modular structure similar to that of the body, with different modular adaptations serving different functions. Evolutionary psychologists argue that much of human behavior is the output of psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments."
Related to this is research in Brain Differences Between Men And Women, which further supports the view that gender roles and preferences are not simply the product of socialization and indoctrination. I cannot stress how importance of reading up on these topics, because social and political philosophy that is divorced from a full understanding of man's nature is destined to be flawed at best and dangerous at worst.

Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May, 2004, 23:53 GMT 00:53 UK 

Hourglass figure fertility link

Jayne Mansfield
Jayne Mansfield was famed for her hourglass figure
Men have long held up women such as Marilyn Monroe as icons of female attractiveness.But researchers now say this isn't just a superficial judgement - women with hourglass figures are more likely to become pregnant.

Writing in a Royal Society journal, they say this is because women with large breasts and narrow waists have higher hormone levels.

They say this offers a biological reason for Western views of beauty.

The study, in the journal Proceedings B, looked at 119 Polish women.
Their weight and body fat was checked, and researchers also measured the circumference of their waist, hips, breast and under their breast.

They were categorised as large breasts/narrow waist, large breasts/broad waists, small breasts/narrow waist or small breasts/broad waist.

Researchers also took morning saliva samples from the women throughout one menstrual cycle which were measured for levels of two hormones; 17-b oestradial (E2) and progesterone.
High levels of these hormones are good indicators that a woman will successfully become pregnant.

'Good nutrition'
It was found that women with higher breast to under-breast ratios (large breasts) or low waist to hip ratio (WHR) had higher hormone levels.

 In Western societies, the cultural icon of Barbie as a symbol of female beauty seems to have some biological grounding 
Dr Grazyna Jasienska,
Harvard University
Women with both had 26% higher levels of E2 on average, and 37% higher E2 levels mid-cycle than women with in the other three categories.

Women with low WHR also had higher progesterone levels.
Writing in Proceedings B, the researchers led by Dr Grazyna Jasienska of Harvard University, said the hourglass figure was popular in Western cultures, but not in others across the world.

She said men in non-Western societies did not seem to favour women with hourglass figures, and broader figures, indicating good nutritional status, were considered most attractive.
"However, in Western societies, the cultural icon of Barbie as a symbol of female beauty seems to have some biological grounding," added Dr Jasienska.

Dr Martin Tovee of the University of Newcastle, who has carried out research into what makes people attractive to others, told BBC News Online the Royal Society paper was not conclusive.

"What the results of this paper suggest is that the ratio of bust-to-waist may predict hormone levels.

"This is in turn may predict fertility, and this might be a reason why the bust-waist ratio might predict attractiveness."

He added other studies of female attractiveness showed that when images of real women are examined, whether their figure is in proportion was considered the most important feature.
Height, bust size and waist-to-hip ratio were considered less important, he said. 

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