Read an Excerpt
The Chiseling of Man
HOW EVOLUTION HAS CARVED THE FAMILIAR FORM OF THE HUMAN MALE
Long ago, the returning sun rose over the horizon to give definition to the grassy plains of a sweeping savannah, to four-legged creatures grazing, chasing, and being chased, to winged beings swooping across the sky in search of insects that swarmed around . . . a vastly different, strangely unique creature.
Like a bird, he stood on two legs. Like an ape’s, his musculature was defined and formidable. Like the most cunning of predators, he swept his surroundings with his gaze, his defenses and reflexes sharp. Like the most vulnerable of prey, he stood unprotected upon the harsh, unforgiving plains of what would one day be known as Africa.
But unlike anything else that had ever stamped itself upon that sunrise, he stood taller than most of the savannah’s four-legged creatures. Two of his feet were not feet at all; in fact, they had long, independent digits. His fur was concentrated, creating a wild and unruly silhouette on his head, above a body that was utterly hairless, and naked. His shoulders were wide, his legs were long, his appendages and extremities unlike any yet supported by this vast bio-network.
As strange as early man must have seemed, a unique characteristic still lay hidden beneath that tuft of unkempt, yet useful, hair on his head. His brain would serve as his largest and most effective weapon, his ally in modernization, and his sexiest of organs. Because his environment would demand more and more of his brain, man’s face and stature would change in order to survive.
The changes that have occurred in man’s face and body over millions of years make that early man recognizable to us, but far from familiar.
Evolution is a term that’s loaded with controversy for some, with answers for others, and with a taboo-type intrigue for the rest. To understand the concept of evolving characteristics, you must first consider the many variations of the human form. There are tall statures and short ones; flat ears and those that seem to fear the head; blue eyes and brown ones; red hair and blond; big noses, broad shoulders, full lips, and skinny hips. Every human face and every body is unique.
Evolution is not something that happened autonomously, or without reason. It wasn’t some kind of magical transformation, in which bodies morphed in cut time while the rest of creation stood and watched in awe. Instead, evolution occurred over millions of years as humans effectively eliminated, through mating choices, the bum traits that could have resulted in the extermination of our species.
Clearing Up an Evolutionary Ambiguity
Humans and apes are genetically comparable because they share ancestral similarities.
Your sixteenth cousin, Jethro, isn’t the only ape you have little in common with. In a relative sense, even though the genetic similarities between humans and great apes are more stunning than many of us would care to admit (wouldn’t any of us pick our noses or throw feces at our enemies if it were socially permissible?), humans are still vastly different, more complicated, more intelligent, and more spiritual than the animals that may or may not put cousin Jethro’s sophistication to shame.
Evolution can be viewed through any number of lenses. It can be perceived as something that occurred to assure our species’ survival, as a by-product of sexy mating choices, or as the result of random genetic drift. The facet of the theory on which your beliefs rest can only be determined by you; but no matter your position, the evidence that points toward evolution is difficult, if not impossible, to deny.
Today’s men, on average, are 30 percent stronger than their female counterparts. Males generally carry about 12.5 percent body fat, while females (often reluctantly) hold on to percentages right around 25. The typical male’s body boasts 56 pounds of muscle, while the female’s sports a healthy, but less significant, 30 pounds. A healthy male can lift twice his own body weight, thanks to lungs, a heart, bones, and muscles that outweigh a female’s. On average, he’s 7 percent taller and 10 percent weightier than a female.
Many of the human male’s gifts, aside from the obvious, are evident within the womb, and particularly right after birth. Maternity staff members often note higher hemoglobin counts, longer body measurements, heavier birth weights, higher resting metabolisms, and more lively movements from the little tykes. Likewise, human male children show a propensity for horseplay, have a seemingly insatiable curiosity, and have a better visual acuteness for snails and puppy dog tails than their sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice counterparts. It seems that, even from the womb, the human male is being prepared for the tough jobs that his ancestors had assigned him.
Millions of years ago, females, due mostly in part to their childbearing roles, were needed back at the home caves to raise children, to gather berries and other nonviolent foods, and to keep the bedrocks warm. They were simply too indispensable in the raising of future generations to put into the field, for hunting and fighting.
Men could inseminate their women and then move on to provide for the tribe. Men were drawn to the harsh savannahs in search of food and conquests; they were subjected to harsh weather, injury, and stress. The male bodies that were best built to survive these environmental traumas lived to procreate and pass their survival features along to their offspring. This ideal demonstrates Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Darwin maintained, as much of the scientific community does today, that features have survived because they offered some benefit to their bearers. Many of the human male’s features that we recognize today are in place because they allowed those human males not only to live through a tough day in the field, but to come home and make more babies who would carry on robust survival features.
That’s why distinctly male features have survived—because they worked, and they still do.
