Personal Beauty and Racial Betterment/Detailed Characters of Beauty

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Detailed Characters of Beauty

So much, in brief, for the general negative characters of beauty. We come now to more detailed characters, which have on the whole a positive value, although some of them have negative aspects as well.

1. Stature. From the point of view of the female, the male must be large, although not a giant, since, as we have seen, too great a deviation from the usual is a negative condition. I have at various times overheard women, who were discussing the relative handsomeness of two or several men, settle the point by such an observation as A is fully an inch taller than B.” By carefully put questions I have succeeded in eliciting a considerable amount of information on this point without revealing the actual purpose of the interrogation. For example, if I inquire of a woman concerning the handsomeness of a man who has a general combination of desirable and undesirable characteristics, but who is a trifle below medium height, I very frequently obtain, in her first statement, a criticism of his stature, followed by a consideration of his other attributes; indicating that in her estimation size is of paramount importance. The determining factor is not, of course, mere height but height combined with lateral development not deviating markedly from the average proportion. The tall man of bean-pole build is not considered attractive. Yet, a positive element of height can outweight a considerable element of disproportion, and a taller man, whose proportions are in themselves worse than those of a shorter man, is usually considered the handsomer.

This preference for stature undoubtedly harks back to more primitive times, when it was above all important that man should be a fighter and hunter, in order to secure food for his wife and children, and protect them against wild beasts and against the designs of other males. Especially was this important during the periods when the woman was pregnant, or nursing a child. It is highly probable that in ancient times the negative rule against abnormal size did not apply, since every increase in physical power, even if carried to the extreme of gigantic development, was a distinct advantage.

It is sometimes alleged that the woman’s preference is not for the large man in an absolute sense, but for the man larger than herself; either because of a natural wish for a husband to whom she is inferior; to whom she can give a tribute of worship and deference; or else, that it has developed through the necessity of the greater strength on the part of the man in order that he might capture the woman, and carry her away from her parental habitat, to his own dwelling. Both of these suggestions are highly unplausible. Marriage by capture, although a good hypothesis for popular writers, probably never was at any time an institution of any more importance or actuality than it is at the present day. Psychologically, the theory is based on the assumption that woman is naturally opposed to the marital relation, which assumption is a merry jest, to say the least. Historically, there is no evidence for the theory of capture except as a limited and temporary phenomenon. As for the supposition of an unexplained instinct to prefer a dominant partner, I see no support for it, except in so far as the practical consideration I have advanced may itself lead to this preference as a secondary manifestation. It is true that there are women today who openly state that the mates they want are those who can completely dominate them; and that such potential masters are the only men who interest them. These cases (a number have been directly reported to me) are not all to be explained on the same basis, although the primary factor in every case is the admiration for the strong man. In some cases, the preference is distinctly a pathological development; in others, it is pretended by the woman as an explanation for the fact that men are not interested in her. In many cases, however, the preference is the expression of an arbitrary standard which is manfiested usually in less egotistical ways. Where a scale of values is accepted, there is commonly a more or less explicit adoption of a minimal acceptable value; the stronger man is the more desirable; a man who measures up to a certain minimum will be acceptable. In most cases, the minimal standard adopted is the father, a brother, or some other impressive individual in real life or in fiction. In the case of a strongly egotistical woman, who sets a high value on her own potentialities, the standard is herself; the man less forceful than herself is below the minimum.

In this, I seem to be confusing physical strength with various sorts of power; perhaps I am; but, as I am trying to point out, the basis of power is muscular, and admiration for physical prowess still retains a primacy when it is a matter of the fundamental attraction of the woman to the man; and all I am trying to establish at this point is that there is no primary desire of the woman for a man who is able to dominate her physically. On the contrary, the woman would prefer, if other considerations did not prevent, the mate whom she can control physically and in every other way, for the instinct to dominate is inherent in every normal human being.

Under present conditions, the preference of the large woman is accentuated, and that of the small woman reduced, by social factors, especially the fear of ridicule. The weakness of the small man is made conspicuous by the contrast with a giant wife; compared, on the other hand, with a diminutive wife, his inefficiency is less emphasized.

