Beauty is in the afro of the beholder

As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My own (and probably common) interpretation of this statement is that beauty is relative. What I may consider beautiful, you may consider repulsive. And what you may find attractive, I may not see it that way. But what factors determine beauty? Is there an unconscious process that humans undergo in determining whether a potential mate is attractive or not? Or is it a very conscious process?

Before I begin to attempt an answer to this question, I want it known that I love my natural hair, and this has been a process. Unfortunately, for many within the black community, hair is a symbol that may represent conformity, non-conformity, afrocentricity, etc. My hair, which in this picture is styled into an afro, is more like an accessory. But I do not live in a vacuum, and recognize that some men (whether they be white, black, Latino, Asian, European, etc.) have a preference for certain types of hair. This is evidenced by the reception I observed during a run to the grocery store. One woman complimented my afro, and others openly stared. To some, my hair in its natural state is their preference. To others, they are turned off by my afro and see it as unkept, wild, or an attempt to revolt. For me, natural hair is beautiful and I find beauty in a person’s individuality. Again, I believe that beauty is relative .

But is that opinion consistent with academic explanations of attraction and beauty? Today, I am only going to briefly summarize two theories from the evolutionary perspective. This perspective encompasses the “good genes” hypothesis and “runaway sexual selection” (See Swami, V., Furnham, A. (2008). The Psychology of Physical Attraction. New York: Routledge). “Good genes” suggests that people are attracted to characteristics that signal good health, such as reproductive health (e.g. fertility). “Runaway sexual selection” essentially is a positive feedback process. It is hypothesized to occur when female preferences for good genes influence mate selection. Initially, a naturally selected trait in males is accompanied by a preference for that trait in females (R.A. Fisher 1958). This theory is commonly discussed in the context of peacocks and other animals. For example, assume that at some point in history male peacocks did not have brightly colored feathers. If at some point, peahens preferred more brightly colored males, the result (according to the theory) is that more brightly colored peacocks would be more likely to find mates. The impact would be that males become more and more bright with each generation.

What other characteristics or features might signal good health? Can healthy hair signal good health? I would argue yes. Lustrous and healthy hair is not accidental. On the contrary, it is the result of a healthy body and healthy eating. You can facilitate healthy hair growth through drinking lots of water, protein, minerals, vitamins, and exercise. My hair is healthy and I choose to use it as a form of self-expression, which is I believe that beauty is in the afro of the beholder.

  1. I think you wrote an exceptional post. I do believe that though there may be an evolving aspect to human beings’ natural traits to be attractive to certain physical characteristics. I think some of our influences for liking certain traits has been conditioned by the societal views of particular traits belonging to specific cultures, genders, and status. With physical characteristics, I think it’s truly one’s preference to prefer brown eyes over blue eyes, full lips over non full lips, tall vs short. A lot of what we like is a personal view as well something we have grown to like whether naturally or learned.

    I do think men are attracted to particular hair type, color, length, and style. After all it’s the first impression right then our views and thought processes behind what we see begin filtering in automatically to our like or dislike. Some people rule out natural hair in any style whether afros, wash n gos, braids, locs etc as not considered “sexy”, “beautiful”, etc. But then you have those who do find this as aspect of cultural and multiple aspects to beauty overall. Your skin is a physical characteristic that people will focus on to see it as healthy. Beautiful smiles, the focus are around the presentation of teeth.

    Natural hair is still seen as a cultural movement, almost like a right of passage.

  2. I agree. My hope in providing this information was not only to educate myself on different perspectives, but also to share with others.

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