We’ve All Evolved to be Shallow

dustin marion bartoli

Perhaps the BBC commentator who criticized Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli’s appearance should have played Dustin Hoffman’s role in the 1982 comedy Tootsie.  An interview with a teary Dustin Hoffman went viral this week in which Hoffman reports how portraying an ugly woman in the film (his own description) underscored for him how much he had judged women by their physical appearance throughout his life (http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xPAat-T1uhE).   Since it seems to be a week highlighted by male shallowness, it’s only fair to point out that women can be equally judgmental in their interactions with men.

In the AFI interview where Hoffman conceded he avoided interactions with unattractive women, Hoffman described the female character, Dorothy Michaels, he portrayed in Tootsie as follows: “ I think I’m an interesting woman when I look at myself on screen, and I know that if I met myself at a party I wouldn’t talk to that character… There are too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed.”

Dustin was not brainwashed, he merely evolved.  Evolutionary psychologists suggest that humans have evolved to spend time with those people who offer the greatest potential mate value.  Attractive women tend to be healthier and more likely to produce healthy offspring, and thus possess a higher mate value for men.  Our male ancestors who chose to spend their time chatting up disfigured or sickly women were less likely to pass on their genes, and thus, over millions of years, have been removed from the gene pool.

Although we like to criticize men who judge women based on their appearance, women have also evolved to be judgmental.  Much like men, women seek attractive mates.  It’s sad but true.  What woman would choose to chat to the overweight balding man over the Brad Pitt look-alike?   Also, sad but true, women tend to seek out rich men.  Evolutionarily speaking, since women have more invested in our offspring than men (women can only produce about one offspring per year, whereas men could father many children in the same year), women tend to be attracted to men who have the resources to support a future child.  Therefore, it’s the poor, unemployed bloke who may garner less attention from women at a party.

Fortunately, we can control these tendencies (apparently BBC Wimbledon reporter John Inverdale cannot, but most of us can).  The BBC apologized for Inverdale’s remark regarding Bartoli, and Hoffman seems to have seen the light.  Awareness of why we behave the way we do, does not provide an excuse for that behavior, but, instead, can help us identify and curb our judgmental and shallow responses toward our fellow humans.

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