Let’s begin with the feature that not only allowed human males to stand erect and to run from predators that could have easily wiped out mankind, but also now keeps establishments that specialize in everything from wide widths to size fourteens to odor-absorbing insoles in business.
Biological evidence points to the male foot taking a walk on the wild side. If I could name the most neglected portion of the male form, it might be the foot. Why? Because the foot does not contain any major organs, it isn’t part of any thought-provoking or sexually stimulating tasks (apart from the foot fetish), and it’s generally considered to be unpleasant and merely deserving of being tucked away in a sock with an Odor-Eater and the promise of eventual ventilation.
Big Toes, Big Evolutionary Trade-offs
When you consider the size of humans’ feet in comparison to their tall statures and significant weights, any engineer might believe that they would topple over at a mere friendly slap on the back. A clown with long, bulging shoes looks to be in better balance, proportionately, than the standard-footed human—until, of course, you consider the function of the big toe.
When humans’ predecessors moved from branches to earth, toes that could balance and propel were much more useful than toes that could efficiently peel fruit. Opposable big toes posed serious balance issues for terrestrial walkers, and those with these outward appendages rarely made it out of the starting gate. Early humans needed mobility and speed in order to survive the harsh environments of their nonarboreal (non-tree-dwelling) existence. That’s why today’s human is able to use nicely aligned big toes to push off every time he or she takes a step—because natural selection effectively weeded out those terrestrial-only bipeds who had no such ability.
Body Watch: The forward-pointing big toe tells us a bit about man’s evolution; and now the direction in which his feet point will tell you of his mind’s desire. Because he doesn’t consciously control the direction in which his feet aim, they’re terrific indicators of his subconscious intentions. If his feet are pointing toward you, he’s interested.
A man’s arch is generally higher than a woman’s. This is likely due to early man’s need for a spring-loaded step while bounding away from danger and pouncing onto prey and enemies.
Humans are unique in that they walk on their entire foot. Most other mammals use only the toes or balls of their feet (picture a dog’s foot). For this reason, the arch was necessary for comfortable walking . . . which inevitably led to longer and more productive walking.
Of course, we can’t forget the struggling podiatrist’s dream: stinky feet. Because men have larger feet, they also have more sweat glands in those feet. And when those manly boats are in their slips, or shoes, for too long, a bounty of smells, including cabbage, cheese, fish, and sulfur, are summoned. Products of metabolic functions of sweat-loving bacteria, these smells are far from pleasant, but your boyfriend’s bouquet is, in fact, the effect of an ancient and useful tracking device.
Consider this: Would you be able to tell, blindfolded, whether it’s your brother or your boyfriend who’s taken off his Nikes?
That’s because each human’s chemistry harbors a different concoction of odor-causing bacteria. Though foot smell can be identified in general, it does vary from person to person. For this reason, early males were able to track each other by terrestrial scent. If a soggy-footed man was lost, injured, or being held hostage, his tribal cohorts could sniff out his track and rescue him in a grand display of comradeship (which may actually have had more to do with preserving a tribe member for his hunting or fighting ability). The rescued man then lived to spread his genetic material, which included a propensity for sweaty feet.
However, this nifty scent-tracking ability raises a question: Wouldn’t the putrid scent of a man’s tracks also draw in predators sporting big noses and empty stomachs? The famed twentieth-century anthropologist Louis Leakey alluded to the fact that human odor was foul enough to make early man repugnant to predators. This was due in large part to man’s high-protein diet. If Leakey’s theory is correct, and a prehistoric dog was tracking a barefooted man, the dog would know that the creature he was following was a carnivore (because of that putrid, protein-rich stench), a big one, and of an unknown species. Because most animals are xenophobic, or fearful of the unknown, the dog may have backed off in favor of a more familiar smell. As men developed hunting and defense skills they would have fought off many of the predators that tracked them, teaching those predators that the scent of this once-unknown carnivore meant danger. Therefore, the men with the sweatiest of feet were less likely to be pursued by predators that understood how quickly they could be demoted to prey.
Get a Grip, Big Foot
Just as hands have fingerprints, feet also have patterns that vary from person to person. Thick skin, the type found only on the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands, grows no hair (this characteristic is notable in all primates) but has one extraordinary purpose: grip. The ridges on the bottom of the foot did for early humans what a good set of radials can do for your car. Whether man was in pursuit, being pursued, climbing a tree, or bracing during copulation (good reason for today’s man to remove his socks during sex), grip was essential for his survival and his procreation.
So let’s pay the male foot a bit of respect. It may never enjoy a pedicure. It may never freshen a room. It may be less than alluring in its aesthetics, its feel, and its hygiene, but for goodness’ sake, let’s give credit where credit is due. Without this complicated machine, one that has deemed itself worthy of an independent discipline, podiatric medicine, the entire human masculine machine may have never progressed far enough to walk into the club, the date, or your life.
