Youth and Health: the canons of female beauty

Youth and Health: the canons of female beauty

Men have always and in all cultures been attracted to women with certain physical characteristics which, from an evolutionary perspective, would indicate the high reproductive value of the potential partner.


Men have always and in all cultures been attracted to women of young age and with certain physical characteristics such as large breasts or a specific relationship between waist and hips. From an evolutionary perspective this preference is guided by the basic criterion that the potential partner has a high reproductive value (Trivers, 1972). This expression describes the number of children that an individual, based on age and gender, can give birth.

Women have a limited supply of eggs, the production of which is about one per month, and fertile age ends between forty and fifty. In this perspective, the male body and brain have evolved in such a way as to be attracted, unconsciously, to those characteristics observable in a woman that indicate good fertility and a good state of health and therefore a pool of healthy genes to be transmitted. to offspring (Symons, 1979, 1995). In fact, while youth indicates a long period of fertility, beauty is an indicator of health, two characteristics linked to the action of the hormones of femininity: estrogen.

Of course, both men and women both express a preference for partners who are intelligent, sympathetic and with whom they share their values, but as several studies have shown, physical beauty plays a much more important role in women than in men (Buss et al. 2001). Differences between men and women in partner choice also extend to non-Western cultures and remain virtually unchanged regardless of ethnic or religious group (Cunningham et al. 1995; Jones, 1996). Male preferences for physically attractive mates are the product of a specific psychological mechanism that goes beyond cultural variation.

For women, on the other hand, physical appearance has much less value than other characteristics, such as reliability, emotional stability, maturity and industriousness in choosing a long-term mate (Buss et al. 1990; Lund et al. 2007). The great investment of the female sex in the stages of gestation, nutrition and protection of a child requires a lot of energy and time. Evolution has meant that the woman is therefore much more selective in choosing a partner than the male, who is instead much more competitive for access to the female sex (Trivers, 1972).

In general, the canons of female beauty are recurrent in all cultures, but some characteristics may vary more from one cultural context to another and from one era to another and one of these is the build and the preference for a more or less fat. Think for example of the Stone Age and the Paleolithic Venuses whose pronounced curves and abundant breasts were the representation of fertility and prosperity as well as of an ideal woman. In some contexts today the situation is not very different. Indeed, it has been seen that in food-restricted and developing cultures, men find more attractive women who are more portly and with more body fat. In these contexts, robustness signals health, well-being and a good economic state (Rosenblatt, 1974; Sugiyama, 2005). However, this is not the case in post-industrialized and high-income countries where there is an abundance of food, such as ours, where the relationship is reversed and a lean, lean body is perceived as more attractive than a more robust physique (Symons , 1979).

Much evidence has shown that the waist-to-hip ratio represents an accurate index of both long-term health status and reproductive value and, in general, women with a low waist-to-hip ratio are rated as more attractive than those with high waist-to-hip ratio (Singh, 1993; Singh and Young, 1995)

The femininity of the face is among the most important indices of attractiveness of women (Gangestad and Scheyd, 2005; Rhodes, 2006). Features such as large eyes, a broad forehead and soft skin, which characterize the face of babies and children, form the so-called baby face. This configuration of traits is capable of eliciting instinctive nurturing responses from adults and combined with facial features that signal sexual maturity, such as high cheekbones and full lips, significantly increase a woman’s sex appeal. It is no coincidence that many women when they put on make-up emphasize these features, make their eyes appear larger, cheekbones more pronounced, lips more flesh, skin more uniform and radiant. Another sign of a woman’s age and health is the quality of the skin,

Leg length, as well as a dynamic and youthful gait, are also important aspects in a woman’s judgments of attraction. Both sexes, in our cultural context, judge a woman with slimmer and longer legs seductive and it is for this reason that the use of heels is so frequent and is particularly effective in this sense (Bertamini and Bennet, 2009; Swami et al . 2006). Not surprisingly, Marilyn Monroe said:

There is no doubt the importance of social and cultural forces in determining the value attributed to beauty and in addressing male preferences. The widespread and constant pressure of the mass media has gradually outlined, over the years, a certain ideal of beauty, often idealizing thinness even with very serious consequences among adolescents and young adults. In fact, since the 1990s the prevalence of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, has been steadily increasing, affecting women more frequently in the age group between 12 and 25 years and is currently one of the most important and delicate issues in the clinical setting (Treasure et al. 2010).

However, sociological and cultural explanations do not exclude the hypotheses discussed up to now. Beyond the standards that are proposed to us, even today, as for our ancestors, the fact remains that it is youth and beauty that contribute to guaranteeing the reproductive success of women.