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Q: beauty and evolution ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: beauty and evolution
Category: Science
Asked by: benpark22-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 08 Aug 2002 19:34 PDT
Expires: 07 Sep 2002 19:34 PDT
Question ID: 52418
Does beauty play a role in evolution?

When choosing wife, almost all men prefer beautiful women, and the
standards of beauty seem to be universal across races and cultures. So
I assume the preference to beautiful women is in our gene. How did we
get to this?
Subject: Re: beauty and evolution
Answered By: rcd-ga on 08 Aug 2002 23:03 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello Benpark22,

What an excellent question. Something I have wondered about for many
years. The short answer to your question is YES.

Before going further we need to consider what is meant by "beauty".
This is always a bit awkward when it comes to modern human beings. But
it is this defintion that is what you are asking. As you noted, there
does seem to be a universal sense of beauty. Ultimately beauty seems
to be defined by symmetry.

A useful overview of the issues of female beauty can be found at
This also discusses a little about the waist to hip ratio issue.

But how did we get to this?

There are a couple of theories. One main principle is that a when
selecting a mate especially within in human populations one key
feature is the ability to nuture and protect the young. The classic
example is the waist to hip ratio of a woman probably says something
about her ability to carry off-spring.

But with regard to more subtle issues, particularly of facial
features, the connection is less clear. One aspect of facial beauty
(also of body beauty overall) is symmetry. There is some evidence to
suggest that symmetry of body indicates the level of health of the
individual. One major health factor for many animals is what the
parasite load of an individual is.

A key piece of research related to this can be found by Anders Pape

"There is considerable evidence for secondary sexual characters in a
wide variety of organisms reliably reflecting levels of parasite
infections (Møller 1990), and studies of a diverse array of plants and
animals show that parasites render their hosts more asymmetric and
hence less attractive than unparasitized individuals (Møller 1996).
This is also the case in humans: Men throughout the cultures of the
world value female beauty higher than any other attribute, but the
importance of beauty is the highest in cultures with serious impact of
parasites such as malaria, schistosomiasis and similarly virulent
parasites (Gangestad and Buss 1993). "

the orginal source is at

With regard to the specifics of facial beauty of females ( and
possibly males too ) there is an excellent list of scientific papers
located at:

Aspects of facial bone structure also may allow for subconcious
measurement of symmetry of a person and be able to get a sense of how
healthy they are. There was a series on the BBC about the human face
that may provide even more insight and this can be found at:

However all is not lost. Here is an easy to read article from
NewScientist magazine that suggests that being ugly at may be a useful
reproductive strategy

Also from newscientist there is some evidence that beauty wins out
over youth in the partner selection game of life

But in conclusion it is likely that male(or female) perception of
female beauty is a result of evolution to suggest something about the
overall health of person. Beauty is selected for because it gives the
greatest chance of healthy off-spring in the most effient way.

Well I hope this goes someway to answering your question. Should you
require any clarifications please don't hesitate to ask and I would be
happy to research/translate further.

kind regards


google search strategy:

"female beauty" selection evolution

"facial beauty" selection evolution

Request for Answer Clarification by benpark22-ga on 10 Aug 2002 22:51 PDT
The answer and comments are very helpful. But they haven't completlely
quieted my inquiring mind yet.

I don't how much I should believe the parasite theory that rcd-ga
cited. It doesn't sound very convincing.

My biggest question is for woman's facial beauty. It is easier to
accept men's preference to women's figure beauty, such as the right
waist/hip ratio, because it is biology relevant. But in our time,
facial beauty has nothing to do with a woman's ability to bear healthy

People mention facial symmetry, but symmetry and beauty are two
different things; it may be true that most beautiful faces are
symmetric, but only certain symmetric faces are beautiful. It is not
hard to find perfectly symmetric but unattractive faces. I think
symmetry is just a (overly) simplification of beauty that scientists
make, so they can measure and quantify.

Is it possible that our preference of woman's facial beauty (assuming
it is in our gene) is just a fossil feature that was formed during a
certain period of evolution but has no biological relavance of the
present-day human?

Clarification of Answer by rcd-ga on 12 Aug 2002 21:25 PDT
Female facial beauty is a very interesting issue.

You are correct, attractivness(or beauty) is not simply dependent on
symmetry. There have been various studies that look at skin complexion
also. I recall a study once that indicated a preference for certain
facial types that females choose which their view of attractive men
changes depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle.