From the point of view of the male, the question of stature is less simple. There seems to be no general preference for small women or for large women; but a truly relative preference for smaller women. Of course, I am well aware that there is a wide range of individual preferences, not all of which are explicable from available data; but I am speaking of generalities, which are certainly discoverable, in spite of individual differences. This general relative preference in the matter of stature is complicated by the curious double preference of the male, which is so strik-ingly demonstrated by theatrical studies, and to which I shall make brief reference later.

The primitive reason which leads woman to prefer a large man has no correspondence in the necessities of the male. The male has not the need for protection at certain periods which the woman has. While the addition of a husky female to the savage’s fighting force would seem to be a prime advantage, the advantage is largely lost because at the precise times when the aggressive resources of the family are most fully needed, the woman is not in condition to exert her strength, without serious injury to herself. The physical strength of the woman is not to be counted on, and hence the stronger woman is not a greater asset to the family, and hence no more desirable.

It is true, there have been and still are, races in which the physical strength of the women has been counted on, especially for agricultural duties (e. g., the American Indians); and among them, possibly (I am not certain on this point), stature has been a mark of beauty. But where female strength is counted on, it is necessarily utilized at times when grave damage is done to the woman, and those races which have counted on it have gone down. The races which have early developed chivalry, as we may well designate the protective attitude, are the races which have developed civilization, and which must continue to dominate the world unless civilization is to be abandoned, and the human race plunged downward into bestial degeneracy.

Stature, therefore, except in so far as it may be involved indirectly in some of the factors which I shall yet consider, is not and cannot be a mark of female beauty in a civilized race. On the other hand, by this very fact, the preference for a partner whom he can dominate is allowed full sway in the male. The woman would have the same preference, as I pointed out a moment ago, were it not checked by other factors.

I may digress for a moment, to remind you that in a family one person must control. This is not a theory, but an empirical fact against which argument is futile. Economic conditions which are as yet but dreamed of, especially those conditions which result from the greater and greater use of machinery, may in future change this; but it was the law of the primitive family, and even yet we have not reached a stage of civilization in which a joint legislative authority is possible. In the past it has been, the male who has controlled, but that may be changed in the future. It is true that Bachofen and others have tried to establish the doctrine of the matriarchiate (the rule of women) as the primitive family system, but the confusion on which this theory was based has been readily exposed. Never in the history of the globe did woman have the political and social power she holds today, and suffrage cannot increase it.

2. Bodily proportions. In modern civilization there has grown up an immodesty which was lacking in more ancient cultures. We are ashamed of our bodies. Whether the practice of concealing the body is the cause of our uncleanness of mind, or whether our obscenity is rather the cause of the concealment, is a debated question. Whatever may be my general estimate of the Japanese, I cannot but admire their wonderful cleanness of mind, which makes for them clothing a detail which has no bearing on modesty.

Among the Greeks, who, as you know, were in many respects more pure-minded than we are, bodily conformation was an important detail in beauty. And, in fact, it is today amongst us, both in a shame-faced way in daily life, and more creditably when we throw off our prudishness in the presence of plastic and pictorial art, and in the theater. We are skirting here a vital and pressing problem of the present moment, on which I should like to take the time to make you face some problems we all tend to ignore, but I must not digress further.

Our standards of bodily development are still, in the main, Greek. There are certain proportions which are judged both by the artist and the layman to be the ideal of beauty. In this we are of course swayed largely by the limitations of our education, which on these matters is artificial; probably there would be a greater difference in racial ideals, if conditions were more natural.

The simplest explanation for the accepted ideal of form would be that it is the average form of the healthy individual. This explanation, I think, is not supportable. Among the Greeks and Romans, for example, the ideal ankle, for a woman at least, was a small ankle, not a medium-sized one. Among us, a small foot has been desirable; so much so that women have been compelled to wear shoes which, by raising the heel several inches, make the ground-base of the shoe about two thirds the real length of the foot. This procedure makes the foot seem shorter, or at least it did until the recent shortening of the skirt brought the artifice out where it cannot be over- looked. One of the most important and desirable effects of the permanent adoption of sensible clothing by women will be the allowing of the foot to retain its natural form. Of body-form, which is by rights the fundamental consideration in beauty, I shall say nothing further, because our standards are so obscure. The subject is in need of thorough investigation by the methods of comparative anatomy, and above all, of social psychology.

