Does it matter to you if your friends think your partner is attractive?
As the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But could our standards of what is attractive be less influenced by our personal preferences than by what is considered attractive to those who surround us?
In a recent Jezebel piece, Hugo Schwyzer writes:
…it's not that all men — or even most straight white men — genuinely prefer skinny women. It's that for a great many men, having a thin, conventionally pretty girlfriend is a way to win status in the eyes of other men. It's not actually about what they themselves want. Put simply, men and women alike confuse what it is that men are attracted to with what it is that men imagine will win them approval.
Our culture may very well dictate whom we find attractive; consider how very different the wives of Manhattan millionaires look from the wives of Zulu kings.
And it goes without saying that far more teenage boys have pin-up posters of Jessica Alba or Megan Fox in their lockers than images of, say, Janeane Garofalo or "Bridesmaids" actress Melissa McCarthy (who are total babes in their own right, for the record).
Schwyzer notes that those who deviate from the overriding cultural norm of what is supposed to be beautiful tend to be looked upon as, well, deviants.
Beauty ideals differ immensely from culture to culture. Jessica Simpson, for instance, would look rather out of place among the Kayan Lahwi women of Myanmar (known for their long necks) — and considering how very different she is from the local beauty standard, she probably wouldn't be able to get a date.
The laws of attraction are mysterious and personal and often fluid, but in the face of all of this evidence, there must be some truth to the argument that cultural norms and a widespread hunger for status and approval have as profound an impact on our desires as biology.
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