It’s a huge trade off. On one hand, your slavish attempts at achieving symmetry through exercise and diet might very well weaken the human genome to the eventual point where all humans not only look like Larry King (even the females), but they also have his defective, heart-attack-a-month cardiovascular system to boot.
On the other hand, your goal of achieving symmetry might pay big personal dividends in the way of sexual and financial reward.
So make your choice: either give up exercising and save mankind, or selfishly pump away so that you can satisfy your pecker and your pockets.
Maybe you need some background info before you can make your decision. Very well.
We need to set the Time Tunnel to the University of New Mexico in the early 1990′s. There we find biologist Randy Thornhill and his beloved scorpion flies. Entomologists know scorpion flies as predatory insects that hang upside down from plants until some tasty sad sack insect wanders by.
Thornhill has just discovered something unusual about this odd insect. Unlike many animals that choose mates based on apparent superficialities like color, female scorpion flies get moist insect panties from symmetry — more specifically, the symmetry of a male scorpion fly’s wings.
To Thornhill’s amazement, females preferred symmetrical males even when they were hidden from view; evidently even their smell is appealing.
It seems that symmetrical wings signal that the male is extremely adept at catching prey and defending it from competitors.
Oh, but don’t misinterpret her ardor; it has has nothing to do with the hopes he’ll share some of his chitinous bounty with her. Instead it means the male has what Thornhill calls high “biological quality.”
Biological quality equates to excellent genes that he’d likely pass down to any scorpion fly offspring.
Symmetry, though, is a pretty difficult and rare state for any living thing.
When a living thing is conceived, it develops by neatly splitting cells. If every division were perfect, left and right sides would be mirror images, but it hardly ever works that way. Genetic mutations, pollution, and disease skew symmetry.
For instance, if you were to cut a photo of yourself in half, copy each half, reverse the image, and try to match up each half with its doppelganger, the picture would probably look very much different than reality. Exceptions are few and far between.
When it does occur, though, it’s a nearly unmistakable signal that the proud animal possessing such symmetry is healthy and as such, solid mating material.
Thornhill’s observations of scorpion flies made him wonder: could this reverence towards symmetry be universal in the animal kingdom? More specifically, could it be true of humans?
He started experimenting with the faces of the UNM students, manipulating them to make them either more or less symmetrical. Sure enough, male Lobos woofed their approval when they were shown pictures of symmetrical female faces. The female Lobos were similarly appreciative of symmetrical male faces.
That’s not too surprising, but Thornhill found that all aspects of body symmetry contributed to this attraction, right down to the lengths of corresponding fingers!
“It makes sense to use symmetry variation in mate choice,” explained Thornhill. “If you choose a perfectly symmetrical partner and reproduce with them, your offspring will have a better chance of being symmetric and able to deal with perturbations.”
Oddly enough, just as in scorpion flies, human symmetry seems to have a scent, too. Thornhill borrowed a bunch of sweaty T-shirts from a variety of men and asked women to sniff them and relay their impressions. The women found the scent of the most symmetrical men most desirable, especially if the women were menstruating.
In some cases, women didn’t report smelling anything on a particular shirt, yet something about the shirt piqued their libidinous interest.
“We think the detection of these types of scents is way outside consciousness,” explained Thornhill.
Symmetry, though, seems to have more far reaching effects than initial attraction. Thornhill and his research partner interviewed 86 couples and found that women with symmetrical partners were more than twice as likely to orgasm during intercourse. This in itself may be biologically significant because it’s thought that orgasm might make conception more likely as the orgasmic spasms of the female might usher the sperm into the uterus.
But what about things like health? Are symmetrical men healthier than asymmetrical men? Researchers at the University of Michigan sure think so. They asked 100 students to keep journals for two months. Those with asymmetrical faces suffered the most physical complaints ranging from insomnia to nasal congestion. They also reported more anger, jealousy, and social withdrawal.
Beyond pure symmetry, body and face shape also play a role in the general health and reproductive success of the human animal. Much of this is determined by endocrinological factors, but it’s not too big a deductive leap to assume that symmetry conveys health, which in turn conveys endocrinological efficiency.
As I’ve often discussed, men gravitate to a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7, meaning that the ideal waist is 0.7 times that of the hips; in other words, an hourglass shape. Of course, just about anything from 0.67 WHR to 1.18 WHR is attractive to males.
Similarly, a WHR of 0.8 to 1.0 in men is most attractive to women.
This range of WHR is greatly determined by estrogen. If a woman produces the proper amount and mixture of estrogen, the WHR falls into the desired range. Conversely, if a man has the proper levels of Testosterone, along with low levels of estrogen, his WHR will presumably be in the desirable range.
People who fall into these ranges of WHR are less susceptible to cardiovascular disease and disorders in general, including cancer and diabetes. Women in this range have less trouble conceiving.
Consider, too, the effects of hormones on the shape of the male and female face. Higher levels of Testosterone in a male help develop a large lower face and jaw, along with a prominent brow. Having an oversized jaw turns out to be biologically expensive because the androgens required to pay for it tend to compromise the immune system.
However, in a female’s eyes, this large jaw is just an honest advertisement of the male’s health — if he can afford cosmetic, androgen-based features like a large jaw without getting sick, it follows that his immune system is iron clad.