3. The Features. Whatever the cause of our concealment of the body, it has led to an emphasis on the anatomical details of the face which could not be found in more primitive times. Leaving out of consideration the general shape of the face and head, which are probably important mainly as racial signs, we may consider briefly the chin, the nose, the eyes and the ears.

That there is a preference on the part of both sexes, and in the consideration of both sexes, for a well-developed chin, is a matter of common knowledge. The reason for this preference is less evident, and in fact I can here indicate only a strong probability. Racial factors are involved, of course, but there seems to be a more general foundation which is vaguely involved in the commonplace statement, that the possession of a chin is one of the conspicuous points which differentiate man from the beasts. This is obviously true; the vital question is: What are the direct consequences of this structural peculiarity? This question can be answered by reference to comparative anatomy and to the psychology of the thought processes. The projecting chin gives room in the mouth cavity for the human tongue, which is strikingly different from the brute tongue. The tongue of the lower animal is a long thin strip of muscle; the tongue of homo sapiens is a thick muscular mass. A somewhat exaggerated comparison is to a leather strap, in one case, and a frog seated in the mouth in the other case. We have now advanced the question one step farther, to ask what may be the advantage, if any, in the form of the human tongue.

The animal tongue is certainly just as well adapted to the purposes of obtaining and preparing food, as the human. In some cases, it is even more efficient. But the human tongue is an important instrument in the production of the most human of all attributes, language. Language is not merely the means of communicating thought; it is, as philologists have long known, and as psychologists have been forced somewhat unwillingly to admit, the principal means of thinking. While it is possible to think without language, languageless thought is primitive and inefficient in the complex conditions of civilization, and it is by no means an exaggeration to say that the development of language is a large part of the development of thought.

Of course, it is not to be said that in any specific case a large tongue is an index of efficient thinking, or that a relatively smaller chin indicates necessarily a relatively smaller tongue, or that the converse of either of these propositions is true. But on the whole, the development of the chin is concomitant with the development of thought, and hence, in races or large groups, an index of mental development. It is worthy of note here, that the marks of beauty will be found throughout to be these generalized characters, which in specific cases may not be associated with the fundamental factors which have made them important.

The nose and the mouth are beauty-characters which are probably more exclusively racial in their significance than the chin. The broad flat nose and the thick wide lips are often repulsive because they suggest the African, if for no other reason. But I suspect that the thick lips are also a defect because they are in themselves a hindrance to efficient speech, and more vitally because they connote an inefficient formation of the mouth, palate and glottis. Yet it is necessary here again to point out that any of these details may be faulty in a particular case, and yet the others be so well adapted that they more than compensate; and that there may be in many cases language, efficient for thinking, but inefficient for communication. Here as everywhere, our beauty judgments are based on conditions which are general, and to which there are many sharp exceptions.

As regards the teeth, we are in no serious doubt. The beautiful teeth are the sound, regular weapons, which by their form and color give unmistakable evidence of being efficient for chewing as well as for primitive methods of warfare.

While the practical indications of the mouth are important, as I have pointed out, we should by no means overlook the probability of a sexual significance to the evaluation of which the consideration of other beauty characters will rapidly drive us. I need not remind you that popular theory as passed from mouth to mouth and as embodied in literature of all ages, considers both the mouth and the nose as practical indexes of the sex-organs; I should like to express the opinion that popular theory, even popular superstition, is the smoke which always indicates some fire. This particular popular belief is one on which it seems to me it would be worth while for directors of physical culture to make statistical observations.

I need not point out the sexual function of the olfactory organ in the nose of the lower animal; but I ought to warn you against the fallacious opinion that in the human animal the nose has universally lost that function. On the contrary, in a large proportion of the species that function has become more complex. I may add also, that in addition to the significant fact that the membrane lining a large part of the nasal cavities is erectile tissue, there are definite psychological observations, (none published, I believe), which throw experimental light on the sexual relations of the nose.

