Even though most of us recognize the fallacy of placing too great a value on appearance, our desire for physical beauty is so ingrained in us that we cannot disassociate ourselves from it. Why is physical beauty so important?
I discard the easy answer that the media has branded the idea on our minds. While magazines and television certainly heighten our consciousness of looks, they are merely harping on insecurities that already exist. Our desire for physical beauty, while shaped and polished by the superficial media culture, actually has deeper roots in who we are.
Our desire for physical beauty is an original human feeling, like the desire for food, nurturing, or happiness. Just as those other things drive us toward survival, physical beauty is programmed into our brains as a means of staying alive and furthering our family line. After all, if males and females weren’t attracted to each other, none of us would even be here: humankind would be a fatally flawed experiment. Instead, nature has given us impulses that drive us towards procreation. Every creature, from the lowest organism to the most complex, desires sex. A natural precursor to that desire, which also exists in every society, is indicators of attraction. Dogs are attracted to each other’s smells. Peacocks are attracted to each others’ plumages. Human beings are attracted to many things about each other—one of which is physical beauty.
Because of the natural role of appearance in human courtship, I can say with certainty that physical beauty does have some objective importance. However, this conclusion does not justify our society’s obsession with looks, for appearance is only the first layer of attractiveness.
Once a superficial connection is made between two people, they then have the opportunity to display other characteristics that could positively or negatively affect the possibility of their union. After they have had enough experiences together, that first layer of beauty becomes far less important than the other, less visible layers of attraction. In fact, it seems as if our original set of human impulses guides us not just towards procreation, but also towards compatibility.
Compatibility is essential to human survival in an absolute sense, for a positively-working team is better equipped to live than a negatively-working team. If physical beauty were the only important factor in bringing people together, the divorce rate would be much higher than it is today and people would be far less happy. Instead, physical beauty is actually only a small component of attractiveness, and in fact, those people who are good at being compatible have a distinct advantage against those people who possess beauty alone.
Physical beauty, in sum, maintains a marginal significance in our lives. Like all superficial things, it is a basis for immediate appraisal; but like a diamond out of its setting, it requires context and compatibility in order to truly 14)instill it with value.