As we’ve mentioned, something that may have been lacking from our class this term is a male perspective. A friend of mine mentioned the other day that he has strong views on the subject of makeup and beauty—so I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sharing some of them with our female-dominated class. The result is a 35-minute podcast/audio clip/interview/discussion in which the exceedingly well-spoken Joseph Slote discusses the evolutionary psychologist’s perspective on modern beauty norms—including how they came about, how they evolved into what we see in society today and how they have shaped his own social perceptions. He even suggests some possible solutions for the issues he addresses.
The clip can be found on our class’s Moodle page if it doesn’t work here (under Topic 6). Please forgive any awkward pauses and word stumbles (mainly on my part), the infamous train horn and the slightly less-relevant mention of Britney Spears’ shaved head…
And because I know that 35 minutes is a long time to listen, here’s some highlights:
- “Evolutionary psychologists would say that beauty is originally a tool of evolution to signify reproductive fertility.”
- “There’s this arm’s race between men and women of developing ways to fool the other gender or sex into believing the other person more attractive.” (For example, women hide when ovulating)
- “Some evolutionary psychologists believe that things like makeup and certain types of dress are there to enhance what we call ‘beauty’, but what really may mean–at least at the basis level–fertility.” (For example, corsets and mascara)
- “There’s this whole industry devoted to making women feel like they need beauty products and to me it seems like a waste of time and a waste of money and a replacement for self-esteem and self-love.”
- “I like the idea of people being comfortable in their own skin.”
- “We have the capacity to transcend our evolutionary heritage.”
- “Now, in today’s society, we’re are dealing with moral issues that have never occurred before.”
- “[Evolutionary psychology aims to]… understand what tendencies we do have biologically and then, with that understanding, figure out how to transcend them and how to deal with our limitations. I feel like only when we understand the sources of our stereotypes can we reconsider them and become better.”
- “Only with our conscious rational minds can we begin to notice and control some biological intuitions or things that maybe were useful in our evolutionary past but our now really inconvenient. “ (For example, rape)
- “If we just were aware of it, we could do a lot to prevent it.”
How do his views fit into our class? How do we feel about this very scientific angle on some of the topics we’ve discussed? Can the ideas of evolutionary psychology really explain all of the issues we’ve raised and discussed in class or read about? Do you agree with him? Is his negative view of makeup adequately justified by his reasons? Are there exceptions? How does his perspective as a male affect how we receive these views? Does it? (Why didn’t he take this class??)
For me, his explanations expand one of our very first concepts—Bordo’s idea of the dualism of self and Schwartz’s bear. Perhaps the burdensome bear of a body is our biological and evolutionary constraints, and our true self comes from the ability to, as he puts it, “transcend” them. Are we held back by our sheer biological humanness?
(*Also, the book he recommends: http://robertwright.com/moral-animal/)