European women dominate images of beauty, presumably because Europe has dominated the world for the past few centuries. Yet this presumed cause poorly explains “white slavery”-the commodification of European women for export at a time when their continent was much less dominant. Actually, there has long been a cross-cultural preference for lighter-skinned women, with the notable exception of modern Western culture. This cultural norm mirrors a physical norm: skin sexually differentiates at puberty, becoming fairer in girls, and browner and ruddier in boys. Europeans are also distinguished by a palette of hair and eye colors that likewise differs between the sexes, with women more often having the brighter hues. In general, the European phenotype, especially its brightly colored features, seems to be due to a selection pressure that targeted women, apparently sexual selection. Female beauty is thus a product of social relations, but not solely those of recent times.
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