Friday, June 29, 2012

Fun Fact Friday: What Evolutionary Psychology Tells Us About

Continuing our exploration of Nancy Etcoff's book Survival of The Prettiest, today's lesson and discussion questions come from Chapter 3, titled "Pretty Pleases."  Again, let's recall that Etcoff is writing from a particular theoretical perspective, Evolutionary Psychology, which insists that "our passionate pursuit of beauty reflects the workings of a basic instinct (7)".

In this chapter, Etcoff begins to explain why attractive people often receive privileges, focusing on how men and women consider attractiveness when it comes to selecting mates.  Etcoff states that "for both sexes, looks are more important to short-term casual relationships than for more serious relationships" in which other qualities become more important.  Abundant research shows that neither sex views attractiveness as a neutral or unimportant quality to insider when choosing a mate.  Neither men nor women view attractiveness as indispensable.  That said, even though both sexes want beauty in a mate, "men want it more," (63).  In other words (surprise, surprise) beauty does matter when it comes to mate selection, and it matters in a gendered way.

Is this "New Younger Woman Gets New Younger Car"!??
Etcoff also brings up the issue of aging and attractiveness, and how this impacts women, in particular.  Now, we all know that our culture values youthfulness as an element of beauty, for women more so than for men.  From an evolutionary perspective, this is due to women's fertility decreasing with age.  So, are men built with innate biological-clock-dectectors that somehow sense a woman's decreasing fertility?  Nope.  Rather, the appearance of youth seems to be used as a proxy.  These (supposedly) innate drives help explain why women feel pressured to maintain youthful appearances.  Speaking of pressure, research shows that, as older men re-marry, they tend to select younger and younger wives.  (Bah!)  The threat of being replaced by a younger woman like a car with too many miles gets traded in for a new model, sounds like pretty strong motivation for women to spend bundles of cash on beauty products and cosmetic surgery.

This all sounds like crappy news (for women, at least!), and yet, no Ev-Psych essay on mate selection could leave out the fact that women, more so than men, tend to prefer mates with access to wealth and resources. (We are such gold-diggers! Shame!)  So there. men!  We ladies can race you all the way to the bottom of the bad gender stereotypes race!
EEW.  Again.
Personal aside: if you don't think these patterns exist, I implore you to check out the website (byline: "Dating for the attractive and successful!"  I'll give you one guess as to which gender tends to be the attractive one in the pairings, and which gender tends to be the successful one!)  See the zoomed-in image to your right for some scientific definitions of exactly what a "sugardaddie" and a "sugarbabe" are....  BTW, please don't be tempted to actually sign up for this dating service.  I am pretty open-minded about love/attraction/pairings, etc. but the power differential that implicitly results from dating explicitly for these characteristics is pretty concerning to me.  I can't help but recall my good friend Liz's favorite (sarcastic) line: "Beauty fades but money is forever!"  In other words, shitty economy aside, when beauty fades, money can just go out and buy more.  Therefore, it seems more prudent to seek long-term love with a partner who appreciates characteristics that don't fade quite so quickly!  

Getting back to the lesson:  The good news is that even evolutionary psychologists admit that the MOST important characteristics that the average men and most women look for in mates are NOT beauty and bucks.  Yes, men value looks more than women do, and, yes, women value "success" more than men do, but characteristics like kindness, honesty, and faithfulness rank higher on the list than beauty/succss for both sexes. 

I'll say that again: characteristics like kindness, honesty, and faithfulness rank higher on the list than beauty/success for both sexes.   (BTW, I didn't get this from the Etcoff book, but from other sources that she didn't bother citing... boo.)

Thus, it appears that (1) we women and men are more alike than dissimilar AND (2) we aren't all superficial jerks.  Hooray!  Take that!

Alright... of this talk about sugar has left me feeling hypoglycemic.  I'm headed out to buy me some candy.  Sugar Daddies, anyone?

Question for discussion: there's been a ton of criticism for these "sugar daddy" dating websites.  Many critics compare them to prostitution, while supporters say things like "all relationships involve exchange," or "well, wives sometimes sleep with their husbands to get a new fridge." Anyway, there seems to be a pretty huge grey area when it comes to the things that people can legally "exchange" within romantic relationships.  What do YOU think?  Further, what do YOU exchange, if anything?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Gender, Appearance and Inequality: Again, Finally!

Too much of a good thing....
Have you ever had a bit too much of something you loved, and then never wanted to see it again (at least for a while)?  It's the classic ice-cream shop employee's dilemma of never wanting to eat ice cream again for as long as he or she is alive.  Well, folks, that's an apt metaphor for how I've been feeling over the past few weeks about my seminar, "Gender, Appearance, and Inequality."

