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Blondeness and Desirability

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  • sean thomas
    Hi guys There may well have been previous debates on this topic; please forgive me if I m reploughing old turf. Right now I am writing an article for the
    Message 1 of 9 , Feb 23, 2005
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      Hi guys
       
      There may well have been previous debates on this topic; please forgive me if I'm reploughing old turf.
       
      Right now I am writing an article for the London Sunday Telegraph on the 'lebensborn' project - Hitler's attempt to breed a master race by matching unmarried Aryan mothers with virile SS men.
       
      During my of research, I've come across lots of the usual Nazi bollocks about supermen and subhumans, tedious tracts about the general desirability of blondeness and fairness..
       
      But this afternoon as I was reading one particularly offensive screed, it struck me. Seen from one angle the Nazis are just the extreme end of a very human spectrum - the general tendency to admire and desire blonde, fair, blue-eyed people..
       
      You only have to look around to see that this tendency is still very much with us, fifty years after the war. Yes there are lots of dark supermodels and Latino actresses, but the real idols, the women that seem to capture the world's attention -  are still very often the platinum blonde types. Marilyn Monroe, Pammy Anderson, Claudia Schiffer, Reese Witherspoon, Meg Ryan. I'll bet the proportion of blondes in the ranks of successful Hollywood starlets far outweighs the proportion of blondes in the US or world population as a whole.
       
      Similarly, I seem to remember studies that show women prefer blonde children, and that blonde-blue-eyed sperm donors are in more demand than darker ones, etc. I also know from personal travel experiences (i.e. travelling with a blonde fiance) that blondes are explosively desirable in places like Egypt, Turkey, Africa etc. I have also heard that fairness is prized in a relative way in black societies, i.e. that lighter cloured black people are perceived as more attractive than darker black people in Africa etc.
       
      Why is this? Several theories leap to attention. It may just be rarity. That would certainly explain why my fiance got so stared at in Cairo. That and her overtight tee shirt.
       
      Another theory I have heard is that the imperialist west is to blame - i.e. through Hollywood, rock music, anglosaxon pop culture, etc, we foist our preferences onto other cultures. Could be...
       
      But does anyone have an alternative EP explanation? Could there be some evolutionary process at work here?
       
      My thanks in advance
       
      Sean Thomas
    • Robert Karl Stonjek
      Sean Thomas: There may well have been previous debates on this topic; please forgive me if I m reploughing old turf. Right now I am writing an article for the
      Message 2 of 9 , Feb 23, 2005
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        Sean Thomas:
        There may well have been previous debates on this topic; please forgive me if I'm reploughing old turf.
         
        Right now I am writing an article for the London Sunday Telegraph on the 'lebensborn' project - Hitler's attempt to breed a master race by matching unmarried Aryan mothers with virile SS men.
         
        During my of research, I've come across lots of the usual Nazi bollocks about supermen and subhumans, tedious tracts about the general desirability of blondeness and fairness..
         
        But this afternoon as I was reading one particularly offensive screed, it struck me. Seen from one angle the Nazis are just the extreme end of a very human spectrum - the general tendency to admire and desire blonde, fair, blue-eyed people..
         
        You only have to look around to see that this tendency is still very much with us, fifty years after the war. Yes there are lots of dark supermodels and Latino actresses, but the real idols, the women that seem to capture the world's attention -  are still very often the platinum blonde types. Marilyn Monroe, Pammy Anderson, Claudia Schiffer, Reese Witherspoon, Meg Ryan. I'll bet the proportion of blondes in the ranks of successful Hollywood starlets far outweighs the proportion of blondes in the US or world population as a whole.
         
        <Snip>
         
        RKS:
        The simple explanation is the desirability of youth in females.  It is common for babies to have blue eyes, for instance, but they usually change colour after a while.  Blond hair is even seen in Australian Aboriginal youth, but rarely persists into adolescence.  Blonde females don't stay that way for long, usually changing colour to brown by their late twenties.  All of the stars you mentioned are no longer or never were naturally blonde.
         