A long leg up on the competition. Humans are the only bipeds on earth that gain locomotion solely on their “hind” legs, by walking and running. Other primates will walk or run on their hind legs for a short time, and other mammals and birds will hop on their hind legs for their whole lives, but not one could run across the finish line of the New York City Marathon fully erect.
With humans’ upright stances had come not only a need to quickly learn to outsmart predators and prey (humans were now down from the trees and enormously vulnerable), but a need to run like hell. Anyone who’s watched the Summer Olympics knows that there’s no room for stubbiness in the leg department. In fact, most Olympic athletes have legs that range from average to long—usually equating to at least half of their total height.
As early humans spent time outsmarting and outrunning danger, natural selection favored those with longer legs. If you’ve run the high school mile next to McStretch, you can follow natural selection’s virtual thought process. For every two of your running steps, McStretch took one. He could gallop along at a leisurely pace while you had to disengage and dispose of your lower intestine just to make it before Mr. Jim Nasium blew the whistle.
Without a doubt, early humans with longer legs were much better at outrunning danger and overtaking prey. When you consider that men spent much of their time doing just this, you’ve got a plausible explanation for why men’s legs have evolved to be longer and more lean-muscled than women’s.
Well-muscled legs are common characteristics of modern humans. They were also necessities for ancient humans. When we made the move to bodily erection, “hind” legs took on twice the workloads they once had. They now had to support twice the weight and aid in twice the balance. The musculature that evolved takes credit for the straight, forward-moving, and smooth operation of today’s human legs.
Men’s legs are often longer than women’s (in relation to height) because boys mature more slowly than girls, which gives their legs more time to grow. This slow growth left boys of millennia past more vulnerable during puberty, but after the gawkiness lifted they were gifted with some advantageous mechanisms on which to escape danger and to run down prey. Stumpy-limbed men were likely left behind to be mauled, consumed, and rendered irreproducible while their taller, leggier companions brought home the goods.
Generally, the male’s calf muscle will sit higher on his leg and appear more protrusive thanks to his extra muscle mass and his longer legs.
Body Watch: Often, a man’s indecision is made obvious by a leg position known as the asymmetrical stance. If one leg is pointed in your direction, as if he’s prepared to take a step toward you, but his body weight is resting on the back leg, he wants to come closer, but is hesitant.
The next time you’re at the gym and Mr. Athletic saunters in, take notice of the length and the musculature of his legs. If at first glance he seems to have flawless bodily proportions, you’ll probably notice, with more scrutiny, that his legs make up at least half of his height. This design contributed to his ancestors’ speed in the wilds of the savannahs, and today it serves to speed him right into your line of discriminating vision.
Once he passes, hold on to your free weights. The rear view will hold its own parcel of evolutionary delights.
The male buttocks brilliantly compose the smartest of asses. In comparison to other species, the human male has a more rounded, rather protrusive buttock region. To put it lightly, he’s got a bulbous ass. Unlike the female’s butt, the male’s is composed primarily of muscle, the amount of which determines whether it belongs to an athlete or an accountant.
So, you might ask, why all the bodily exposure for muscles that do their best work on football bleachers? Ah, you’ve been misled.
Human buttocks are nature’s gifts to modern men and women. People that walked the earth only two million years ago had no such features. In fact, their pelvises were less substantial because they were responsible for holding less buttock muscle in place. It wasn’t until man learned of the benefits of long-distance running that his butt embarked on a journey of globular proportions. Once again natural selection put in its two cents. The men with bigger, protruding gluteus maximus muscles were not only able to outrun the wild and crazy carnivores of the savannahs, they were also able to continue running for much longer than their pursuers. So while these finely buttocked men enjoyed nights at home, creating more bulbous-butted babies, others had “lost their asses” (which they never really had in the first place) in races with Mother Nature.
The better muscled the buttock region was, the longer a human could stand upright, walk upright, and run upright. Daniel E. Lieberman, professor of anthropology at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, put it best when he said, “Your gluteus maximus stabilizes your trunk as you lean forward in a run. A run is like a controlled fall, and your buttocks help to control it.”
For early man, the development of well-muscled buttocks may have drawn in the cave chicks (as we’ll discuss in detail later), but it also helped him to make great strides in the pursuit of health, food wealth, and dominance. In other words, thanks to the male buttocks, the human race was able to haul ass out of some pretty sticky situations.
That brings us to the body parts that have aided men, throughout history, when those sticky situations were simply unavoidable.
Blue-collar ancestors are responsible for the girth of today’s multicolored collars. When you take in the physique of a professional wrestler, an NHL hockey player, a career construction worker, or even your son’s phys-ed teacher (tsk, tsk), a long, spindly neck probably isn’t part of the mix.
