Attractive body ideals come and go with different eras and cultures, but would you like to understand the lasting underlying trends and where they come from? Evolutionary psychologists try to find answers to questions like this about behavior, thought, and feeling by looking at how phenomena like natural selection shaped them through generations.

Burhan Mustafa, 17 at the time, made two TikTok videos where he summarized male and female attractiveness to one another from an evolutionary psychology perspective.

Fashion Life invited evolutionary psychologist and author Nigel Barber to comment on these videos as an expert, as he wrote one of the papers Mustafa cited.

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A science enthusiast created two TikToks about male and female attractiveness from an evolutionary psychology perspective

Image credits: burhan.mustafa

Burhan Mustafa makes easily comprehensible TikToks on science and trivia. He started making them after finishing high school in July 2020. His illustrated, quick-to-the-point videos with cited sources have gathered him 146.8K followers on the platform. So far he has covered male discrimination based on height, fake internet facts, snakes, etc.

Female attractiveness based on evolutionary psychology

Image credits: A. R. Stone

Image credits: burhan.mustafa

Barber said that the video on males, as far as he knows, is well done and accurate. He added that the video did not acknowledge the role of beards, claiming beards “can be considered a sexually selected trait analogous to the tail feathers of peacocks. Beards are mostly shaved in developed countries, possibly as a means of expressing sexual fidelity.”

The hip-to-waist ratio of female C is the most desirable to men

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Image credits: burhan.mustafa

The expert had more critique for the female video. He claims that Mustafa probably conflated omega-3, which is in breast milk, with “estrogen levels that are related to breast size and shape and also correlated with fertility,” thus being a more likely reason men who are attracted to women are “wired” to be attracted to them. Nigel Barber added that female breasts, in addition to being sexually selected traits, are “bona fide sexual organs” as they are connected to sensory systems in the brain that also respond to genital stimulation.

Burhan quotes the abstract from evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber’s paper on sexual selection and human morphology

Image credits: Cynical C blog

Image credits: burhan.mustafa

After posting his videos on attractiveness, Burhan responded to comments with a caveat: “I’m 17, not a scientist, sources at the end,” then confirmed that evolutionary psychology as a field is often criticized by other scientists and that these theories are not a reason to excuse predatory and misogynistic behavior.

According to scientists, human males are “wired” to be attracted to breasts

Image credits: fitness 4 her

Image credits: burhan.mustafa

However, Barber says that evolutionary psychologists have successfully proven many hypotheses about physical attractiveness and managed to repeat the experiment results, for instance, the attractiveness of the neonatal feature of a small gap between the eyes and mouth in women. However, there is a major problem for scientists of his field: “standards of attractiveness vary from one society to another and these differences are often poorly understood. For example, people in some indigenous societies see narrow-waisted women as sickly and unattractive.”

The survey says the ideal male height, from the perspective of women, is 5’11”

Image credits: YouGov

Image credits: burhan.mustafa

Barber says that there is no major difference in approach to studying attractiveness between evolutionary psychologists and evolutionary biologists. According to him, responding positively to high social status and to physical features such as facial symmetry (as a proxy for good health) apply to both humans and animals of other species.

Evolutionary psychology looks at phenomena like natural and sexual selection

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Image credits: burhan.mustafa

Barber says evolutionary psychologists are used to topics deemed controversial. He recognizes the term controversial is subjective depending on the observer and their society; for instance, in Texas, it is evolution, which is even being taken out of school texts there. He added that, because you can already read about things like lap dancers earning more money during ovulation in a mainstream scientific journal, there wouldn’t be much use of Journal of Controversial Ideas in his field. The new journal provides an opportunity to publish under a pseudonym, as a reaction to no-platforming.

Image credits: burhan.mustafa

I asked Barber what technology he would like to see invented to help with his work. Surprisingly he did not say some futuristic device to ease experimentation, but AI to reduce the “grunt work” of submitting papers to scientific journals. He said that some of the steps, such as ethics declaration and data use appendices to data analysis files, are mainly there to reduce the submission rate.

Facial symmetry can be viewed as a proxy for good health

Image credits: Lisa M DeBruine

Image credits: burhan.mustafa

If the prospect of paperwork is putting you off the path of studying, as Nigel Barber calls it, the human beast, remember that the process of collecting data can be quite comedic. His colleague Dr. Robin Dunbar let people know in an interview for Ologies that sometimes he does it by recording conversations at nightclubs. So the introvert you see in the corner texting might be taking notes on your courtship attempts.

Check out the two videos

@burhan.mustafaReply to @ss.kksa ##fyp ##science##biology##evolution##learnontiktok##edutok##education##learn##nature##zoology##girls##women##female##psychology##psych♬ original sound – Burhan Mustafa

@burhan.mustafathere’s always an explanation. ##fyp ##science##biology##psychology##biology##edutok##learnontiktok##shark##dinos##dinosaurs##animals##psych##education##zoology♬ Walk – Phaeleh Remix – Ludovico einaudi