        Thus blondeness is a sign of youth.  I'm not sure if eye colour darkens with age (apart from the first years of life), but I wouldn't be surprised if blue eyed people gain pigment eventually.
         
        In males, usually a more mature man is sought - youthful blonde, blue eyes may not be such an advantage.
         
        Kind Regards
        Robert Karl Stonjek
      • Pete Carlton
        ... much with us, fifty years after the war. ... common for babies to have blue eyes, for instance, but they usually change colour after a while.  Blond hair
        Message 3 of 9 , Feb 23, 2005
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          Sean Thomas wrote:
          >You only have to look around to see that this tendency is still very
          much with us, fifty years after the war.
          RKS:
          >The simple explanation is the desirability of youth in females.  It is
          common for babies to have blue eyes, for instance, but they usually
          change colour after a while.  Blond hair is even seen in Australian
          Aboriginal youth, but rarely persists into adolescence.

          Pete:
          Explanation for what? We have one vague (how do you define 'a general
          tendency to admire and desire'?) idea based on "looking around", and
          now a pat story to support it. But you always have to do more than
          "look around", since we have known for a long time that when we just
          look around, we are uncritical of confirmatory findings, and dismissive
          of disconfirmatory findings (see
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases for some
          edification).

          I think, to start off with, your line of reasoning exhibits the "no
          true scotsman" fallacy:
          "Yes there are lots of dark supermodels and Latino actresses, but the
          real idols, the women that seem to capture the world's attention -  are
          still very often the platinum blonde types. "

          (i.e., "No scotsman puts sugar on his porridge." -- "But Angus
          MacFarlane puts sugar on his!"--"Well, no >true< scotsman would do
          that.") - in other words, you summarily exclude data from consideration
          that would cast doubt on your original hypothesis.

          I don't mean to stifle speculation, since investigations have to start
          somewhere, and anecdotes and suspicions can lead you to start
          investigating something. But it should be marked as speculation,
          otherwise we're really providing fodder for EP critics. I suggest
          instead of bringing up a few blonde actresses and your own fiance,
          doing a systematic literature review (scholar.google.com and pubmed.com
          will get you far) to see if there is anything there.
        • Razib
          Preference for light skin in females seems close to a cultural universal. In SURVIVAL OF THE PRETTIEST Nancy Etcoff says *within groups* this is probably
          Message 4 of 9 , Feb 23, 2005
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            Preference for light skin in females seems close to a cultural
            universal. In SURVIVAL OF THE PRETTIEST Nancy Etcoff says *within
            groups* this is probably related to the correlation between fair skin
            and elevated estrogen (ergo, fertility) levels.

            On the other hand, blonde preference seems to be a more recent human
            universal. Prior to Meiji Japan women who had brown hair (possibly a
            result of the ~1/5 Jomon/Ainu ancestry of the Japanese) would dye it
            black. In Chinese folk mythology witches had green eyes and red hair
            (red hair being the Chinese equivalent of Westerns equating East Asian
            brunette white to light brown skin as "yellow"). My personal
            experience as a South Asian is though my parents find Southern
            Europeans to be aesthetically pleasing (brunette white skin, dark hair
            and eyes) they find blondeness somewhat unattractive or peculiar.
            Even if you read Pittman's book (I have) you note that blond
            preference went through phases, for example, from the Restortion of
            Charles II to the Victorian Era dark hair was preferred among the
            English elite and blondness had lower class and sluttish associations.

            I myself prefer blondes (my girlfriend is blonde), but I suspect that
            this is probably due to sociocultural influences. The modern Japanese
            vogue for brown hair flies in the face of a long standing preference
            for black hair + white skin in Japan (as does the trend to have
            surgery to attain "Western eyes," prior to the 20th century epicanthic
            folds were considered the ideal).
          • Doug Jones
            I ve done fieldwork on standards of attractiveness among the Ache Indians of Paraguay. Some comments on their standards of attractiveness spurred by Thomas s
            Message 5 of 9 , Feb 26, 2005
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              Re: [evol-psych] Blondeness and Desirability
              I've done fieldwork on standards of attractiveness among the Ache Indians of Paraguay. Some comments on their standards of attractiveness spurred by Thomas's remarks on blondes.