Life on the savannah wasn’t easy for early man. He frequently had to defend his life against predators and other men. Those men whose heads rested on necks that were shorter and thicker were more likely to survive these wild encounters.
The neck houses food, air, blood, and impulse transportations that are necessary for life, so it only makes sense that encasing these functions in muscle would benefit the physical hunter and the aggressive male.
“Pencil neck” not only refers to an atypical male’s lack of girth in the collar department, it also refers to how easily his spine can be shattered. A thin neck is a feminine quality—one that would be of little benefit to the “manly man” while wrestling, human grappling, or animal tackling.
The human male shoulders a great weight, particularly when you consider the rotational abilities of the shoulders themselves. The shoulders are powerful enough to support the human male’s muscular arms, but in an inclusively human sense, the shoulders are both versatile and ingeniously engineered.
It’s clear that shoulders are the human joints that have ended up with the greatest degrees of rotation and flexibility. Our primate ancestors needed terrific shoulder rotation for hanging from branches, swinging from tree to tree, gathering fruit from limbs, and climbing to escape danger. However, in order for bipedal people to run efficiently, they needed shoulders that would properly balance the movement made by their lower halves. Early humans who possessed shoulders with wide ranges of rotation had better survival rates, and hence carried on to make human babies with those same types of multifunctional shoulders.
As humans started to look more like Tarzan and less like Cheetah the chimp, they also began to stand upright, to walk, and to run. In general, humans maintained the rotational abilities of the shoulder, but more specifically, human males’ shoulders grew comparatively larger, because hulky shoulders aided in throwing spears, running, wrestling, and lovemaking, among other important tasks.
Body Watch: A man’s shoulders are two of his strongest implements, but that strength can go beyond physical displays of power. Often, a man will use the sheer size of his shoulder to block your view of other men . . . and to block the sight of you from the competition. This is a sure sign that he’d like to apply for a monopoly on you.
Shoulders as Sensory Enhancements
Modern shoulders work in sync with the pelvis to make efficient walking and running possible. When you run, notice how the shoulders and pelvis move in opposite directions. This aids in balance and keeps the head stable, so that your sensory functions, such as hearing, sight, and smell, remain virtually unaffected by your body’s locomotion. This would have been helpful throughout our bipedal history: if a human found him- or herself sprinting from a hungry predator, he or she could still smell the pot beast simmering over the open fire, see the smoke rising in a tendril, and hear the bantering of cave gatherers, identifying the way home and to safety.
Without the delicate balancing act that is orchestrated by the pelvis, torso, and shoulders during running, the human head would badly bobble, making precision sight, smell, and hearing shaky at best.
Thanks to the motion of the human shoulder, and specifically the strength of the male shoulder, our ancestors were able to climb down from trees, to hunt, gather, and defend their homes, their food, and their women and children. Men with broad, strong shoulders were better able to defend their possessions and their lives with clubs and spears. They could throw, dig, fight, and hunt with precision and strength.
These lifesaving and life-enhancing traits live on, in today’s man’s strong, broad shoulders.
A “Humerus” Look at the Human Shoulder
When examining fossils of ancient humans, it becomes clear that the outward-facing shoulder, with shoulder blades situated on the back, is a gift of evolutionary brilliance. When humans’ ancestors became bipedal, the backs of their new hands were facing forward, in knuckle-dragging rather than index-finger-dragging fashion. As humans’ survival needs grew to include the manufacture and use of tools, the need for a humeral head (top of the upper arm bone) that faced the interior of the body, rather than the back of the body, essentially turned the palms of their hands inward (note the orientation of the palms of your hands when they are resting at your sides, as opposed to the orientation of the soles of your feet).
The reasons that human evolution chose this “humerus” course of action becomes clear with the use of something as simple as a hammer. Try to hold one and use it efficiently with your arm turned inward, and all knuckles facing forward, rather than outward. Don’t hit your nose!
Humerus? Actually, it’s hilarious.
The human male, “armed” with biceps, could advance beyond other primates because he carried two beefy guns, cocked and ready for bringing down and carrying home the beast. The Neanderthals favored a method of killing prey that involved tackling and stabbing. This required massive strength in the arms. Those men with meager influence in the biceps area likely went without both meat and women.
The strong arms that developed in the Neanderthals, in the first real “arms race,” also came in handy when the man invented implements like the javelin. The stronger a hunter’s arm, the farther the javelin could be hurled, and the more accurately it would strike the man’s prey. This hairpin turn in hunting made the strong male’s arm even more important to survival (the farther he could stay from the prey, the more likely he was to retain his life).