For those of you who have never taught before, the stress and intensity that "Final's Week" has for students is followed by an equally stressful and intense "paper & exam grading week" for teachers.  Over the past three weeks, while coaching my students through their final papers, and then grading said papers, I got a little taste of that "Ice-cream AGAIN!?!  I'm gonna puke!" kind of feeling.  In other words, it has felt physically impossible for me to take one more "bite" of my seminar by blogging about it.

For this, I must apologize.  I know that many of you visit this blog for a blend of feminist critique, positive body image news and activities, and personal anecdotes, along with a dose of bemused fashionista ponderings.  The pendulum has recently swung too far towards the later, with not enough of the former.

I thank you for your patience.  Happily, as of this past Wednesday, I've officially ended my "in person" seminar by submitting final grades, and I finally feel ready to turn back to my "virtual" classroom,  here!  (As a quick reminder, I've decided that my Fun Fact Fridays will incorporate shortened lessens and discussion questions from my seminar, working in the order of my syllabus, covering 1 reading - or 1 chapter, if it's a longer reading - each FFF.)  And so, without further ado: 

Last time we explored some questions raised in Chapter 2 of legal scholar Deborah Rhode's 2010 book, The Beauty Bias.
Today we'll do the same for the Introduction chapter of Harvard psychologist Nancy Etcoff's 2000 book, Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty.

I set up my course by offering my students two theoretical perspectives which help explain our culture's fascination with "beauty" - and also why people who have it are treated so differently from people who don't.  The first perspective, which is represented in this book, is that of Evolutionary Psychology, which essentially says that what we find beautiful can often be linked to reproductive success.  An oft-cited concept from this line of thinking is the idea that many physical features - including facial symmetry, clear skin, and (for women) a low waist-to-hip ratio, are considered attractive across all cultures and also signify good reproductive health.  Evolutionary Psychology views cultural ideas about beauty as innate and natural, a view that renders the inequalities resulting from appearance a simple fact of (evolved) life.

In her introductory chapter, Etcoff sets herself apart from many feminist scholars from the get-go, by admitting that our culture may be full of industries that take advantage of our desires for beauty, but that these industries are only building off of our innate drives.
She opens by discussing two comment arguments about the concept of beauty.  One suggests that beauty serves no purpose, has no depth, and is defined by (and at the whim of) advertising and marketing.  The second perspective suggests that beauty is common sense, and that it gives color and vivacity to our world.  Etcoff contends that beauty is a combination of both, but she also distinguishes innate, universal beauty from fashion or accessories, which she sees as the "icing" that decorates that which is beautiful.  How do we recognize and define beauty in the first place?  Etcoff suggests that we have a "sixth sense" for it, and it is hard to articulate with specific definitions, but easily, and universally, recognized.

Etcoff saves the hard-hitting details of this perspective for later chapters, which is what I will do as well.  In the meantime, I can feel you all bracing for a fight (a lot of feminists HATE Ev-Psych because it often reifies stereotypes).

For the record: I don't always love what evolutionary psychologists have to say (especially when their research seems to excuse men for acting like brutish infidelious sugar-daddies or women acting like superficial catty gold-diggers who), but, for the most part, I've always found Ev-Psych to be fascinating and insightful.  This book was a game-changer for me when I was in college, which is why I always assign it to my students.  I have to remind myself that, just because men and women may have evolved to have slightly different natures, this doesn't mean that we're destined to fulfill the worst stereotypes of our sex.  Indeed, rather then rendering us as unchangeable as a leopard's spots, understanding the science behind our innate drives gives us more and better tools to work with in our quests for humanistic improvement!!  I ask you to try and embrace this spirit over the next few weeks as we learn more about what Evolutionary Psychologists have to say about beauty and attraction, and decide for ourselves what evidence we find compelling versus not-so-compelling!

I'm excited to engage you all in some of the debates that have "evolved" from this topic. :)

Here's today's discussion question: can you remember a time, early in your life, when you were struck by a "sixth sense" that someone was beautiful?  What did it feel like, and what was beautiful about this person?  Do you think your perception of this person's beauty was innate, taught, or a combination??

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Haute Hump Day vs. "Hottie Hump Day" (Gee, thanks honey!)

I'd like to give a shout out to my lovely husband, who's pronunciation and comprehension of the French language is completely nonexistent.  A few days ago Michael complimented me on my outfit from "last week's 'Hottie Hump Day'"  Yes, he thought I'd named this weekly post by creatively re-spelling "hottie" .... because I'm cool and mysterious like that, right?  It made me laugh, and also felt great to hear my husband call me a "hottie".  Life's simple pleasure, non?