Likewise, estrogen caps bone growth in a woman’s lower face and chin, making them relatively small and short with a smallish nose and fuller lips.
While the ideal female forehead is high, growth of the brow is stymied, thus allowing for the eyes to be more prominent. According to a 1993 study that involved numerous composite photos, the ideal 25-year-old woman had a 14-year-old’s full lips and an 11-year-old’s delicate jaw.
Part and parcel to these androgens that start surging through a girl’s body when she hits puberty is the nearly 35 pounds of reproductive fat around the hips and thighs. In reproductive terms, this fat represents the nearly 80,000 calories it costs to sustain a pregnancy, and the curves it provides are a signal or gauge of reproductive potential.
It seems clear that symmetry and body shape pay dividends in the mating game, but they also seem to correlate with high intelligence.
Mark Prokosch, Ronald Yeo, and Geoffrey Miller, also from the University of New Mexico, correlated body symmetry with performance on intelligence tests. People with symmetrical bodies or symmetrical faces rated more highly on “general intelligence,” or “g”.
They performed better on tests of spatial awareness and language. While the tests weren’t conclusive by any stretch of the imagination, the results were definitely statistically significant.
Dr. Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas is one of the leading researchers on beauty and success. An economist rather than a biologist, Hamermesh has collected evidence to support that beauty is indeed related to success and that, all else being equal, it might be a legitimate business strategy to hire the better looking job applicant.
A little over ten years ago, Hamermesh presided over a series of surveys that showed that ugly people earned less than average incomes while beautiful people earned higher than average incomes. He even determined that the “ugliness penalty” for men was –9% while the “beauty premium” was +5%.
Surprisingly, the ugliness penalty for women was just -6% while the beauty premium was only +4%. This varies from nation to nation and culture to culture. In Shanghai, for instance, the numbers for men are –25% and +3% for men and –31% and +10% for women.
Given the evidence, it appears almost certain that symmetry pays high premiums in mating and career. Still, you have to question the existence of all those beautiful bubbleheads whose sole reason for existence seems to be flashing naked body parts for the enjoyment of men. Likewise, there appears to be no shortage of bona fide dumb blonds traipsing around shopping malls.
I have an idea, but it’s based more on personal observations and conjecture more than anything else. I believe that the “beauty premium” is much higher in the teen years. The bimbettes in question achieved such a high social status among their peers early on that all their needs were met.
Life, even at such an early age, had become a free pass as there are always plenty of horny, desperate men around to foot the bill for everything and anything in the hopes of a sexual reward.
Thus there was no need for these physically gifted mammals to pay attention in school or to study. Any innate intellectual abilities they might have had from having high “biological quality” was stifled. Hence, they didn’t need to develop any practical intelligence; their brains stagnated while their physical symmetry flourished.
The same thing applied to symmetrical men, who, because they were often bigger and more muscular, gravitated towards sports and social interests more than educational ones. They too, never had the need to acquire any practical smarts.
While both groups might still have had superior mental abilities, they remained ignorant and thus were never able to utilize their smarts.
But forget the adolescents; here’s the conundrum. Given our knowledge of exercise and nutrition, we can fairly easily manipulate our God-given symmetry, thus giving the appearance of higher biological quality.
The same, of course, is true for women.
Likewise, with cosmetic surgery, asymmetrical members of either sex — repositories of inferior genes — can be made to look like genetic thoroughbreds.
And what of the supposed alluring scent of symmetrical men? Well, we now have soaps, body washes, and various scents and colognes that might even mimic those alluring scents.
The point is, natural selection is being thwarted. Beings of lower biological value are “passing” as beings of higher biological value and they’re being allowed to pass on inferior genes. Generation after generation will get progressively weaker, unhealthier, and, well, uglier.
You might be skewing and screwing nature. You might be artificially attracting superior, symmetrical females who’ve been deceived by your efforts. Worse yet, you might be mating up with females who are just as guilty of monkeying with their innate desirability (or lack thereof) as you!
Now before I start to sound (more) like some advocate of Nazi-style Social Darwinism or eugenics, I’m not advocating selective breeding. (Mostly because I’d likely get left high and quite literally dry.)
I only bring it up as an interesting point. If indeed man is living longer, it’s because of advancements in medicine, better knowledge of health and eating, and better hygiene — not necessarily because of superior genes being passed on.
Hence the hypothetical choice I offered at the beginning of the article. It was made mostly to be provocative, but I still think it’s a valid point. Naturally, no one’s going to take it upon himself to remain celibate because he’s presenting a genetic package that’s not what it appears to be.
In fact, given the alleged financial and sexual benefits of making yourself appear to be of higher biological value — either through training, diet, or plastic or cosmetic surgery — it seems valid if not downright savvy to do so.
Flabby? Get thee to a gym. Skinny? Ditto. Got a nose that looks like it was lopped off a bust of a Roman senator? Get a nose job. Female with pancake breasts, a droopy ass, or invisible cheekbones? Lay it on; lay it all on. Next to a good education, it’s probably the best financial investment you can make.
Superficial? Hell yes, but we’re lying to ourselves if we don’t agree that a large part of the world functions on beauty. Thus was it ever, thus it shall ever be.
After all, we’re still animals and biology rules.
That, of course, leaves out “inner beauty” and genuine happiness and integrity and honor and all the other truly great things that make life worth living, but those are the topics of a great many more essays.