Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Ruminations on Biology and Human Attractiveness (with Jake Gyllenhaal and Anna Kendrick Thrown in for Good Measure)
I'm reading a book right now called The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. I have many pages yet to go, but I just finished the absolutely fascinating chapter on how and why we "choose our mates."
Much of what appeals to us on a physical level is unconscious. Like tends to choose like, but not universally and not across all traits. For instance, (strangely enough) there is a very strong correlation between the lengths of middle fingers among happily married couples, and yet the same cannot be said for comparable intelligence or similar hair color. Apparently, that instantaneous attraction you feel when you meet someone is far more complicated and nuanced than any of us are consciously aware of...
If I were to describe to you the handful of males that I have immediately and strongly responded to in the past several years, you would likely (as most of my friends have) mock me for being all over the damned map. But were I to show you pictures, then perhaps my selections would make a little more sense. Maybe not a lot more sense, but enough more sense that I could show you a very specific set of physical attributes (and we're talking, like, size of forehead and length of nose here) that I, it appears, go for.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because when I was younger and stupider and more optimistic about the world, I (if you can believe it) had a crush on Jake Gyllenhaal, and by my own calculations, he fits so neatly within my predefined parameters that I was doomed before I even knew he existed. If you've read my book (and if you haven't, what's wrong with you?! buy it, dammit!), then you may remember that I joke at the end of the first chapter that I was attracted to Jake because he looked like Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid.
But according to The Third Chimpanzee, that was actually a statement based in cold, evolutionary fact and dammit if I don't seem doomed to live out my Ariel fantasy again and again until one of them sticks.
Speaking of our Prince Eric look-alike, he's out and about in a provocative new set of pictures from the weekend, featuring his End of Watch co-star, Anna Kendrick. Of course speculation is rampant that they are dating. No one cares. (Seriously, no one cares.)
But looking at this purely from a biological standpoint, Anna, in comparison to women Jake has dated in the past, is very different. I often joke that he likes them blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and more famous than he is (eye color aside, Anna is none of the above), but there's also a consistency in general facial features, from a small nose to slightly wide-set eyes to well-established cheek bones, that Anna lacks.
Complicating matters, in an effort to make him seem infinitely more interesting than he actually is, the tabloids are pitting Jake's pictures with Anna against a set of him with Rashida Jones, also taken this weekend. In fact, of the two, I would place Rashida as physically closer to Jake's established "ideal" than Anna is.
Considering all of this is purely speculatory and caring about Jake's love life (or lack thereof) is about as productive (and useful) as banging your head against a wall, I thought I would attempt to turn this discussion back on us, Jake's audience. I know exactly why I went for him. But what about you?
And before all of you go writing me to tell me that evolution has failed you because you like Jake but you also like your husband/boyfriend/current tragically-hopeless-crush-who-doesn't-know-you-exist who looks nothing like Jake, I would like to point out that subtlety is oftentimes key when it comes to attractiveness...and also that many of us "make do" with people who don't live up to our "ideals."
Studies seem to indicate that the basis for what we're attracted to later in life is established very early in our childhoods. How might my life have been different if I'd been a Beauty and the Beast fan instead of a Little Mermaid one? The truth is that it's entirely possible I wouldn't be here writing this right now. And the same could be said had I been born into a family with the exact same personalities but different physical traits, for the impact of family and familiarity on our young selves cannot be overstated.
I know people like to think Jake's "special," but it turns out that the reason you're here right now and not over at a Ryan Gosling site probably has a hell of a lot more to do with you than it does with him...