The male arm is significantly stronger than the female’s. A man’s arm is composed of, on average, 13 percent bone, 15 percent fat, and 72 percent muscle, whereas a woman’s is 12 percent bone, 29 percent fat, and 59 percent muscle. As you can see, while the bone mass differs little, the female’s muscle mass pales in the shadow of a strong man’s biceps. A man’s extra muscle mass makes it possible for him to throw a javelin a full one-third farther than a woman can (on average).
Body Watch: When a man crosses his arms over his chest, his primary purpose is almost always to make his biceps appear larger. He’s displaying dominance, but this also closes him off to interaction. Hand him a drink, a napkin, or your phone number. Unless he takes your offering with his teeth, he’ll be forced to open his arms and his mind.
Let’s give it up for the strong male’s arm—it’s borne an enormous weight in the survival of our species, even if its best accomplishments have lately been conducted on armrests.
The function of the bold and beautiful male hand, and its part in helping humankind to “get a grip,” can only be denied if you can somehow find a way to overlook its strength and its ingenious design.
There’s a reason that your boyfriend can more efficiently crack open the Vlasics. Thanks to the many jobs his male ancestors were responsible for, his hands are twice as strong as yours, or at least they used to be. Now that more of his work is done on a computer rather than a carcass, his hands’ strength may begin to dwindle as the need for it decreases.
The male hand is significantly larger than the female’s. Because of this, his finger span is also quite a bit wider, once aiding in javelin throwing and large-object grasping, and now aiding in things like advanced piano playing, wrestling, and boxing. This attribute makes the man’s hand perfect for the quiet job of strangling beautiful women to death in Lifetime movies.
Despite the fact that his hands are more powerful than yours, they haven’t lost any of their sensitivity, as those men who have lost their sight and use Braille can attest.
The skin on the palm of the hand is thick and hairless. This thick, ridged skin of the palms held a noted advantage for early males. It aided in gripping tools when building, weapons when killing, and rocks when climbing. Today it helps to identify the most aggressive of males by offering its uniqueness (in the form of fingerprints) in police booking rooms.
The palm of the hand also holds a nervous tendency to sweat, as any apprehensive job interviewee can attest. This also had an evolutionary advantage: as a man readied to fight other men or beasts, the palm sweat that resulted from his nervousness joined his thick palm skin to aid in gripping.
The fingernails of the hand acted as tiny little helmets of armor for ancient humans. The pain of a blow to the fingertip is greatly lessened with the presence of the nail. Digging with the hands is made easier by the resistance provided by the nails (without them, the bone in the fingertip would take the brunt of the abuse and the fleshy end of the finger would flex too much). A task as simple as picking berries would have been eased by the presence of fingernails, which offered boosts in precision and support.
When you consider the hell that early male hands must have gone through, it can be reliably surmised that fingernails were significant assets—something that evolution chose to retain for both the man and his berry-picking, meat-picking, child-pinching counterpart. Without these handy little finger helmets, humans may have had to endure much more than the occasional hangnail.
Like hair, fingernails are products of the skin and are made from keratin. Differences in strength are more greatly determined by heredity, environmental stresses, and diet than by gender, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Dated studies have suggested that women’s fingernails bear a higher flex-before-breakage strength than men’s, and more recently, researchers have determined that they can identify the gender of a fingernail’s owner with 90 percent accuracy using the Raman effect (a method in which light is shone through a translucent object to determine its molecular structure), but laypeople will probably never be able to “finger” the perpetrator when clippings are found on the couch.
The next time you visit your favorite juice bar or coffee shop, take special notice of men’s hands while they hold up newspapers, send text messages, and grasp coffee cups. Note the girth of the fingers, the ample knuckles, the broad nails, the sprinkling of hair, the pronounced tendons and vascularity . . . and allow yourself to be transported to a time when hands just like theirs were ready to fight at a moment’s notice; when those hands could take down and throttle the life from a wild animal; and when they could be brought home, bloody and bludgeoned from the field, to deliver a tender touch.
The lifestyle of the modern man differs greatly from that of his cave-dwelling ancestors, but thanks to necessities born long ago, we still get to reap the benefits of the versatile and handsomely appointed male hand.
The male chest is a sexy wrap for a sacred cavity. Like most of the human male’s body, the chest is sizable because past occupations demanded it to be. Encased within a man’s chest are organs that helped him to sustain himself amid the harshness of the savannahs. As early man switched from foraging to hunting as a means of sustenance, he found himself having to sprint to keep up with the fastest of prey and outrun the most vicious of predators; and he also had to demand endurance running of his body, because hunts often turned into the equivalents of today’s full-blown marathons. It was a significant departure from his days of wandering in search of vegetation.
As man’s lungs expanded to accommodate this new, more physically demanding lifestyle, his chest cavity expanded to house them. Those men with broader chests were, understandably, the prime cuts when it came to athleticism, hunting, and fighting.
