Standards of beauty

Some people go around saying that the media propagate unrealistic standards of beauty, especially to girls. According to such criticisms, it is the fault of publications such as Vogue and toys such as Barbie that "totally healthy", well-rounded women get the idea that they're unattractive, and fall victim to self-pity, anorexia, or depression.

There are multiple ways to tackle this argument. Here's a humorous one:

Bratz Dolls May Give Young Girls Unrealistic Expectations of Head Size

The controversy begs the question, though. If a taut, flat tummy, and a slightly chubby one, yet not quite overweight, are similar in terms of health results; then why are more of us attracted to the taut one?

Not all of us prefer the flat tummy, of course. A significant proportion of men are attracted to women who have something to grab. Still, however, it's fair to say that most men are attracted to the flat tummy. So the question remains.

It used to be that, centuries ago, fat and well-rounded was the standard of beauty. An overweight female was a symbol of fertility. What changed to make us prefer slim figures now?

Is it that we hear about all the problems that come with obesity? A person who is chubby initially may very well be overweight in 20 years. That doesn't seem quite like a promising life partner. But then again: people don't necessarily have marriage on their mind when sexually attracted. Furthermore, a man can remain attracted to a slim woman even after seeing her smoke. Is that because he can forget her smoking when she has disposed of her cigarette, but weight is a constant reminder of a possible unhealthiness?

That seems a plausible theory.

Another theory I have, though, is this. A taut, fit tummy signals status. Centuries ago, it used to be that food was scarce; an overweight person would be someone who had resources to eat more than most. Weight indicated a certain level of relative fitness. Not everyone could be like that; a person who was overweight could probably take care of themselves, and possibly people around them.

Today, it takes genetic fitness to keep your weight down. Food is in abundance, so it is easy to get fat. Sporting a taut tummy therefore indicates either a person with self-restraint, or with the luxury and willpower to attend a gym. It confers a certain level of relative fitness. Not everyone can be like that; a slim person can probably take care of themselves, and possibly people around them.

This reminds me of a similar transition in skin tone preferences, from the aristocratic white of centuries ago, to the tanned ideal of today. It used to be that only aristocrats could stay inside, well hidden from the Sun; most people had to be out, working in the fields. Nowadays, though, jobs require most people to stay in, and tanning is a luxury.

The Chinese still prefer a pale white. Incidentally, more than half of them still live in agricultural areas.


Rok said…
There's another interesting reason why it's harder to stay skinny for poor people nowadays: cheap walmart preprocessed-prepackaged-supersized food is ridiculously cheaper than their natural version. So what are they buying? Organic vegetables and free range chicken that costs a fortune or kingsize jars of mayo? more calories per buck wins. Sad but true.
denis bider said…
Rok, blaming fatness on food producers is looking for a scapegoat.

You mention Wal-Mart, but all food in the United States is consistently marked with its calorie and nutritional content, much unlike Slovenia. U.S. shelves offer a lot more products that are high in protein and low in fat. The Chinese manage to stay thin on cheap foods such as rice, while poor Americans grow fat on expensive stuff such as hamburgers and steak.

And don't tell me it's not possible to lose weight and gain muscle on Burger King fare, because I've done it. You just have to chose what you eat, and the amount you eat, and it doesn't have to cost you more to stay thin.

It does cost intelligence and willpower, however, and those are two resources that the fat poor people do not have.

Anonymous said…
why do I have a problem with the word taught? Did you mean tight?

Mile Cucek
denis bider said…
Mile, thanks for noticing. I was misspelling it. "Taut" is the proper spelling.

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