You also state that " But in our time, facial beauty has nothing to do
with a woman's ability to bear healthy children." . It seems that
hormone levels have an influence on how subcutaneous fat is
distributed in the face.

This idea is discussed in an article by Natalie Angier at
Discusses a number of studies in relation to faces including
babyfaceness here is a little quote from the article " By the Perrett
scenario, social skills like cooperativeness, honesty and gentleness
proved generically desirable in the early stages of human evolution.
Because such nurturing traits are associated with femaleness and
juvenileness, the appeal of the feminine, youthful look became
pansexual, and helped to counter such standard engines of sexual
dimorphism as competition between males."

Some typical features are the cheek bones, though it turns out not to
be neccessarily  bone but rather the distribution of subcutaneuous

Your last comment about 'a fossil feature during a period of
evolution' is the key issue. It is possible that these features
evolved at a time before language/speech had evolved and provided a
means of communicating their health status.

An interesting article by Jürgen Schmidhuber analysed facial beauty
using fractal geometry. The abstract states that " They yield a short
algorithmic description of all facial characteristics, many of which
are compactly encodable with the help of simple feature detectors
similar to those observed in mammalian brains. This suggests that a
face's beauty correlates with simplicity relative to the subjective
observer's way of encoding it."

So there could well be a gene (or more likely several) in our brain
that sets up a recognition of beauty/attractivness.

There is also a site that does a geometrical analysis of the face at
That is worth invesitagting

google search:

"female face" geometry
benpark22-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
The answerer certainly knows a lot of it. I didn't expect the parasite
load plays an import role. That is something to learn.

Subject: Re: beauty and evolution
From: ldcdc-ga on 08 Aug 2002 23:07 PDT
It's strange what happens to me lately... I lost my lock again...

Here's my version of answering you question. But this one is for
free..  hehe


To answer your first question, yes, beauty seems to have a role
evolution. But so does evolution in beauty.

How did we get to this is not a question with a precise answer. It is
certainly something that something that is related to our species.

You say that the standards of beauty seem to be universal across races
and cultures. There is something true in what you say but not quite.

For example, in the begining of the 20th certury, women beauty contest
were won by persons that nowadays we would call fat. Even Marilyn
Monroe was rather fat, but the general oppinion was that's how a
beautiful lady should look like. Take for comparison today's top
models. They are very slim.

Yes, you might argue that their faces are still beautiful. And yes,
they are. But I'm sure I will never think of Marilyn to be as
beautiful as my grandfather thought her to be when she was still

Science (begining perhaps with Leonardo da Vinci) statistically proved
that beauty is simetrical. And science also proved that certain
proportions are beautiful.

For example a waist/hip ratio of 0.7 in women is believed to be
perfect. Men from all over the world identified women with this ration
to be beautiful. I saw on Discovery Channel one man from an amazonian
tribe chosing this ratio and explaining that he chose it because the
woman looked like she could have many healthy children. It seems that
being close to nature (and far from civilisation and the Internet)
keeps your mind clear when it comes to chosing a wife. :o)

Here are some good page you should to read about symetry in humans:

Scientists proved that simetrical presons are healthier. This means
that we chose right when we chose beautiful, because we chose in fact
healthy and this is good for the species. Oh! And a 0.7 waist/hip
ratio means an easier birth for the woman.

So those are the main reasons for chosing beauty. But why do men
primarely select upon beauty and not upon other qualities like women
do? Women choose men that have power. They also seek men that treat
them with kindness (perhaps so because they are the ones who help them
raize the young).

Men biologically seek for more than one sexual partner, so they
must've needed a method to choose very rapidly the right mate. And
what they were able to do was to see their potential partners and
select the one that seamed healthier and Younger. I haven't seen many
old and seek women that are also beautiful. And I guess I will not see
many very soon.

Conclusion: beauty allows us to select the best possible mate so that
our children will be healhy and live long lives.

Establishing exactly how beauty standards (symetry and certain
proportions) appeared is a question that science doesn't have an exact
answer for yet!

Until it will have one, we can learn what is already known.

