Survival of the Prettiest by Nancy Etcoff

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Survival of the Prettiest is a novel that was published in 1999 by Nancy Etcoff. Nancy Etcoff has a Harvard University Master of Education. In addition, she also has a PhD from Boston University in psychology. As part of her credibility, she has supervised a Massachusetts Institute of Technology post-doctoral fellowship in cognitive and brain sciences (MIT). Nancy Etcoff has made it the responsibility of her life to research how people perceive their facial emotions and communicate them. At present, she is a faculty member at the Harvard Medical School and practices psychology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Evidently, all this information serves to enhance the credibility of the author in relation to the assertions made in the book. The purpose of this paper is to provide a comprehensive review and analysis of the book in terms of the themes addressed by the author.

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Book Review

For a considerable period now, the society has been prone to blame the media for several global issues. In the book, the author primary addresses the issue of ‘beauty’. Essentially, the society is often inclined to blame the media for people’s obvious obsession with beauty. Etcoff approaches this issue by first discrediting the notion that the media is to blame for the high importance that is placed on the concept of beauty. The perception that she introduces is that the appreciation of beauty is not something that is learned or acquired from the environment; rather, it springs from biological adaptation.

In order to present some of her themes and emphasize her assertions, Etcoff uses direct examples from the society, whether it is something that people say or do that contradicts her position of the obsession with beauty being inherent. For instance, she focuses on the platitude that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. To this, Etcoff infers that the cliché is a fallacy by stating that people are sensitive to beauty as attributed to an instinct or predisposition that is designed by natural selection.

The concept of natural selection presents another method through which Etcoff is determined to bring forth her themes. She supports her assertion of the sensitivity to beauty being instinctive by using the Darwinian approach to natural selection. Essentially, people are naturally drawn to beauty and hence, feel the visceral inclination to select attractive partners with whom to spend their lives. According to Darwin, there is a natural struggle for survival among all living things. Etcoff states that beauty is an imperative and unavoidable component of human nature that is respected and aggressively sort out in virtually all forms of cyclization for this Darwinian reason. In essence, the components that people find the most appealing are usually indications of fecundity and fertility (Etcoff 207). Based on Darwin’s inference of survival for the fittest, the extensive efforts humans make to obtain beauty are designed to attract beautiful partners. The evolutionary approach that Etcoff takes significantly supports her theme of the desire for beauty being natural.

Furthermore, Etcoff addresses the basic argument of the social science model that dictates that beauty is attributed to cultural dictate or individual taste. Notably, this is one of the major themes in the book. Etcoff insists that beauty is not a cultural construct (Etcoff 24). On the contrary, she presents that there is no individual in the society who is immune to physical appearances. The book presents a hypothetical scenario whereby all forms magazines and other forms of media that contain depictions of youthful and perfect body images were eradicated. In this case, Etcoff suggests that people would still formulate and crave these depictions in their minds. “Beauty is a universal part of human experience, and it provokes pleasure, rivets attention, and impels actions that help ensure survival of our genes” (Etcoff 25).

Approaching the book from a chronological viewpoint may provide more illumination on the issues that Etcoff raises in the book and how she supports them effectively. In the chapter Beauty as Bait, Etcoff shifts the focus on the ways in which people are born with the inherent capacity to distinguish what is beautiful from what is not. She illustrates this theme by giving an example of babies and children who are naturally more drawn to the things that adults normally perceive as possessing beauty. Etcoff provides insight on research on babies’ and young children’s perceptions whereby it is revealed that even babies who are only three months old prefer to stare at beautiful faces more than they do less attractive faces. The evidence that this provides supports the theme that beauty preferences are not learned. On the contrary, people are simply born with various beauty preferences, which the author refers to as ‘natural beauty detectors’.

In Pretty Pleases, Etcoff shows the potent influence of beauty in regular life. “Good looking adults are more likely to get away with anything from shoplifting to cheating on exams to committing serious crimes” (Etcoff 49). The theme in this chapter is that beauty is capable of impacting on all things from people’s attitudes and perceptions to their dispositions towards other people. In order to support this theme, Etcoff uses the concept of attraction between a male and female who perceive in each other prospective mating partners. For women, men basically identify factors that indicate enhanced fertility, which is normally evidenced by the female body (Etcoff 202). Since women in their twenties are scientifically more fertile, men often have a natural preference for them. Alternatively, women prefer men who portray signs of stability through ownership of resources and a willingness to make significant investments in herself and her prospective children.

