Thursday, September 16, 2010

anthropology lesson of the day-sex and fashion

For some ridiculous reason, Time, U.S. News, and other hemidemisemi-reputable magazines periodically feel the need to remind us of the link between sex appeal and genetics. This is like giving kids a lesson on why candy is appealing- it should be unnecessary, but it is fun to think about, especially when you're a science geek.

The one thing that puff-piece articles do get right is that it's worth teaching people that the reptilian part of our minds, as men, still plays a significant role in our modern lives. What escapes comments more often than not, however, is what a strong role genetic drives plays in all aspects of modern women's lives, as well. Unfortunately, most articles on this subject veer into Hollywood issues, isms, and quotations from no one who we care enough about to continue here's the cliff notes version for you, regarding sex and fashion, as compiled my me.

Look here, in the US, in 2010. fashion models are linear, with only modest curves about the breasts, and, for the most part, squared-off, spare hips. But look at fashion from 40 years ago... idealized women were curvy, with measurements that would require buying clothes from Lane Bryant today.
We're predisposed as men to like women with symmetrical facial features (to be passed to children who are more likely to find social acceptance because their features fit the standard), healthy boobs (which contain fat, to ensure that in the event of food scarcity, they'll be able to produce milk longer, which translates into greater survivability for children), and wide(ish) flared hips (greater survivability during chilbirth, for both mother and child, as the woman was the sole source of nutrition for the child for most of human history).

In this way, it is difficult to see how the genetic drive to create appeal for an attractive, robust woman has led to today's fashion models, who resemble coat hangers with mosquito bite boobs... except for lingerie models, who, unsurprisingly, look like women, since they're selling through the use of sex appeal.
Here's the thing, though. Female influence in fashion is on the rise. Women are buying clothes that are attractive to them, not to men. While fashion is intricately and wholly related to display behaviors, which is part of the mating ritual, there has come a false dichotomy whereby display behavior also is cridited primarily as only a show of social standing. The need for fashion to stimulate men into opening their wallets, or hearts without breaking social norms has declined. With increased spending power, the role of sex in fashion is not critical in all areas... except when it comes to sexy clothes, when, surprise, surprise, the models can't be mistaken for 12 year-old boys and still sell.

What is interesting, to me, is that the non-mating display rituals- buying clothes that are interesting and memorable, but not designed to attract a mate, are secondary mating ritual behaviors, as well. So, the woman who buys the expensive, overpriced, attractive but unsexy top that is modeled by another women who resembles Olive Oyl, isn't buying for the sake of sex appeal. She's buying because the nice shirt is also a status symbol. She can afford the clothes, they look nice to her. That's conditioned behavior, because no one needs an overpriced shirt. She's compelled to buy the shirt because making an effort to look nice is a competitive behavior. Competitive behaviors are a mating behavior, a war by proxy for breeding rights, in our case.

So, although clothes may be unsexy but attractive, solely for women, they're still being bought to attract mates, at the root of all things, denials notwithstanding, sex still sells, even when we're not talking about sex, because efforts to promote reproduction are still the cornerstone of humanity's longevity, and the primary driving force in most human behavior, even today.

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