That both the eyes and ears are beauty marks, and that, in the female especially, they have been selected for especial emphasis by lovers and poets, you are well aware. Both love and poetizing, as most of us well know from our own experience, are conditions of irresponsibility in which the fundamental instincts and habits have large sway; and the first condition usually brings on the second; accordingly the beauty-points which fix the attention of poets demand our attention. But there is little to offer at present in the way of analysis of these. Aside from the indication of physical condition which the eyes afford (and every physician makes use of these indications), the importance of the eye is probably largely racial. The blue or the black, the large or the small, are not in themselves of moment, but they indicate stocks from which we expect certain other characters, mental and physical. The same general consideration is probably involved in ear preferences. This is however by no means the whole story. Anyone who has studied the religious and art symbolism of primitive peoples, and of people not so primitive (I do not refer to the crude and artificial studies of the Freudians) cannot help but see very definite reasons for the fascination of the eye and ear, reasons which are more appropriately discussed amongst psychologists than before a general audience.

Before passing on to the next topic, I wish to protect myself from possible misapprehension by disclaiming any taint of phrenology or blackfordism in the preceding discussion. The significance of cranial and facial characters must be worked out on the lines of physiology and genetics; psychologists have no sympathy with the various systems of so-called character analysis which attempt to decide from a casual examination of an individual what his intellectual and moral peculiarities are in detail.

4. Hair. The hair which adorns the human body (or disfigures it, as the case may be), is of two sorts, in regard to its physiological conditions and significance, as well as to its regional distribution. The hair of the head, or pate-hair, is the one sort, and the body-hair, including the face-hair, is the other.

The conditions which govern the growth of the pate-hair are not definitely known, but are probably connected with bodily changes which have other important effects. That is to say, the stimulation of the growth of the hair, or the failure of its vitality, are probably due to changes in the internal secretions (hormones) of the organism, although it is not known which of the secretions are the important ones in this connection. It is probable that another effect of the internal changes which produce baldness is a lessening of the resistance of the organism, so that the baldheaded man cannot stand the muscular exertion or the nervous strain of which the hairy-headed man is capable. At any rate, baldness is a fatal bar to beauty, both in the male and the female, although to many persons (men especially) an individual of the opposite sex whose pate-hair is exceptionally abundant is repulsive.[1] Another indication of the dependence of the pate-hair on metabolism in other regions is found in the apparent connection between hair and temperament. It is difficult to conceive of a baldheaded musical genius or artist; although even to the rule implied here, exceptions do occur. Temperament, and all emotional factors, as we now know, depend largely on the bodily metabolism, especially on the functions of the internally secreting glands. The quantitative hair character, therefore, may in all probability be reduced to an indication of physical vigor; and physical vigor is far more important, as a beauty asset, than mental ability. Whether the popular belief that the mental ability of a child is in the inverse proportion to the growth of his hair, has any foundation, and whether a similar rule holds for adults, I shall not discuss, as I might be accused of being prejudiced.

The other details of the pate-hair character: fineness or coarseness, straightness or kinkiness, color and contour of distribution, are largely important as indicators of race or stock; yet fineness,has a direct sex value in its greater pleasingness to touch. It may also be true that color has a direct value; that the masculine preference for red-haired women which is so frequent, and of which the Elizabethan and pre-Elizabethan erotic writings are so full, is not due solely to the association of the hair color with the ardent temperament which without doubt was a characteristic of the red-haired stocks; but is in part at least due to the direct effect of the visual stimulation.

All parts of the body except the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, and certain other small areas, are covered with fine hair, which in the pre-adolescent person are usually so fine and so colorless that they are hardly noticeable. With the beginning of puberty, the axillary hair (the hair of the arm pits), and the hair of the pubic region in both sexes begins to develop, increasing in diameter as well as in length and in pigmentation.In the male also, but slightly later, the face hair undergoes similar development, and still later the hair on the chest, abdomen, and limbs of the male develops in manners which differ greatly in different individuals. In the typical, functionally perfect woman, on the other hand, the body-hair, except in the restricted regions mentioned, remains as fine and as colorless as in the child.

