The Scientific Fundamentalist

A look at the hard truths about human nature.

Barbie: Manufactured by Mattel, designed by evolution I

Why do men like blonde bombshells?

Why do men like blonde bombshells (and why do women want to look like them)?

It is commonly believed by social scientists and lay public alike that the media impose arbitrary images of ideal female beauty on girls and women in our society, and force them to aspire to these artificial and arbitrary standards.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

According to this claim, girls and women want to look like supermodels or actresses or pop idols because they are bombarded with images of these women.  By implication, according to this view, girls and women will cease to want to look like them if the media would cease inundating them with such images, or else change the arbitrary standards of female beauty.  This view has been promoted, among many others, by the former model turned feminist social activist Jean Kilbourne in her documentary film series Killing Us Softly.

Apparently, Kilbourne and other feminists believe that girls and women are mindless robots who would do and think anything that advertising agents tell them to.  To claim that girls and women want to look like blonde bombshells because of billboards, movies, TV shows, music videos, and magazine advertisements makes as little sense as to claim that people become hungry because they are bombarded with images of food in the media.  If only the media would stop inundating people with images of food, they would never be hungry!

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Anyone can see the absurdity of this argument.  We become hungry periodically because we have physiological and psychological mechanisms that compel us to seek and consume food.  And we have these innate mechanisms because they solve an important adaptive problem of survival.  Our ancestors (long before they were humans or even mammals) who somehow did not become hungry for food did not survive long enough to leave offspring who carried their genes.  We would of course become hungry just as much even if all the commercials about food disappeared today.  The advertisements are the consequences of our tendency to become hungry, not the causes.  They exploit our innate needs for food but do not create them.

The same is true with the ideal of female beauty.  Two pieces of evidence should suffice to refute the claim that images in the media, and “culture” in general, force girls and women to desire to look like blonde bombshells.  First, women were dyeing their hair blonde more than half a millennium, possibly two millennia, ago, when there were no TV, movies, and magazines (although there were portraits, and it is due to these portraits that we know today that women were dyeing their hair blonde in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy).  Women’s desire to be blonde preceded the media by centuries, if not millennia.

Second, a recent study shows that women in Iran, where they are generally not exposed to Western media and culture, and thus would not know Jessica Simpson from Roseanne Barr, and where most women wear the traditional hijab that loosely covers their entire body so as to make it impossible to tell what shape it is, are actually more concerned with their body image and want to lose more weight than their American counterparts in the land of Vogue and the Barbie doll.  Traditional social sciences, which ascribe the preferences and desires of women entirely to socialization by the media, would have difficulty explaining how Italian women in the fifteenth century and Iranian women today both aspire to and pursue the same ideal image of female beauty as do women in contemporary Western societies.

Why, then, do women want to look like blonde bombshells?  Evolutionary psychology suggests that it is because men want to mate with women who look like them.  Women’s desire to look like them is a direct, realistic, and sensible response to this desire of men.  This simply leads to another question:  Why do men want to mate with women who look like them?  Because women who look like them have higher reproductive value and fertility and attain greater reproductive success on average.  There is nothing arbitrary about the image of ideal female beauty; it has been precisely and carefully calculated by millions of years of evolution by sexual selection.  Men today want to mate with women who look like blonde bombshells, and, as a result, women want to look like them, because our ancestral men who did not want to mate with women who looked like them did not leave as many offspring as those who did.

Let’s take a closer look at exactly what I mean by “blonde bombshells.”  Note, first, that there has been a long line of blonde bombshells in the Western media:  Pamela Anderson, Jordan, Madonna, Brigitte Bardot, Jayne Mansfield, all the way back to the iconic Marilyn Monroe and even further back in history.  And there are numerous contemporary examples as well:  Jessica Simpson, Cameron Diaz, Scarlett Johansson, among many others.  Readers from non-Western societies can suitably substitute representatives of female beauty from their own cultures.  I do not know who they are, but I can nonetheless be confident that they share many of the features with their Western counterparts.

What are these features?  In the next several posts, I will isolate and discuss in turn the key features that define the image of ideal female beauty.  These are youth, long hair, small waist, large breasts, blonde hair, blue eyes, and large eyes.  There is evolutionary logic behind each one.

Satoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist at LSE and the coauthor (with the late Alan S. Miller) of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters.

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