Looks: Chapter 1
I’ll be going through this book chapter by chapter and posting my thoughts about the contents. Enjoy!
In this chapter, Dr. Patzer looks at how people in the past viewed beauty. He also mentions several notable beauties in ancient times.
The first one is Helen of Troy. Do you remember the legend? Paris was offered three things: wealth, power, or the most beautiful woman in the world. He chose the most beautiful women… over wealth and power. This woman’s beauty started a war. She was responsible for the deaths of many. However, her feelings and reactions are never described in any detail. I found this picture of a pot or vase on google… I believe she’s the one in the middle.
I always wondered how she must have felt, if she was real. All we know about her is that she was beautiful. We don’t know if she was smart, witty, wise, spirited (well, maybe she had to be plenty spirited if she ran off with the hunk).
Dr. Patzer states that to women in those times (and maybe now), she represented the power and potency of human beauty. Beauty that could start a war? Wow.
There’s also Sarah from the book of Genesis in the Bible. She was so beautiful, her husband Abraham was afraid that he’d start a war as well. So when he went to Egypt, he begged her to lie and say that she was his sister instead of his wife (chicken). Pharaoh admired her beauty so much that he gave her husband lots of moolah. The same thing happened to his son Isaac years later, but with Abimelech of the Philistines (I think), not Pharoah.
The writer says that “to the ancient Hebrews and Christians who followed in their… path, physical beauty was a reward from the Almighty, and its opposite was punishment.” He cites Ecclesiastes 8:1-10 in support. This is true, then and now, as wisdom and being assured of God’s grace does more for you than any anti-aging perfume. Sin and worry really does add lines to the face. Botox is not the solution, God is. You’ll look younger.
Patzer goes on to cite findings of Stone Age carvings which depicted women with braided/curled hair. An example is the Brassempouy lady on the right. He asks why primitive humans felt the need to compete for sexual attraction.
The answer, Dr. Patzer goes on to say, is in the biology of sexual attraction.
We as humans feel the unconscious need to reproduce. “A healthy, youthful appearance is attractive because it signifies reproductive capability.” Men want women to bear their children, which is why they would look to younger women. Women want men to support them, which is why women tend to learn towards older men with stable jobs.
However, not everyone looks like the perfect beauty. As a result, people worried that if they weren’t attractive enough, they wouldn’t get laid. This is true, even now. Competition ensues.
Like in the case of peacocks.
It turns out that there’s general agreement about what is attractive. Look at the magazine covers! Dr. Patzer asks, “Is there an absolute standard?”
The Roman ideal was “absence of flaws.” (I forget who said it, I think it was Cicero.) It’s not the presence of attractive features. It’s not that nice nose that makes you attractive, it’s the absence of age spots due to airbrushing. This implies a standard of perfect beauty. And if you do look at some professional airbrushing sites, you’ll see that these sites tend to airbrush all the flaws away. Ugliness is measured by how far you depart from the standard.
Oops… very far.
What about bodily beauty?
In several surveys, young men leaned toward hourglass shapes. Women with large breasts and hips and a small waist. Young women liked big, balanced, properly built men.
It turns out that Dr. Peter Ellison in his article “Ecology, Reproduction, and the Human Evolution” found that the hourglass figure is the one designed best for motherhood.
However, not everyone can look like Marilyn Monroe. Maybe there’s something else we women can try.
A study done by Dr. Craig Roberts showed that a woman’s face is most alluring when she’s at the peak of her fertility.
Which leads us to cosmetics. Remember the Egyptians with their elaborate hair, heavy makeup, and strong perfume? The picture to the right is an excellent example. (Those perfume cones are bigger than their heads!!!) Preparations were also used by both sexes to keep their skin smooth and young. According to the link (click on kohl) the Egyptians had the equivalent of rouge, lip-gloss, and nail polish. There was also kohl. It blackened the upper lid and lashes, sort of like eyeliner and mascara. Rouge was used to make their cheeks pink. White powder was also used to give them the appearance of fairness.
Dr. Patzer says that a woman does this because it more closely resembles the coloring that comes during ovulation.
While we’re talking about beauty in ancient times, we should remember Nefertiti. Her name literally means “beautiful one.” We don’t know anything else about her, other than her beauty. We know she was the queen of one of the most notorious kings of Egypt… the king who changed the religion of Egypt and made the artists draw him and his wife AS THEY WERE. Which means showing him with a pot belly. Which we do know that he had. (He was a very sickly king.) As a matter of fact, we also know that he died early, leaving his wife and many daughters. There’s a theory going around which says that King Tut was his grandson.
But anyway. What happened to Nefertiti after her husband died is unknown.
But we’ll still remember her as one of the most beautiful women of her time.
Helen of Troy as well as the goddesses Aphrodite and Hera (even goddesses took advantage of cosmetics, apparently) wore dresses, veils, jewelry, etc to enhance their appearance. They usually ended up getting laid, too.
And let’s not forget Chinese women of the past. Beauty was important to them as well. There was the beautiful dancer Chao Fei-yen who caught the eye of an emperor. She and her more beautiful sister used their beauty as a sword against the guy and threw the palace into a power struggle.
From this article:
Like many women in Chinese literature who have the beauty of a delicate flower, our femme fatale also has great beauty. In the story of “Empress Chao Fei-Yen,” “her gait was so light that her graceful carriage, which was beyond imitation, was compared to the single stem of flower dangling in the grasp of a human hand” (307). But a delicate blossom she is not. She is scheming and lascivious, sleeping with many men in an attempt to have a baby she can pass off as the Emperor’s child to secure her position in the palace. She is jealous, resenting her sister who has won the Emperor’s favor. She is deceitful, lying to the Emperor of her pregnancy. She is threatening, bribing the Eunuch Wang to find her a baby to pass off as her own to cover up her false pregnancy.
Empress Chao is not the only scheming one in this story. Her sister, Chao-Yi, proves to be a formidable opponent. More beautiful than her sister, Chao-Yi is also more ruthless and heartless. Suspecting her sister’s trickery, Chao-Yi also becomes suspicious of other women having the Emperor’s baby, and orders the baby of an attendant, as well as all pregnant maids, killed. In her madness, she kills the Emperor and then commits suicide. In this story, both femme fatales fell victim to their own evildoing.
They failed. And Confucians sought to promote dignity and virtue as better qualities than beauty.
They failed, but they are still remembered as ladies who used their beauty to their best advantage.
Dr. Patzer concludes this chapter by saying that the biological imperative to reproduce fuels this phenomenon. It should be no surprise that both men and women use beauty to their personal advantage.
After all, we’ve learned how to play the game very early in life.