Janice Starlin had it all: money, a boyfriend, fame and recognition. As the founder of a popular cosmetics company she had all the attention and financial freedom she could ever dream of, until one day her sales began to drop. Much to her dismay, her stern and unforgiving stock holders reminded the Janice-of-yesterday that it is no longer ‘yesterday’; she had worn out her usefulness, growing visibly older, wrinkly, and generally unappealing to the public (“what kind of woman wants to buy cosmetics from a senior?” they boldly implied). Thinking herself immune to life’s natural course, Janice had single handedly depreciated the value of Starlin Cosmetics. Fewer and fewer clients remain interested in the products, because Janice was no longer appealing as an object of sexual interest. Oh, the perils of aging!
Fortunately, a desperate Janice gets wind of the fringe science of Dr. Zinthrop, a near-madman looking to perfect an anti-aging serum derived from the jelly of queen wasps. (Wait! Have we confused ourselves here? Those are bees in the opening credits, right?). Despite the doctor’s orders Janice hastily injects herself with the serum, a move that transforms her not only into a thing of beauty, but a thing of bee-uty! (Har har.)
Despite the remarkable similarities between the two movies (after 36 years we have developed our ideas about beauty, consumerism, and entomology!), these films provide campy carnage that is always hilarious and convincing (well, maybe not convincing...)! But we are troubled to find the persistent idea that youthfulness determines beauty. In recent decades, evolutionary psychologists (those that look for relationships between human behaviour today and the environmental and social constraints of our evolutionary ancestors) have begun identifying a host of potential cues that are related to people’s ratings of attractiveness across different cultures (see Fink & Penton-Voak, 2002 for an example).
Though none of these are without controversy, some of the cues that have received the most attention include facial symmetry, averageness, and hormone markers. Specifically, it appears that people find faces more attractive when they are relatively symmetrical (i.e. there are no startling differences between the left and right side of a face); more surprisingly, people with average facial features (i.e. they do not appear odd with features that deviate largely from most people) are judged as more attractive. Further, and probably the most controversial, is the role of the face in signaling genetic health in males and females. For example, since testosterone levels contribute to the masculinity of a face, and since testosterone can suppress immune function, highly masculine faces signal to potential mates that even with a low-functioning immune system, they can deal with the viral and bacterial threats of the environment (i.e., because they have not died yet)—something very valuable to prospective mothers.
Though the things that people find attractive differ from person to person, and though the actual relationship between ratings of attractiveness and different physical characteristics is turning out to be highly complex, it is by no means necessary to moonlight as a giant man-eating (corset-wearing) insect in the pursuit of beauty!
Check out Wasp Woman (1959) here:
Check out Wasp Woman (1995) here:
Fink, B., & Penton-Voak, I. (2002). Evolutionary psychology of facial attractiveness. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11, 154-158.
Corman, R. (Producer), Corman, R., & Hill, J. (Directors). (1959). The Wasp Woman [Motion picture]. United States: The Filmgroup Inc
Corman, R., & Elliot, M. (Producers), Wynorski, J., (Director). (1995). The Wasp Woman [Motion picture].