              1) The Ache definitely care about skin color. They draw distinctions among themselves between dark and light-skinned people, based on pretty minor skin color differences. Light-skinned men and women are considered more attractive. This is a very common finding across cultures: not that the lightest possible skin is attractive, but skin at the lighter end of the local spectrum, especially when men evaluate women. Skin color is a marker of nubility in human females -- lightening at puberty, darkening with advancing age -- and of endocrinological status, which suggests an evolutionary basis for male tastes (van den Berghe and Frost; Symons).

              2) Blonde or even lighter than black hair was not considered very attractive. Possibly relevant is that protein deficiency lightens hair color in dark haired people. Malnourished Ache, especially kids, often had lighter hair.

              3) Northern European whites, although light skinned, are certainly not universal paragons of attractiveness. The Ache referred to white people as "long noses" (not a compliment) and weren't crazy about white people's body hair either. On the other hand, Ache men in particular were very attracted photos of East Asian women. Exposure to Western mass media has certainly led to a Westernization of standards of attractiveness in many places (Jones). However, it's not an adequate explanation for color preferences, which often long antedate Westernization.

              Doug Jones
              Department of Anthropology
              102 Stewart Building
              University of Utah
              Salt Lake City UT 84112
              USA

              References:

              van den Berghe, Pierre L. and Frost, Peter. (1986). Skin color preference, sexual dimorphism and sexual selection: A case of gene-culture coevolution? Ethnic and Racial Studies, 9, 87-113.

              Donald Symons 1995 Beauty is in the adaptations of the beholder: The evolutionary psychology of human female sexual attractiveness. Sexual Nature, Sexual Culture Paul Abramson and Steven D. Pinkerton, editors. Chicago: University of Chicago, pp. 80-118

              Doug Jones 1996 Physical Attractiveness and the Theory of Sexual Selection: Results from Five Populations Ann Arbor, MI: Museum of Anthropology Press, University of Michigan

              Doug Jones 2000 Physical attractiveness, race, and somatic prejudice in Bahia, Brazil. Adaptation and Human Behavior: An Anthropological Perspective Lee Cronk, Napoleon Chagnon, and William Irons, editors. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter, pp. 129-148

              -- 
              
            • Joao Sousa
              ... I ve read with great interest your book about sexual selection in 5 cultures (especially your description of the Brazilian bunda cult was delicious and
              Message 6 of 9 , Feb 28, 2005
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                Doug Jones wrote:

                >Check out the references at the end of my post. The Van den Berghe and
                >Frost is particularly thorough. They establish from a wide range of
                >historical and ethnographic sources that preference for lighter than
                >average skin, at least when males evaluate females, is extremely
                >widespread, found in traditional societies in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and
                >the New World. It is documented in many cases where contact with Europeans
                >has been limited or non-existent, and European features are not considered
                >especially attractive. (Both the preference for light skin and the
                >distaste for European features were present among the Ache for example,
                >who were quite isolated at the time I studied them. Part of the puberty
                >ritual for Ache girls involved wrapping them in woven mats or secluding
                >them during the day, making them lighter and prettier.) There are few if
                >any instances of the reverse preference -- for darker skinned females --
                >at least society-wide, although there are certainly individual men with
                >different tastes. Note that preference for skin at the lighter end of the
                >local scale does not necessarily translate into attraction to "white"
                >skin, which may be too far out of the local range of variation to be
                >attractive. The evidence for women's feelings about skin color is more
                >mixed, with women reported to prefer light skinned men in some societies
                >(the Ache definitely) and dark skinned in others. The general rule
                >according to van den Berghe and Frost, is that ideal skin color is lighter
                >for females than for males.
                >
                >There's room to argue about the causes of this preference. I find the
                >argument about skin color as a marker of nubility and endocrine function
                >most plausible, but maybe symbolic associations of light and dark play a
                >role too. However, I think, based on what I've read in the references I
                >gave, that the phenomenon itself is well documented, and needs some kind
                >of explanation, adaptationist or otherwise.