This hair development is not associated with sexual ripening in a chance way, but is controlled by the fundamental sex glands. These glands not only produce the germ cells (the egg and the spermatozoön) whose union creates the life of a new individual; they secrete also, into the blood stream, hormones, i. e., substances which profoundly influence the growth of various parts of the organism. The internal secretions of the male glands produce those changes in the vocal organs which are indicated by the voice becoming heavier and lower; stimulate the growth of the body-hair in the manner above indicated; and undoubtedly promote those structural and functional changes which are evidenced in the tendencies of feeling and action distinctive of the male. If the glands are removed in infancy, these changes do not occur. The secretions of the ovaries, on the other hand, seem to inhibit the growth of body-hair, to accelerate those structural changes in the muscles, glands and skeleton which differentiate the woman from the man, and promote those functional modifications which make the feelings and emotions of each sex a sealed book to the other.

It may be said of the important races of mankind that, in general, the development of the face-and body-hair in the male, and the absence thereof in the female (except in the three limited areas), are alike an indication of fitness for parenthood. The decline of the sex function in old age is usually marked by significant changes in these details. There are of course many apparently anomalous cases, some of which may be explained by glandular details into which the limitations of time forbid us to go; but in spite of these cases, the social verdict is uniform. The hairlessness of the female face and body, and the hairiness of the male face (or the evidence that the hair grows, although shaved off) are important elements of beauty. The male body-hair has little value, because of its irregularity, and the fact of its usual concealment.

There are a number of interesting problems which arise in connection with the body-hair. Theoretically, the pubic hair should be as beautiful, at least, as the pate-hair; yet the Greeks, who set our official standards, did not think so.[2] As to axillary hair, there is lacking information as to its indicatory value. It is an interesting observation, however, and one of no little psychological importance that in recent years when the morbid shame of the body was somewhat lessened, and young women began to expose their arm pits freely in the ball room and theater, some removed the axillary hair, and others did not. A little later, the practice of removing the hair became practically universal, and now the hair is seldom seen. Probably the conflict of opinion in these matters is really between the man’s judgment of beauty and the woman’s. But we must pass over these details, and hurry on with our main problem.

It is evident now that whether there are other considerations or not, the most important element in the beauty of any individual is the evidence of her (or his) fitness for the function of procreating healthy children of the highest type of efficiency, according to the standards of the race; and ability to protect these children. The positive beauty characters we have already examined are clearly such marks of ability to perpetuate the species in the finest and noblest way, and the characters we shall now consider strengthen the interpretation.

5. Fat. Here again there are racial differences, but amongst the European races, no racial indications. We may leave out of consideration the Africans and the South Sea Islanders, with their criteria of beauty-fat which seem so odd to us, but which are quite intelligible when viewed in the light of racial characters, and consider Western conditions and standards.

A certain amount of fatty tissue is normal, and is essential for the health of the individual. Fat constitutes a store of reserve material, which may be drawn on in time of unusual need; and without it endurance is limited. This reserve store is probably not so important at present as it was in primitive times, when man lived in a hand-to-mouth way, uncertain today what the food supply would be day after tomorrow. On the other hand, beyond a certain amount, fat is an encumbrance, impeding the operation of many organs, and thus limiting the efficiency of the individual, and also is in itself a symptom of faulty organic functioning of some kind. We are not surprised therefore to find that beauty demands just the right degree of leanness; just the degree which is found in the most vigorous individual.

The standards are somewhat different for the two sexes, because the anatomical conditions and physiological necessities are different. In the female, especially in the young female, there is a special layer of fatty tissue underlying the skin, which is absent in the male. This gives her the roundness and softness of outline which is essential to the perfection of feminine beauty, and also prevents her from feeling the cold so much as the male does. Possibly also it explains why she swims more easily. (It is a fact that women are as a class far better swimmers; this has been ascribed to the better development of the legs, but this reason is hardly sufficient, since it has been shown that leg action is the least important factor in swimming.)

The softness and roundness of contour of the female is beautiful, because it is the mark of physical fitness. The fatty layer is supposed to be an extra reserve supply of food material, laid up against the heavy demands which are made by child-bearing, and in still another way protects her in that supreme process, of whose splendid fruition beauty is the glorious blossom. When age withers, through the absorption of the adipose tissue, primary beauty is on the decline, and unless it be replaced by the secondary beauty appropriate to advancing years, the drama of life becomes a tragedy. And indeed, the great fact that we all must face at some time, that the strength and vigor of our prime is past, and that the time when the almond tree shall flourish and the grasshopper become a burden advances upon us, is usually announced to a woman in the discovery of wrinkles due to the slipping from her of her subcutaneous robe of office.