Here are some links (it's quite a lot to read):

This is a page about a project in "Beauty and Evolution" that features
some good links to go to. Lucky me!  :o)

Perhaps the best page that was able to find on the subject:

A good website about evolution:

Social Basis of Human Behavior: Sex - by Richard F. Taflinger

Men, Women, Sex And Darwin February 21, 1999, Sunday Magazine Desk  by
Natalie Angier

Biological Basis of Sex Appeal - by Richard F. Taflinger

A very good and very lond article called "Evolutionary Psychology: A
Primer" and written by Leda Cosmides & John Tooby

A site that tries to answer to the question: is evolution a fact or
Creation is the truth?

A good list a FAQs on Evolutionary Psychology

A big list of links to sites related to Evolutionary Psychology

Google search terms: 
"beauty and evolution" human -chords
"beauty and evolution"

I hope this answers your question.

A note: before deciding to ask for a refund or to give my answer a bad
rating please post a "clarify request".
I'll do my best to make you happy by finding the information that you

Good luck!


Subject: Re: beauty and evolution
From: snapanswer-ga on 09 Aug 2002 01:07 PDT
I think that you would find these books useful in your investigation
of this topic.  Summaries and reviews are available from the links

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women
by Naomi Wolf
Argues that standards of beauty are thrust upon society through the

Survival of the Prettiest : The Science of Beauty
by Nancy L. Etcoff
"Survival of the Prettiest argues persuasively that looking good has
survival value, and that sensitivity to beauty is a biological
adaptation governed by brain circuits shaped by natural selection."

I am currently unable to escape the notion that standards of beauty
change over time, which might indicate that, in addition to any
evolutionary or genetic basis for beauty, we are conditioned to find
certain people beautiful.  Also, some people differ in who they deem
beautiful, though norms can be documented.

For example, compare voluptuous film stars and "pin-ups" from the
first half of the 20th century, to "Twiggy" or Goldie Hawn in the
1960's, to today's Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.  The further one
travels back in time, the more variety in the standard of beauty one
will discover.

Bombshells:  Jayne Mansfield

Swingin' Chicks:  Twiggy

Sports Illustrated:  Heidi Klum

I hope you find this information useful in your exploration of this
Subject: Re: beauty and evolution
From: filian-ga on 09 Aug 2002 10:07 PDT
Women also prefer handsome men, though this has been downplayed in
mainstream culture. My own theory suggests that men don't want to be
seen as ornamental and have to measure up to a woman's standards, so
he compensates for his looks with money, job, etc.

Women today strive for the "hanger" look that fashion models possess.
Men and women alike don't immediately recognize or understand the
reason behind the very slim look (especially unnaturally slim or
"boyish" hips on a female) comes from the fashion industry itself
where women are paid to be walking hangers. Clothing must drape a
certain way, and clothing is the number one priority. Therefore the
clothing takes precedence and a designer won't want a woman's natural
features such as breasts, hips, etc. "marring" the line a dress would
have when on a hanger.

In the survival of the fittest, biology would dictate that men seek
women without very slim hips because of their inability to properly
carry children. But the media today has heavily influenced society in
what it believe is the "right" and "good" way to look. Thus Marilyn
Monroe is being called "fat" today (a misnomer when you are comparing
a "human female" with a "female hanger")and Courteney Cox (who is
gaunt, drawn and feeble looking) is seen as the embodiment of health
and good fortune.

The only other theory I hold is that slim women are seen as weaker by
males and thus easier to dominate. Larger, more robust women are seen
as "masculine" and therefore a challenge to the fragile male ego.
Items such as high heels and corsets were/are also used to keep women
subdued. A woman can not outrun an attacker in high heels and heels as
well as corsets present harm to the bones, back, legs, and internal

Beauty still is in the eye of the beholder. I personally don't believe
"beauty" is evolutionary but the concept of beauty as maintained and
fed by the massive media surely is. If we were looking at things from
a survival standpoint, beauty doesn't save your life in and of itself,
but a "beautiful" woman would be more protected, such as a fine item
or an "ivory box" (to quote from E.M. Forster) would be protected.
Thus woman is seen as thing, as ornament, while man continues to be
seen only as instrument.

Women's desires for a Brad Pitt over a Michael Douglas are often
ignored, and this we have media rife with images of morbidly obese,
old, balding, "ugly" men often paired with slim, young, "beautiful"

The question is, why has evolution/men continued to ignore women's
desires? And why aren't more attractive men seen from a biological
standpoint as having stronger potential children and virility?

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