The online dating site OK Cupid recently disclosed that people who post the most beautiful profile pictures are less likely to receive dates than people with more down-to-Earth looks.
That’s consistent with other research, reviewed by social psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which demonstrated that people move out of the way when extremely attractive women walk through public space.
“Attractiveness can convey more power over visible space, but that in turn can make others feel they can’t approach that person,” said Dr. Tonya Frevert, who studies the different ways that extreme physical beauty is received in social situations.
As theoretical physicist and popular science author Dr. Michio Kaku explains, this doesn’t seem consistent with the evolutionary context of beauty:
“[W]hat we want is healthy mates. Beauty, for example, is a way in which we have of judging the health of another person. … According to evolutionary psychology, the markers are for estrogen and testosterone, shown in the body by beauty and physical health. For example, estrogen has estrogen markers: large eyes, small chin and thick lips. Same thing with testosterone: testosterone makes large necks and strong jaws and a lower voice. That also means the person is fit; the person is healthy. These are markers that we use.”
Being judged as healthy from a potential mate, however, is a double-edged sword when it comes to receiving professional health evaluations. Because strong physical features are associated with health, medical professionals have been observed giving more care and attention to sufferers of pain when they do not exhibit such features.
How we react to beauty is a mixture of biology and our society’s interpretation of that biology. It is the social status given to very attractive people that makes the rest of us too nervous to approach them. They are “out of our league,” but that league’s charter is socially constructed.
In other words, being mindful of how the status of beauty is socially determined can help us overcome our biases, helping ensure a level playing field in personal and professional arenas regardless of inherited physical traits.
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