6. Complexion. The tint of the skin, of course, is largely a racial indication, but in certain respects, the tint, as well as the texture, is an index of health and vigor. The standard of beauty in complexion, whether light or dark, is that which goes with the full bloom of sexual vigor, when the human organism is at its perfect development for the perpetuation of the species. This is so obvious that it would be superfluous to discuss it further.

7. Muscular tonicity. The voluntary muscles of the body, i. e., the muscles of the face, scalp, trunk, arms and legs, are kept in a condition of tonus, by nerve currents constantly supplied to them by the motor nerves. Tonus is a state of partial contraction, which constitutes the readiness for action of the muscle. If the motor nerve trunk which supplies any voluntary muscle be severed, the muscle at once becomes flabby. The tonus does not depend entirely on the nerves which stimulate the muscle. In order to be stimulated, the muscle must be in the appropriate chemical condition to receive the stimulus, and this chemical condition is dependent not only on the general metabolic conditions of nutrition, fatigue and rest, but also on the specific actions of hormones produced by several of the internally secreting glands, notably the adrenalin produced by the adrenal glands.

In case of injury or disease affecting certain parts of the nervous system, certain muscles become flabby. In case of general flabbiness, it is of course not evident immediately whether the primary defect is in the nervous system, or in the metabolism of the body. In any case, flabbiness, local or general, is a symptom of inefficiency in bodily functioning, and although under modern conditions the flabby individual may be able to make his living at his particular restricted occupation, flabbiness unfits him for parenthood now, just as much as it did in the stone age. We can’t breed husky children from flabby parents.

The flabbiness which is due not to a specific injury or disease, but to insufficient vitality, is first shown by the muscles of the face. That is to say, it is first shown to the casual observer; a medical examination would probably find it in other muscles first. It is not entirely due to the concealing of the body that the facial muscles have become known as the muscles of expression. Failures of tonicity in these muscles are conspicuous; the sagging eyelids or corners of the mouth, or cheek muscles and other modifications which are readily observed but described with difficulty, are common traits which are fatal to beauty. In fact I do not hesitate to say that, assuming the conformation of the features, and the complexion, to be not actually objectionable (that is, assuming the bare negative conditions), beauty, in so far as it is facial, depends on the proper tonicity of the muscles.

The activity of the facial muscles expresses the mental and still more the emotional activity of the individual in a plain way. Vivacity and dullness, cheerfulness and gloom, benevolence and rancor, interest and ennui, and a multitude of other conditions are written in the facial movements for the runner to read. Boldness, modesty, candor, deceit, innocence, guilt, and other moral qualities may be expressed in the contractions of the muscles surrounding the eyes. But in repose, these muscles are expressive in another, and perhaps more important way, for they show the potentialities of the individual; what he is capable of, in so far as the capability depends on the functioning of the nervous system and the endocrine glands. A person may be attractive, while the face is in action, because the action indicates a desirable type of mental or moral activity going on; but she is not to be judged beautiful in face, unless the face in repose expresses desirable potentialities. A common form of expression is “she is beautiful only when she smiles:” a better statement would be “she is attractive when she smiles, but she is not beautiful.”

8. Poise. The consideration of the expression of mental and emotional qualifications leads us over into the general problem of the participation of mental traits in personal beauty. There is no doubt of the value, to the race as well as to the individual, of a high degree of mental development, provided always that the development does not so destroy the physical balance that the individual’s chance of survival is impaired. Development in some individuals, by special environment and training, of mental capacity beyond the point of balance, is doubtless of value to the social group of which they are members, but the increase in stock which tends to general over-mentalization is a dangerous factor.

The underdevelopment of mental capacity, even at levels far above feeble-mindedness and other obvious mental defects, is a form of inefficiency as positive as the overdevelopment. We can conceive of a world peopled by a race of men and women of splendid physique, from which the common grades of undesirables have been eliminated: a world in which each individual seems admirably constituted for mating and creating children after his kind. Great content and happiness, and joy in the appreciation of the beauty of their mates, might obtain among this people. Nature too would smile on the race which had so far complied with her conditions. But if this race could attain no further than eminence in the traits we have previously considered, it would be a failure. As a matter of fact, a nation on this plan would have a low chance of survival in conflict and competition with nations which had gone beyond it into a richer mental and spiritual flower and fruition.