Body Watch: A man knows that a large chest is both attractive and domineering, so he may choose to use the arms akimbo stance, in which he places his hands on his hips and stands tall. This will enlarge his chest, make his presence known to other men, and mark him as masculine in your eyes.
The Great Nipple Probe
Maybe you’ve heard the expression “as useless as tits on a boar hog.” Though crude, it applies to the questions surrounding the presence of human male nipples as well.
Why do men have nipples, anyway? The first part of the answer is developmental. When in the womb, all fetuses begin their lives as females. Before the fourteenth week of pregnancy, when testosterone shows up to make those fetuses with a Y chromosome into boys, nipples are already in place. Human nipples are not aftermarket options, but rather, standard features for all models.
This raises the question of resulting function. Can any reason be cited for evolution allowing the nipple to prevail? Deep inquiry might assign the male nipple responsibilities that are similar to that of a pacifier (sucking satiation without lactation)—and in reality, that comparison flirts with accuracy.
The function of the male nipple is erogenous. Just one male nipple holds within its quarter-sized breadth 3,000 to 6,000 touch-sensitive nerve endings and 2,000 to 4,000 erogenous, or sexually stimulating, nerve endings.
I don’t know about boar hogs, but the male nipple is certainly not useless. In fact, in our studies of evolutionary holdovers, it has proven to be quite responsive.
The belly of the beast, also known as the male abdomen, differs from the female belly in that it grows thicker hair (including the yellow brick road of sensuality—the treasure trail); the distance between the navel and the pubic region is shorter; and it is, putting aside any extra junk in the core trunk, generally flatter and harder than a female’s.
A smaller percentage of body fat along with a higher percentage of muscle makes the display of the coveted six-pack abs an ubermasculine trait. Female bodybuilders aspire to, and often achieve, this rutted and rugged look, but it was coined by the men of yester-century, when core strength determined the likelihood of a tackled beast being either dinner or diner.
Next time you’re at the public pool, take notice of the variety of abdomen sizes that are unveiled. Imagine that the pool is a crystal lake where fish dive and crocodiles lurk; that the diving boards are cliffs from which waterfalls, men, and beasts tumble; that the towels spread on the grass are animal hides; that the magazines being read are loincloths being sewn; that the walking taco salads from the snack bar are buzzard legs from the community fire. Now imagine the different jobs that you might assign to each man, depending on the size of his abdomen.
If you’re like many women of today, as well as women of millennia past, you’ll likely call on the flat-abbed, athletic men to wrestle your children from the jaws of the crocodiles, to bring down prey for your next meal, and to fight members of enemy tribes while you wait with anticipation to see who will plummet from the top of the cliff. However, this doesn’t mean that you should discount the ability of the potbellied men to provide; it’s unlikely the women of long ago did, either. The front-heavy men might not get the job done with brute strength or raw courage, but they will do it with resources that they have acquired. A potbelly is seen as a side effect of a hedonistic lifestyle, and if a man has the resources to promote that lifestyle for himself, there’s probably enough to share with a woman and her children. In the faux pool scenario, the hedonistic man might grant younger, stronger men pardon for rescuing children, bribe the enemy with animal hides or food, and fetch dinner from the food stores that classified him as rich.
Today rich men are thin and athletic, while men without adequate resources are overweight because junk food is cheap, blurring the lines that once spoke of a man’s route to success. However, there are still clear messages sent by a man’s midsection, and we will, at least for the duration of our own lifetimes, be influenced by them.
Some Males Have a Gut and Some Are Well Cut
As Arnold Schwarzenegger asserted in the film Kindergarten Cop, “It’s not a tuma’.” And as Arnold Schwarzenegger asserted in The Terminator, “I’ll be bock.” These two scenes provide us with gleaming examples of two different males’ abdomens: the gut and the cut.
As the human male ages, it’s common for his belly to grow. Often a “pregnant male” look might develop, in which the majority of the body is thin while the belly protrudes as if it’s flirting with maternity. This, in fact, is an evolutionary holdover.
The majority of early men were probably fit, stacked, and generally hard-bodied, but there were those members of early tribes who were considered to be wealthy, in that they had enough food stored in their caves, or enough fat stored in their bellies, to survive a famine. Women had their choice: a fit man or a wealthy man. Today’s potbellied specimens are not helpless in their midsections’ growth, but they might be predisposed to this strange profile.
Some men’s bellies are so large that one might wonder about the last time they’ve seen their feet . . . or the family jewels. These men’s bodies, not surprisingly, are comparatively famine-proof, thanks to their fat-wealthy ancestors.
Evolutionary evidence supports modern man’s back. When ancestors of the modern human stood up, on their journey to becoming what we know today as Homo erectus, there were incredible amounts of pressure placed on the back.
From lifting heavy kills to climbing to wrestling, a well-muscled back went the mile in supporting man’s ancestors’ physical lifestyle.
