One of my favourite words is NEOTENY
(I’m indebted to my friend at the excellent and highly informative Dear Kitty. Some blog for setting my chain of thoughts in motion for this article)
The word NEOTENY derives from the German word Neotenie, which in turn comes to us from a combination of two Greek words νέος (neos, meaning ‘young’) and τείνειν (teínein, meaning ‘tending to’)
NEOTENY is defined as: the retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously seen only in juveniles and is a subject studied in the field of developmental biology. It is also called pedomorphosis.
Many prominent evolutionary theorists, including Stephen Jay Gould and J.B.S. Haldane argue that neoteny has been a key feature in human evolution. See Wikipedia for more details.
These are the more obvious neotenous traits in humans: flattened face, broadened face, large brain, mostly hairless body, hairless face, small nose, reduction of brow ridge, small teeth, small upper jaw (maxilla), small lower jaw (mandible), thinness of skull bones, limbs proportionately short compared to torso length, longer leg than arm length, larger eyes, and upright stance.
So what are the effects of these neotenous changes?
In a cross-cultural study, more neotenized female faces were found to be the most attractive to men while less neotenized female faces were the least attractive, regardless of the females’ actual age. Michael R. Cunningham found that the Asian, Hispanic and White female faces that tended to be considered most attractive were those that had “neonate large eyes, greater distance between eyes, and small noses”.
This led Cunningham to conclude that “large eyes” were the most “effective” of the “neonate cues”.
Jones, D. Sexual Selection, Physical Attractiveness and Facial Neoteny: Cross-Cultural Evidence and Implications. p.723.
Now if these research findings are true, doesn’t this have profound implications for our society, and especially the way we demonise men, and some women, who are sexually drawn to young people and children?
I’m certainly not condoning pedophilia – I suffered sexual abuse as a kid so I know only too well how destructive of young lives this illness can be.
But I think we need to ask some searching questions of ourselves, both as a society and as a species.
Not surprisingly, one of my least favourite words is
PEDOPHILE is defined as an adult who is sexually attracted to young children. The word derives from two Greek words, paidos meaning a boy or child and phileein meaning to love.
The word PEDOPHILE is a term of abuse for many nowadays, yet much of our culture seems to focus on us looking like children. Has anyone else noticed this contradiction?
Fashion models are notorious for being extremely thin, yet what is this but an attempt to appear as pre-pubescent?
And what about Manga?
The great majority of mature women shave their legs and under their arms, pluck their eyebrows and other parts of their faces, use creams and potions to stave off or reverse the aging process, wear make-up to make the skin appear smoother and younger and try in many other ways to appear young.
What is this all about, if not to appear childlike? And if this is the case, shouldn’t we be talking about it?
So what do YOU think?
Are YOU drawn to younger-looking people? Is this natural, or is it created by marketing and advertising?
Do YOU want to appear younger than you really are?
If so, why?
If not, how do YOU feel about this process?