If it were possible to apply comprehensive and accurate mental tests to candidates for mating, and so to select in accordance with adequate mental standards, racial betterment might be attained along this line: but we have no criteria which are capable of such application, and cannot foresee the time when they may be available. The important question, therefore, is whether there is an element in beauty itself which serves as an index of mental and spiritual potentiality: or whether our selection is indeed blind in this respect.

The mental life of the individual: the processes which directly involve consciousness: depend, as we now know, on the integration of the nervous system, and not on the specific activity of certain cell-groups in the brain. The nervous system is made up of myriads of nerve cells—neurons—, each one a distinct individual. These neurons form chains of communication from every sense organ to every muscle and gland. Many of these lines of communication may, at certain moments, operate in relative independence of one another. The lines which control the merely “physiological” processes usually possess a relative independence. Conscious reactions, on the other hand, are reactions of a large part, if not of the whole of, the organism: reactions in which the “nervous discharge” over a vast network of routes, is integrated, or welded, for the moment into a single function of the complex system.

This integration is probably never perfect, but reaches a high degree in the most efficient functioning. When the integration falls below a somewhat indefinite low level the failure gives rise to the symptoms of “functional” nervous disease.

The individual who is capable of a high level of integration under specific conditions and training, is not necessarily able to maintain an efficient level under the various conditions which must be faced in daily life. The distinguished mathematician, or lawyer, or “specialist” of any sort, may show, along with his particular efficiency, some of the symptoms of mental disease, or be inefficient in many circumstances not involved in the immediate practice of his specialty. These individuals, therefore, do not represent the stock from which the race should be bred.[3] More desirable, is a more generally integrated stock, to be improved in its general integrative ability as much as possible, and from which individuals of specific integrative type—specialists in the several lines of mental effort—may be developed as offshoots.

Sound integrative function: the foundation of sound mental life: is practically recognizable, and is an actual element in human beauty as it is estimated in civilized societies. We call the evidence of this capacity poise, and read it in the individual’s activities all the way from such commonplace processes as walking and talking, to the most complicated reactions under social conditions. Proper muscular tonicity is of course a necessary condition for poise, although it is but part of the total. In all its details, however, poise takes us over from mere anatomy to action.

Without poise, beauty is the beauty of the marble statue and the painted canvas. In the competition for mates, poise undoubtedly plays a very large and entirely worthy rôle. Singularly enough, in one of the institutions in which poise should always be considered essential: in the stage beauty-show: poise has in some recent instances been very much neglected, with results which strikingly demonstrate the importance of this attribute. I shall refer to this further on.

Although our survey is far from complete, it has proceeded far enough to show us clearly in what beauty consists. It is the sign and the expression of the potentiality of the individual; not what he has done or is doing, but what he is capable of doing; not what he is capable of doing for his own interests, but what he is capable of doing for the species. Put in the plainest of terms, the most beautiful woman, the handsomest man, are the persons we would choose to be coparents of our children, if we considered nothing but the highest mental and physical welfare of these children.

The reasons for the actual matrimonial choices of society are complex, beauty being only a minor consideration. For the student of social psychology the investigation of the other factors is of absorbing interest, but here I may say merely that the predominance of these factors is a calamity. As a physiological psychologist, I must repeat what the poets have sung: the glorification of beauty and its exaltation as the primary ideal, which ought to reign in human life. Of all the divinities in the Greek pantheon, the most glorious are not Zeus and Hera, not Ares and his Aphrodite Pandemus, but Apollo and Aphrodite Urania, the life-giving queen of heaven.

It will be noticed that I have omitted moral qualities from the composition of the beautiful individual and have ignored the physical characters which connote these qualities. In this I have been consistent, and am in perfect agreement with common usage. Beauty may be proud, cruel, deceitful, immoral, wicked; and yet it may still be beauty. Cleopatra was capable of almost any crime you can think of, and Thaïs was no modest violet; but history tells us that they were of wonderful beauty. “Handsome is as handsome does” is true only in a qualified way.