Speaking of which, today's outfit is a simple pleasure.  Built around comfort and color, I've forced myself to (yet again) abandon blue jeans and a t-shirt for the sake of branching out.  I had an awful time with my camera artistry this week, so I'm throwing in a few shots that - when added together - ought give you the full picture!

For silhouette (facing East): 

Yellow Tank Top by Gap - Similar
Light Wash Denim shirt by Bella Dahl  (via Nordstrom Rack)
Olive Cropped Pants by Vince - Similar
Leather Belt by JCrew - Similar
Leather Bag by Dooney and Bourke - Similar
Shoes by Lucky Brand - Similar
Necklace, handmade by Saami artisan - Similar

For color (facing West):
All of the colors are brighter here.... including my hair!  I think it's time for some low-lights....
For random detail:
(as I double checked to make sure the 10-second timer was on.  It was.)
This necklace was handmade by a Saami artisan from Norway.
For sympathy:
(my camera was on auto-NOT-focus for ages!)
It's almost artistic.... I'm a fashionable ghost haunting my apartment complex's parking lot....

Okay, a question for all of you: How many handbags do you own?  How many is too many, how many is not enough?  How much variety in shape, size, color, and material?

FYI, the reason I'm asking is because I have an insane shoe collection, but for some reason my handbag collection tops out at six.  I haven't bought a new bag in at least 2 years, if not longer.  I guess I'm waiting for the right one to show up at the right price, but... considering that four of my six bags are either brown or orange leather, I'm feeling an urge to diversify!  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Haute Hump Day - Leopard Print Cardi, Tangerine Bag, Turquoise Top - Perfecto!

Haute Hump Day is doing it's job plus overtime.  
Todays outfit started out with my usual t-shirt and jeans.  A few months ago I would have been proud of myself for picking out a particularly cool t-shirt (cool because 1. it's a linen blend, and 2. because it's an asymmetrical cut), but it would have stopped there.  

Today, thanks to my commitment to actually taking pictures of myself and posting them online, I added: a funky leopard-print card, a teardrop turquoise necklace, a bright tangerine bag, and ... heels instead of flats.  Want to know the best part?  It's just as comfortable as the original, just waaaay more cute!.  What do you think? :)

Leopard Print Cardigan by JCrew - Similar
Turquoise Drop Necklace - Similar
Tangerine Astor Satchel Bag by Michael Kors - Similar
Platform Leather Sandals by Mia - Similar

Accessories Still Life.  I feel like an artist. Beautiful!
A tip for anyone who has struggled to layer over an asymmetrical shirt.  Try hooking the bottom button of your cardigan BEHIND your back, which turns your straight-angeled card into something similarly fluttery.  See below:
Not trying to show off my butt, just my
button-the-bottom-button-behind-your-back cardigan trick!
I love this "Fluttered Hem Tee" so much that I got it (on sale) in 3 colors!
So tell me: What are YOU wearing today? 
Also - any other ideas for accessory color combos that work well with turquoise?? 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Haute Hump Day - Blue Maxi Dress + Mod Platform Wedges

Have you ever kept most of your outfit kind of boring (or at least not very distracting) so you could put the spotlight on an accessory?  Today, it's all about the shoes!  These mod platforms reminded me of mid-century modern furniture (which I can't afford) , but ... in a pair of shoes (which I can afford).  :)

Michael took this from a weird angle so I look oddly tall.
Gotta love what an empire waist + platforms can do for proportions!
 Blue Maxi Dress by Max Studio (via Ross) - similar
Orange Jersey Cardigan (below) by Splendid (via Anthropologie sale rack) - similar
Blown Glass Necklace, gift - similar

LOVE these shoes, especially getting them at 25% of original price!!

Maybe I should have paired them with a short dress?

Happy girl!
The entire ensemble!
What do you think of this week's getup?  I feel like I'm missing some pattern, but didn't have anything that seemed "just right."
What accessories and pieces do YOU like to show off? 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Class is Canceled!

Dear Students,
Today's "class" has been canceled!  I'm out-of-comission for a few days, thanks to a looming book-chapter deadline plus taking care of a sick lil' pup.  Noelle (aka "Squirt") was suspended from doggie daycare yesterday, because of her tummy troubles.  Poor girl.  I was sent to the principal's office once in elementary school, so I know this can be traumatizing!
Awww Squirt, it's a good thing you're so darn cute!!
Having to be stay-at-home puppy parents for the next week will be quite the bummer, but Michael and I are hopeful that she'll be feeling better soon with help from a bland diet (aka, home-cooked food), a round of tummy meds and some pro-biotics.

Any tummy-fixing tips from those who have dealt with anything like this before?  (FYI, she is negative for parasites, thank goodness!)