When all male work was blue-collar, the back muscles were worked often, keeping them strong and able to support his upright stature. But in modern times, back muscles have been permitted to dwindle to weak bundles of shrinking tissue, which leave the mechanisms of the back without the support they need to withstand the persecution of daily life. Between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-five, 90 percent of men will have some type of problem with their backs, ranging from annoying aches to “my back’s out . . . I can’t get up” maladies.
We’ve all heard the piece of advice “Lift with your legs, not your back.” This same warning would never have been grunted or whistled within an early human settlement. Legs were for running. Backs were for lifting. It seems that since we, as a species, don’t do much running or lifting anymore, the legs have picked up the back’s slack, while the back has been demoted to stress management.
Don’t we all envy prehistoric woman just a little bit? How romantic it must have been when a man lifted his lady over the threshold of their cave to carry her to an evening of crazy love, without first bracing himself, lifting with his legs, and mumbling to himself, “Now don’t throw out your back.”
A “hippy” male is not the norm. Male hips aren’t given a lot of attention; and rightly so. The more minimal the hip, the more masculine its appearance is considered to be.
The average width of the human male’s pelvis is 14 inches, while the average female’s hips measure 15.3 inches. A man’s torso generally fades into his pelvis without much fanfare in the curve department.
The reason for this dissimilarity is simple: the human male will not be pushing an object the size of a Thanksgiving turkey through his pelvis anytime soon.
If you’ve ever wondered why some men look great in jeans and others look more like your aunt Edna, conduct this visual experiment the next time you’re in the grocery store or at the county fair:
Isolate the rear view of a fine denim example. With your eyes, follow the line that his hips make. You’ll probably find that there’s very little contour and no indentation at the waistline. Now find Aunt Edna’s fraternal twin and I’ll bet that his jeans fit tightly over his rump, that his hips are as wide as his chest, and that his waistline has a cinched appearance.
Often, the Aunt Edna’s Jeans Condition is simply a case of bad dressing. Men’s jeans should be cut to minimize the hips and deemphasize the waist, while leaving plenty of room in the legs. There’s been a lot of talk lately, in the realm of feminine fashion, about the horror of “mom jeans.” This might be a crime against what some call “good taste,” but its seriousness pales in comparison to the silhouette that results from a man’s decision to don these archaic, tight-waisted style specimens.
So don’t discount the hippy male when he’s just out of the gate. It could be his clothing. With a good pair of jeans, he might have all the potential of Mr. Denim Dream.
Male head hair remains nearly as mysterious as the mullet. The preservation of humans’ head hair, and the ultimate loss of much of our body hair, would be the stuff of a Sherlock Holmes novel, had Sherlock Holmes dabbled in evolutionary biology. During earth’s earlier days, the appearance of humans must have been met with some double takes by the rest of creation—similar to the stare that dogs like the Chinese crested receive today.
Today’s human hair is identical to that sported by our ancient ancestors. The fact that human hair’s structure has remained unchanged for a colossal stretch of history tells us that it has served its purpose well. But that raises one all-important question: What was, and is, the purpose of human head hair?
Head hair has become such a part of our daily routines and our views of other humans that we may have never asked, “Why do we have head hair?” The existence of the genetic condition known as congenital hypertrichosis lanuginosa gives credence to the idea that the bodies of our ancient ancestors may have been nearly completely covered in hair. Reasons for our losing the majority of that hair include the thermoregulatory one hypothesized by Dr. Peter Wheeler, who surmises that early people were subjected to extreme heat on the savannahs, causing profuse sweating, and that dense body hair interfered with sweat’s cooling ability. The hypothesis goes on to say that this cooling mechanism, along with the discovery of fire to compensate for hair’s insulating properties, caused bodily hair to be largely lost while head hair was maintained to protect the head, one of the few horizontal surfaces on the human body, from the sun. In other words, the seats of men’s and women’s most indispensable organs, their brains, were protected from adjacent infection. Humans with somewhat hairless bodies could promote the efficient evaporation of sweat while protecting their most functional organs beneath head hair. Ergo, they survived to pass on genes to me and you.
Another speculation on the loss of full body hair comes from Helen E. Fisher, a biological anthropologist at the Center for Human Evolution Studies at Rutgers University. She maintains that humans lost their hairy coats because bare skin was more sensual and more able to convey sexual signals like blushing, engorgement, and nipple erection. Our ancient predecessors who could send sexual signals and be more effectively stimulated by those of the opposite sex produced more children. Of course, hairy predecessors got by well enough to send their genes trekking through the centuries, but those with ready-to-heat sexual communications became more successful, and took over the copulation . . . and the population.