How, then, can we elevate beauty to the rank we give it, since it satisfies our social demands only in part, and in what many consider the less essential part? We must do so, because it is the foundation on which truth and holiness are built. Only the race which is physically and mentally fit can survive and flourish long enough to develop and put in practice moral ideals. The problem after all is not one of choice between two ideals, but of having such regard for the primary ideal that it may help us to the attainment of ultimate ideals. In a more specific and limited way the problem of right and might exemplifies the guiding principle, which is therein not a choice between right and might, but the bringing of might into the service of right.

So much for the salient characters of beauty in the meager treatment I can give them here. I might now mention two other points which possibly will set off more clearly the conception I am trying to express.

Although beauty, in the primary and fundamental sense of the term, is prospective, we sometimes use the word retrospectively, as when we speak of a beautiful old lady or a handsome old man, indicating thereby a person who evidences the past possession of characters valuable to the race. In a certain sense, the retrospective characters of beauty are the same as those which constitute beauty proper; but nevertheless there is a tendency to admit, or rather demand, especially of women, moral characters not demanded in the case of primary beauty. While the handsome old man is, rather strictly, the man who still retains in some degree the marks of positive beauty (the marks having a retrospective significance), the beautiful old woman is she who, retaining the retrospective characters, also gives evidence of graces and temperamental qualities which are possibly more the result of environment than of constitution, and which in the younger woman are set off from beauty as “sweetness.”

This admission of retrospective personal values is one feature of the consideration which civilization has given to the aged, i. e., to the individual no longer potential for the race. This consideration, perhaps, has not increased since patriarchal times, but it is an advance over the attitude of still more primitive races amongst whom the individual who is no longer useful as a warrior or a parent is ignored or eliminated.

Finally, I must refer to the popular distinction between prettiness and beauty; a distinction which at least as it applies to women rests on solid psychobiological grounds, and which offers abundant opportunity for psychological research, having practical application to some of the pressing social problems.

The pretty woman is she who possesses certain of the characters of beauty, but in such combination that they are not an indication of the general potentiality requisite for beauty. The characters of prettiness are the characters of beauty which promise least for the stamina of the race. Without extensive analysis of these signs the distinction may be summed up by saying that a pretty woman might be the man’s choice for a mate, but not, other considerations being subordinated, for the mother of his children.

There is doubtless a valid distinction in types of men, corresponding to the distinction between “beautiful” and “pretty” women, but it is practically unimportant because of the singleness of woman’s judgment. Men, however, are as a sex strongly interested in pretty women as well as in beautiful ones.

On this point, certain observations on theatrical performances, especially musical comedies, are illuminating. Details are too lengthy to introduce here; but in brief, the types represented by the show girl and the dancers are necessary to give the chorus (the foundation of the show) the widest appeal to the males. This is a fact of practical importance to producers, and I have found no difficulty in obtaining abundant introspective confirmation from men of all classes. Some men are interested almost exclusively in the type of show girls who evidently would be splendid mothers; others are primarily interested in the types who are attractive in a more immediately sexual way. The great majority of men, however, are strongly interested in both types, and have little difficulty in identifying the grounds of the two interests. The stage, I may remark, is to social psychology what the laboratory is to individual psychology, furnishing the possibility of experimental tests, especially in the domain of the problems of the family, to which the this of this paper properly pertains.

I have sketched, in the preceding discussion, the line of observation and reasoning which supports my opening statement that beauty is something vitally important for the human race. It is unnecessary that I should fill in this outline with more detail, because, having once become impressed with the scheme, whether favorably or adversely, the details will be filled in from your daily experience, and will in the end leave no doubts as to the truth of the matter. It is therefore the business of the social psychologist to lead the way from this point to the next, and practical one, the conservation of beauty.

  1. The attractiveness of a thick head of hair on a man, from a woman’s point of view, is largely tactual. A number of women have analysed this as depending on the pleasure they would derive from running their fingers through the hair. This point is substantiated by actual behavior.
  2. I am informed by Professor Robinson that the Greek women uniformly removed the pubic hair (usually by singeing), probably on account of pediculi. That the esthetic standard is a result of this practice is plausible.
  3. These conditions are practically satisfied by the failure of geniuses to produce offspring. Our Shakespeares, Newtons, and Washingtons have left few descendants.