Why do women wear short dresses? This is the question I asked myself following the challenge launched by a blogger: Wear a short dress!
I want to. I like challenges. The catch is I have none in my wardrobe. All my summer dresses or skirts cover my knees or stop an inch above. The reason is very simple. I usually prefer a subtle cleavage. As I show a bit the top of my body, I balance the look by not revealing the legs too much. It is a matter of preference. I always thought it was sexier to show just a little and let the imagination do the rest. Don’t think I dislike short dresses. On the contrary. I love them … On others! But the challenge launched by Josh from Hermit Scribe inspired me. I want to know more about what motivates women. A Web search confirms this: the reasons are varied. Some say they appreciate the comfort of short dresses. Others say they feel pretty by highlighting their strengths. There might also be a probable connection with the theory of sexual selection.
According to this theory, in the animal kingdom, males are distinguished by characteristics intended to attract the attention of the females, to which the choice of the partner belongs. This is the case in several animal species, including birds. Some male birds have developed colorful plumage and complex melodious songs. These characteristics reflect their genetic quality. Assessment of these qualities by the female maximizes the ability and survivability of future offspring. Males perceived as the best brood stock, those who have developed the traits preferred by sexual selection because these traits are good genetic markers, are thus favored when choosing a partner and they have a better reproductive success than the other males. Hence where the expression “Peacocking” probably comes from.
Is a similar phenomenon present in humans? To find out, I asked a Darwinian specialist. Daniel Baril is a journalist, anthropologist by training and a speaker at the Université du troisième âge. He is also the author of La grande illusion; comment la sélection naturelle a créée l’idée de Dieu (MultiMondes). He agreed to answer my questions.
In your opinion, is there a connection with short dresses and necklines and natural selection in humans?
Yes and no. In birds, colorful plumage, elaborate singing and the courtship of males are used to attract females who choose the best performers. These skills are both markers of good genetics and access to good food resources. In humans, if the short dresses and necklines of women attract males, these attires are obviously not a reflection of good or bad genetics. They are, however, accessories that are part of the seduction, conscious or not, and therefore constitute, in the eyes of men, signs of a certain availability.
The fundamental question for evolutionists is therefore why, in humans, this type of seduction is mainly the lot of women. Unlike other primates where ovulation – and thus the period of fertility – is accompanied by signs perceptible by the male, such as the coloring of the vulva that triggers the reproductive behavior of the male, evolution is called “hidden” in women, that is to say without apparent signs. Apart from sexual pheromones which are only vestiges in humans, the female of the human species rather sends out cultural signals showing its sexual availability. Several studies have indeed shown that, unbeknownst to them, single women are more likely to wear make-up and wear sexier clothes during ovulation. In other cultures, they will make themselves more attractive with a simple glance, a smile, a melodious voice or a lock of hair that extends beyond the veil.
Seduction behavior varies greatly according to culture, morals and personal values. A woman who ovulates will not automatically go into seduction mode such as when the male peacock faces a female during the breeding season. Everything is a matter of context. For its part, man is always in a reproductive period and therefore does not need to launch this type of signal to the woman. Instead, he will show signs of social status and property.
Is the phenomenon also present in primates? In other animals?
To my knowledge no other animal species uses cultural artifacts to charm the other sex and make itself more attractive. The female macaque, however, shares a peculiarity with her human cousin: she also has a hidden ovulation due to the position of her vulva. During ovulation, it is the face that is tinged with red. For the male, it is the sign that this female is available for a coupling and this face is probably very “erotic” in his eyes. No need to wear makeup; Nature does it!
Can you elaborate a bit on the link with makeup?
The make-up as it exists in our society essentially consists in increasing the contrast of the eyes by mascara or eyeshadow and the mouth by lipstick. It is known, through psychometric tests carried out in laboratory, that the increase of these contrasts makes the face appear more feminine as the following pictures show.
A woman who uses make-up thus appears more sexy and feminine. This has been verified in various cultures. Red on the cheeks will also make the person appear healthy and probably younger, therefore fertile. Our aesthetic criteria are therefore not arbitrary.
There is also an interesting case of some inversion of roles. Among the Wodaabés, a tribe of the Peul people of Niger, men wear makeup during an annual ritual and women, mostly single, choose the one with the most elaborate beauty mask and the whitest teeth. This results in relationships that can last a night or a lifetime. But in this case, the make-up of the men mainly illustrates their creativity and skill, a criterion of selection on the part of the women. The white teeth are a sign of good health and good genetics.
But in the human species, sexual behavior is dissociated from reproductive behavior…
Yes, but they remain, of course, linked to sexual behavior. This means that we use sexuality independently of its reproductive function, but that the behavioral triggers linked to this function remain active. This is also the case for bonobo monkeys that use sexuality outside breeding periods to appease conflicts or, on the part of females, to ensure the protection of the dominant male and to benefit from its resources.
While initially seductive behavior, orgasm and so-called love have been retained by natural selection and sexual selection for reproductive purposes, there is nothing to stop us from using these or to experience these feelings outside of the reproductive context. Our hands are the result of an adaptation to arboreal life, but we use it to make tools or play the flute.
The appetite is a sensation linked to the need to nourish us, but nothing prevents us from eating without appetite solely for the pleasure that this provides.
Beyond the anecdotal cases, it is always more pleasant to feel attractive than ugly and a woman may want to seduce to have company even after her breeding period. This applies equally to men!
If you want to purchase Daniel Baril’s book (available only in French), click the link: La grande illusion; comment la sélection naturelle a créée l’idée de Dieu (MultiMondes).
Now, let’s move on to serious things. I have to show some photos of me in a short dress to take up the challenge launched by the blogger. Here you go!
Note: This is not really a dress. I told you. I do not have any short dress. It is actually a sarong that I wear over my swimsuit when traveling south. Convenient to pick up refreshments and snacks at the snack bar, close to the pool or the beach. On holiday, I imagine that this garment, associated with a nice bag, can also be worn as a dress… If you succeed to hide the bra!
Thanks to Daniel Baril for his precious collaboration. Thanks to you dear followers for reading me.
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