Allright a bit late but here goes my first True Psychology Post(TM)
For a while the concept of physical beauty - when you find someone cute or hot - was a subject that really bugged me. I think it was because of the clash between my idealistic "when you love someone you are loving the person/spirit/whatever, someone is nice" and my "Ok, I don't see myself with > him < even if he's nice, or at least I mean, what about that cute guy over there" kinda deal. This bugged me to no end because my idealistic self (I think at heart I am still an idealist) always "scorned" the other side.. always "reminded" the other side that is is "the soul what matters."
For some reason, it's like when I used to see (or still?) someone who is handsome or cute, a bunch of prejudged characteristics about that guy get attributed to, at least in tendency. Maybe because the ideals of purity "are beautiful" and it is my way of pulling that forward in the material world?
I think one of the most difficult "what if" fantasies I used to run in my mind went like this:
"I walk into a bar. I see two guys. One is in a wheel chair and looks like his face was half burned in a car crash accident. You could tell he used to be very cute and/or handsome, by the other half of the face and his overall body. The other is standing on the left and is a very good looking man. Both look at me with some interest. With whom would I most likely be interested in going out?
answer: The guy on the left.
So let's say we get hitched and we have a great two year relationship.. but on his way home my partner one day has a car crash accident and ends up virtually exactly like the other guy in the wheelchair. Do I dump him?
So if that is the case, and assuming the first guy in the wheelchair was a nice guy.. why I would pass on him so quickly? I would probably pass on him even if there was no other altnernative (note: maybe, just maybe, this has changed over time now. At the very minimum I would definitively talk to him)."
Some people have told me that when I say things like these "I just think too much." I guess it must be my curse, because I find myself thinking "too much" about many things in life, where often I see some sort of unresolved hypocrisy just to not think about it and move on. Anyway this is something that has been with me for a while.
About what is probably eight years ago now, I remember seeing a special on Discovery channel on the subject of physical beauty that was quite the eye opener. I remember three studies that caught my attention:
#1. The "baby looks at study" - they showed babies several faces of different people, faces rated as attactive and unatracctive in pairs. Turns out that the babies would look more at the "attractive" face.
#2. The interviewes - they had two women and two guys - all looking for employment and they were filming the interview process and other parts of the company that was going to hire them (how they got the rights for filming this for the study I don't know, but sure is interesting).
So, they had one guy and one women who were not very attractive, but had excellent qualifications for the job. The other pair was attractive/handsome/cute but had poor qualifications for the job, and also were not going to "talk much" during the interview. So in other words, would not "try to sell themselves."
Perhaps the most surprising in a way was the guy's interview. It was surprising because even between men, (I am making the statistical assumption the interviewers were not gay), the physical beauty factor affected the thing.
So basically the guy was interviewing for a stock broker position. With the "unnatractive guy" he was told they would get back to him. When they interviewed the attractive guy, he on purpose put a photo of him with his resume. The most surprising thing to me was that when the interviewer was making some photo-copies of the application at a photocopier, a co-worker stopped by, asked him about the guy he was interviewing, saw the photo and said "he looks like a stock broker."
"He looks like a stock broker."
Just like that... all looks here, nothing else.
The story was very similar with the women, with the incredible extra that the interviewer was trying to justfiy before the camera why she was hiring the more attractive woman vs the other one. That was a sorry case :-)
#3. School children and the two teachers - These kids were to have two substitute teachers.. one was attractive and the other one wasn't. They would teach pretty much the same, and be with the kids a couple of days.
The kids where then asked what teacher they preferred and why. Pretty much the attractive one won, with one of the girls making the stunning statement that "I like her < the beautiful one > because she's smarter." The thing that came out consistently in all this is that the person that is considered the most attractive, is the one with the most average features. While I do think that the media and ads and all that do influence what we consider attractive, but it seems to me that the biological/genetical recognition does come first and sets the foundation for it.
So my theory is that evolutionary wise (and if you are a creationist, then think of it as a need anyway, so God put the mechanism), we needed to sort out humans from animals quickly. It was key to survival.. if you see a human you have other options than when you see a tiger or t. rex. And what is more ideal to conform to the human visuals than "an average human?"
Now, I would like to mention that I do think that since survival is the key element here, the brain can map beauty as appropriate. I know for example that in the medieval ages, overweight women were considered attractive. I think this is because they had the food, they had the money - so they were attractive as they were more key to survival. I think in this case the brain re-maps what is beauty, probably as an effect of avoiding the cognitive disonance (think of it as a painful fight between emotion and thought) between "she has the comforts, she has the money & food" vs "she is not that attractive." Survival wins.
Also I think this mapping happens when you get to know someone and all of a suddent they start looking like the most beautiful thing to you. It's like the person has to look the way they look becuase otherwise it wouldn't just feel the same. And of course the reverse can happen- you look at someone gorgeous, they open their mouth and you get a total turn off.
Where am I currently with this concept now in my life? I have come to accept that there is indeed such a thing called physical beauty - and I have finally come to terms so that I don't feel guilty about it. It's just the way it is. It's not the end all be all - and it can change for me over time, or over a person I am getting to know more and more. Several years ago I decided not to "shun" anyone from having a conversation with me and it seems to have paid off. Even when I am not attracted I have gotten to know some interesting people with curious stories to tell.
Comments & critiques welcome.
PS: My apologies for not having the references to these studies, but I am sure you can find them if you look. You don't have to take my word for them, I encourage you to verify them if you have the slightest doubt.