                I've read with great interest your book about sexual selection in 5
                cultures (especially your description of the Brazilian "bunda" cult was
                delicious and it conforms to my view! - I know Brazilian culture well). I
                agree that such a universal preference for light skinned women calls for an
                explanation, and possibly an evolutionary-adaptationist one. It may be
                cultural evolution only, genetic evolution only or gene-culture coevolution.

                However I have caveats with the idea that males select for some traits
                because they signal fertility in a mate. I accept that, but with caveats.
                What fertility are we talking about? The probability of conception in a
                single sex act (or a couple of them in a short term liasion)? Or some
                measure encompassing also the loss of fetuses by abortion, and infantile
                mortality?

                If a man is about to choose a woman to marry, and they will stay married
                for, say, 12 years, with the average of 4 years of birth-spacing that seems
                to be the most adaptive one (I'm relying here on Blurton-Jones studies
                about the Kung), then the man should select a woman who guarantees him
                something near the expected 3 surviving children after these 12 years; this
                pondering all possible troubles, including infantile mortality. Than, cues
                that a woman will likely have 2.5 or 2.8 instead of 3 surviving children,
                will be good reason to reject her (provided that the man has some
                "aspiration" of getting a wife near the top of quality; many males will
                choose lower because their own quality doesn't permit them better). If we
                call these composite expectancy of reproductive success "fertility"
                (perhaps broad-sense fertility) I agree that there should be major
                selective forces selecting preferences in males for this broad sense
                fertility. But the "narrow sense" fertility (say probability of conceiving
                in 1 week or so) seems little relevant to maximize fitness in a long
                lasting marriage.

                In this narrow sense, one could think that it would be relevant in short
                term mating (in a one night stand, the man would have higher fitness if the
                probability of conception was, say, 3% instead of 2%, and that would be
                significant); however, it seems that in short term mating, the concept of
                male choice has little relevance: the best for a male is to mate always,
                for he has little cost (unless the woman has strong evidence of STDs or is
                post-menopausal...), so there is no point in choosing this female and
                reject the other; or perhaps there will be rare occasions in which
                extremely successful male philanderers (Don Juans, etc) will choose between
                two conquests because they have no time for both; but this seems to be a
                rare situation.

                So, basically, I accept male choice for marriage but not for other
                liasions, in general. For marriage, "instantaneous" fertility of the woman
                seems little important for the man; but the broad sense fertility measured
                after many years is important. However this will have a strong component of
                general health.

                Now trying to relate this to the initial thread about male preference for
                lighter skins. Is this because of the broad sense fertility? Is there
                evidence that, all around the world, the women who have somewhat darker
                skin than the average of their population (and which seem to be less
                preferred) end up reproducing less in their marriages (for example, in 12
                years periods of their marriages they end up with less surviving children
                than their lighter rivals)? I would be surprised if it was true, but
                nevertheless, raise the question.

                When I see pictures of West African women bearing children and
                breast-feeding them normally (in some of these regions their skin is
                totally black) it's hard for me to believe that this women have any
                problems with their estrogen, progesterone, or the feminine organic
                responses that translate into reproduction; perhaps the ovaries? The
                uterus? However, what I'm expressing here is an argument of incredulity.
                Others in this list perhaps can refer to me data showing the fertility
                problems of these women.
              • Liza May
                ... It would make sense to me that males would have been able to discriminate a little for one-night stands and extra-marital affairs but would have been
                Message 7 of 9 , Feb 28, 2005
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                  Joao Sousa wrote:
                  > I accept male choice for marriage but not for other
                  > liasions, in general. For marriage, "instantaneous" fertility
                  > of the woman
                  > seems little important for the man; but the broad sense
                  > fertility measured
                  > after many years is important. However this will have a
                  > strong component of
                  > general health.

                  It would make sense to me that males would have been able to discriminate a
                  little for "one-night stands" and "extra-marital affairs" but would have
                  been much more choosy for marriage material which required a substantial
                  investment.

                  The first case (short term) would seem to be borne out today by young men's
                  sense of being a "kid in a candy shop" - that the world is simply exploding
                  with lusciously gorgeous women if only one can get to them all; but with the
                  certain knowledge that not every woman is desirable, that there are also
                  some who are most definitely *not* attractive.

