Sexy Science

I WAS walking past a newsstand the other day and the cover of OK! magazine caught my eye. Katie Price was pictured, complaining about the fact that she'd caught husband Peter Andre in bed with another woman, "and she's so plastic!" she said.

I thought that was pretty rich, coming from the queen of boob jobs. She was kidding, of course – the plastic woman was of the blow-up variety and Price and Andre had made a series of spoof photos to make fun of their detractors. It did get me thinking, though, about the surgery women are prepared to endure in an attempt to make themselves look sexier and how it can be the making of someone like Price.

Another one whose overinflated breasts have got her into the headlines lately is Nicola McLean of I'm a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here fame. What on earth possessed the woman to undergo major surgery with the risks that this entails, not once but twice, just to get a physique that will more than likely put her back out? And even more puzzling – why do men find women who have had bags of jelly stuffed into their chests attractive?

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Harvard anthropologist Frank Marlowe came up with an interesting suggestion as to why men have evolved the liking for big boobs: big, heavy breasts tend to sag more conspicuously than small ones as their owners get older and so give a good indicator of her age. It's unlikely that ancestral humans celebrated birthdays, so the men had to judge a woman's age, and thus her chances of bearing his healthy child, by her outward physical attributes. Thus a woman might be worth going for if her breasts are both big and pert – well, like breasts with implants, really.

Of course, it's not just breasts that get the treatment. You can have a facelift, a bum lift, you can have the fat sucked out of your belly and thighs, you can have your lips plumped up with collagen and you can have toxin injected into your face to remove the lines, along with any trace of expression.

There seem plenty of reasons for not doing any of this stuff – the pain, the health risks, the vast expense, for example. But all these treatments are meant to accentuate cues to femininity and youth, both of which indicate high fertility, the quality that men have evolved to find attractive in women.

Clearly, the women undertaking them consider the pulling-power benefits as worth it. Or perhaps they just want a career in reality TV.

It's a totally different story for men, of course. What women are looking for in a man is not youth, but status and wealth – both of which often accrue with age. This explains why men are happy to cultivate their distinguished greying temples, rather than manically plastering them with dye every month, as women of a certain age are wont to do.

Women undergo ten times as many plastic surgeries as men, according to Gad Saad, author of the book The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption. There are cultures where men undergo cosmetic procedures, for example, Maori facial tattoos, or indeed tattoos in our own western culture, but these procedures, says Saad, are meant to cue a man's strength, dominance, and in the Maori case, his coming of age as a warrior. For women, it's usually about looking younger.

Treatment to give a youthful appearance is the whole point of the TV programme 10 Years Younger, where the majority of participants are women. Ironic, isn't it, that the programme's presenter, 37 year-old Nicky Hambleton-Jones is now shouting about ageism because Channel 4 is replacing her with 30-year-old Myleene Klass.

But no matter how good the treatment, it can't actually make us any younger or more fertile. Why, then, are men fooled by breast implants, facelifts, make-up even? There are no benefits for men, biologically speaking.

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The simple answer is that cosmetic surgery is a very recent phenomenon and hasn't been around for most of the time men's psychology has been evolving, so they are designed to home in on cues of fertility, even though their brains may know these are artificial.

And we all know that men aren't concentrating on using their brains much when they meet a sexy woman.

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