The subsequent chapter, Cover Me, addresses the theme of the importance of individual appearance in people’s minds. Essentially, Etcoff tackles how self-perception in terms of individual appearance is highly valued by people, making them invest time and resources into their looks before presenting themselves in public. To illustrate this point, Etcoff uses general physical appearance and particularly the skin and hair. Commonly, people generally prefer impeccable skin as it is arguably the most attractive element on a human’s body. According to Etcoff, healthy hair is the subsequent most attractive feature on a person. The book goes across civilizations and considers how in the medieval ages, bad skin and hair were viewed as an indication of illnesses. It is for this reason that people are constantly obsessed with their personal appearances and contribute significantly to businesses in the cosmetic industry by investing in barbers, manicurists, pedicurists, and hairdressers (Etcoff 4). Etcoff provides insight that these behaviors are not recent; rather they have been in existence since ancient periods. For instance, ancient Egypt possessed majority of the cosmetics that exist in the modern society. The popularity of piercings, scars, and tattoos cannot be ignored in supporting this theme.

The chapter on Feature Presentation addresses the theme of assortative mating. Fundamentally, to support this concept the author uses the institution of family whereby she illustrates that people value certain faces more than others, of which most of these faces are possessed by one’s family members. As a consequence, many individuals often develop attractions for people who bear resemblance to the faces that they consider the most attractive in their lives.

Size Does Matter focuses on the theme of basic attraction from the perspective of men. Essentially, men attempt to exhibit their features of beauty so as to attract the females. The author illustrates this theme by raising the common social situation whereby men are constantly wearing physical ornaments and flashy mental that may be costly for the purpose of appealing to the females. The perception that this is supposed to create in the female is that the said male is capable of acquiring and maintaining his ornaments and hence, a viable candidate for mating or reproduction. An additional attempt at illustrating this point by the author is the use of penis sizes. Etcoff clearly states that men may use their enlarged penis sizes to appeal to women and present themselves as dominant males who are capable of being suitable mates.

The theme in the subsequent chapter, Fashion Runaway, is fashion and beauty. Ectoff opines the role that fashion plays in elevating one’s beauty. The author presents fashion as being different from beauty but having the capacity to enhance it. Fashion is presented in the book as a symbol of status and an exhibition of personality. It may make one seem richer, taller, or younger among other appearances.

Target Audience and Recommendation

From a general perspective, the book targets the general public as well as psychologists. There has been a longstanding controversy concerning the reason why physical beauty is thus elevated in the society. Through this book, Etcoff provides some of these answers related to beauty. The general society can benefit from reading this book. Moreover, psychologists can also acquire substantial insight from the book.

In terms of recommendation, I would undoubtedly recommend the book to other people. My rationale is that the author adopts a completely different approach to addressing beauty. It is unique and sensible. It tackles issues that people can relate to as they constitute everyday life experiences. More importantly, Etcoff remains objective while addressing the concept of beauty. In fact, she insists that beauty is not equivalent to happiness. Conversely, happiness is an entirely distinct concept that relates to self-esteem, optimism, and care and affection for others.

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Conclusively, the author of the book effectively makes the argument that to a reasonable extent beauty is a universal concept that is not wholly dependent on the beholder. From a critical perspective, however, there is not enough evidence to support the biological nature of beauty perception. Furthermore, Etcoff fails to consider the role that cultural diversity plays in the perception of beauty whereby there are certain cultures whereby real beauty is depicted differently from others. For instance, in many Western cultures beauty in a woman is perceived by one being slim whereas many African cultures prefer their women to be slightly heavier. Regardless, the book is successful in presenting an alternate approach to beauty perception. Its approach is unique and stimulates people to think differently concerning the matter of beauty as opposed to placing the blame on the media.

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Work cited

Etcoff, Nancy. Survival of the prettiest: The science of beauty. Anchor, 2011. Print.

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