                  The second case (long term) would be illustrated by all the "cold feet"
                  "commitment phobia" "can't say I Love You" "R-word-phobes" and all the rest
                  of men's excruciatingly careful choosing when it comes to "settling down."

                  Liza
                • JVK
                  ... 1. Testosterone increases red cell production and gives males a darker complexion than females. 2. Testosterone increases height in males, making them
                  Message 8 of 9 , Feb 28, 2005
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                    Doug Jones wrote:
                    Blondeness and Desirability
                    The general rule according to van den Berghe and Frost, is that ideal skin color is lighter for females than for males.

                    There's room to argue about the causes of this preference. I find the argument about skin color as a marker of nubility and endocrine function most plausible, but maybe symbolic associations of light and dark play a role too.
                    1. Testosterone increases red cell production and gives males a darker complexion than females.
                    2. Testosterone increases height in males, making them taller than females.
                    3. Testosterone is responsible for characteristically male facial features.
                    4. Testosterone is manifest in the characteristically masculine scent signature.

                    Tall, dark, and handsome is a visual description of a masculine scent signature. The most likely
                    causal link to how these features become attractive to women is that olfactory input conditions
                    the visual response cycle because the olfactory input is sexually dimorphic and causes sexually
                    dimorphic changes in hormone levels (throughout life).

                    Lionesses prefer lions with darker manes, and lions with darker manes have higher testosterone levels.
                    This preference is not likely to be due to the good looks of the lion; but is very likely to be due to
                    testosterone related olfactory appeal.

                    Jim Kohl
                    www.pheromones.com
                  • Doug Jones
                    ... Susan Bordo, Check out the references at the end of my post. The Van den Berghe and Frost is particularly thorough. They establish from a wide range of
                    Message 9 of 9 , Mar 2, 2005
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                      Blondeness and Desirability
                      At 2:21 PM -0800 2/26/05, Doug Jones wrote:

                      However, it's not an adequate explanation for color preferences, which often long antedate Westernization.


                      I'd like some evidence for this.  What are your examples and sources?

                      Best, Susan Bordo


                      --
                      Susan Bordo

                      Otis A. Singletary Chair in the Humanities
                      Professor of English and Women's Studies
                      111 Breckinridge Hall
                      University of Kentucky
                      Lexington, Ky. 40506-0056
                      Telephone and Fax: 859-257-1895
                      http://www.uky.edu/AS/WomenStudies/bordo.html

                      Susan Bordo,

                      Check out the references at the end of my post. The Van den Berghe and Frost is particularly thorough. They establish from a wide range of historical and ethnographic sources that preference for lighter than average skin, at least when males evaluate females, is extremely widespread, found in traditional societies in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and the New World. It is documented in many cases where contact with Europeans has been limited or non-existent, and European features are not considered especially attractive. (Both the preference for light skin and the distaste for European features were present among the Ache for example, who were quite isolated at the time I studied them. Part of the puberty ritual for Ache girls involved wrapping them in woven mats or secluding them during the day, making them lighter and prettier.) There are few if any instances of the reverse preference -- for darker skinned females -- at least society-wide, although there are certainly individual men with different tastes. Note that preference for skin at the lighter end of the local scale does not necessarily translate into attraction to "white" skin, which may be too far out of the local range of variation to be attractive. The evidence for women's feelings about skin color is more mixed, with women reported to prefer light skinned men in some societies (the Ache definitely) and dark skinned in others. The general rule according to van den Berghe and Frost, is that ideal skin color is lighter for females than for males.

                      There's room to argue about the causes of this preference. I find the argument about skin color as a marker of nubility and endocrine function most plausible, but maybe symbolic associations of light and dark play a role too. However, I think, based on what I've read in the references I gave, that the phenomenon itself is well documented, and needs some kind of explanation, adaptationist or otherwise.

                      Doug Jones
                      Department of Anthropology
                      102 Stewart Building
                      University of Utah
                      Salt Lake City UT 84112
                      USA

                      -- 
                      
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