Long head hair also may have served early humans as camouflage. Picture this: Two men are hiding amid a clump of brush. One man’s naked cranium is highly visible, reflecting the noonday sun. It might even be pink or red, thanks to burning from previous noons. Alongside him is a man with a mass of tangled hair that covers his head and neck. It falls over part of his face and camouflages most of his throat. Which man makes the better target? Which man’s physiology is protecting some of his most vulnerable parts, as well as helping his crouched figure to visually melt into his surroundings?
Early humans with copious amounts of head hair likely had higher chances of survival because their heads, necks, faces, and jugulars were largely hidden, transforming all of these essential elements into indefinite targets.
Another reason that head hair may have taken root through the ages aligns with another Charles Darwin theory, that of sexual selection. Put simply, sexual selection is based on choice—the choice by one animal of another animal based on characteristics deemed attractive for producing healthy offspring. For instance, if an ancient woman were faced with a mating choice between two men, one with thick, long head hair, and another with sparse, patchy head hair, she would likely choose the former. Today it’s known that malnutrition and disease can lead to excessive hair loss. This was also likely known millions of years ago, when early humans witnessed others of their species fall victim to hair loss (among other symptoms) and then death. Therefore, thin, sparse, or nonexistent head hair was not a quality that women looked for in otherwise virile men. Even if those unhairy men had inherited terminal growth hair on their heads (like chest hair), or their hair was healthy but sparse, they were unlikely to be chosen as prime candidates for procreation.
It could be assumed that a man with long hair had been healthy for a long period of time (at least long enough to grow the wild bush on his head), and he would therefore score more often, propagating his bushy-hair genes across the savannah.
Caution should be taken in comparing the evolution of the head hair (as related to the elimination of terminal growth and patchy hair, or to nonexistent hair, on the head) to male-pattern baldness. The receding hairline has not been bred out of the human species because it was not only seen as a sign of wisdom (as a result of age) and a propensity for settling down, but also as a clear indicator of raw manliness.
The survival of male-pattern baldness today could also be a product of sexual selection. Long ago, women recognized a balding man as more mature, less aggressive, and less likely to take risks that could profoundly affect a family. As a result, men who displayed baldness were likely older and more ready to stick around once their seeds were sown—at least that’s what those women believed. We all know young men who are prematurely bald. And likewise, we know some ripe old men who have kicked the bucket with full, beautiful heads of hair intact. In either case, the perception of age is almost always affected by the man’s balding, or lack thereof. Many guys curse this affliction without realizing that women have likely chosen this characteristic for them, because they once considered it a good quality to have in a mate.
The ancient balding man’s sexual dominance didn’t stop there. Testosterone, the hormone responsible for everything male, is at the “root” of male-pattern baldness. Once a human male comes into sexual maturity at puberty, his genetics will determine the amounts of testosterone that flood his body, and where those doses are directed. For a young man who is destined to sport the chrome dome, testosterone will rush to his follicles to deactivate, and essentially destroy, the papillae responsible for hair production. By the age of thirty, it will take either a Hair Club for Men scout or a common passerby to diagnose his looming baldness, but no matter how obvious, his shedding will have begun. By the age of fifty, he will join more than half of all men who can expertly reflect both the sun and the fluorescent lights in Costco. By the age of sixty, he will no longer be stuck in a recession; he will find himself slumped into a hair depression.
But really, there’s no need for the baldest of our men to fret. The same hormone that’s responsible for deep voices, large testicles, and virile insemination practices is responsible for the condition that many men call a malady. There’s no shortage of women who consider bald men to be sexy. That’s because a man who owns his baldness, or even takes matters (and razors) into his own hands, establishes an air of dominance by owning that cue ball.
Finally, heads of hair, aside from the propensity to male-pattern baldness, are not genderlicious. The human male and human female heads of hair are identical in their constructions. Differences in appearances don’t arise until anthropological, social, and religious aspects “head” in.
Foreheads are man’s “temples,” designed for the new, highbrow intellectual. As man learned to rely more heavily on his brainpower, his frontal lobe grew to accommodate his new brainy qualities. As a result of his expanding gray matter (which would ultimately more than triple), man’s forehead expanded up and out. One look at the skull of a Neanderthal man will reveal prominent bony ridges above the eyes, without the forehead that we’re familiar with today; his skull sloped back, rather than up from his eyes. The bony ridges above the eyes didn’t disappear through the evolution of the brain, but were swallowed by man’s new feature: the forehead.
Now that the savannahs were teeming with brainiacs, life should have been simpler for humans. But there was a noted complication that arose from the newly restructured face. Rain, sweat, and other falling debris could now make downward paths straight into the eyes.
One theory as to why the entire upper portion of the human face lost hair, but the eyebrows remained, is that the eyebrows served our ancestors by channeling the sweat and water that now streamed down the face from the forehead out and away from the eyes (note the direction of the hairs in the eyebrows).
Another theory for the retention of hair above the eyes relates to signaling. The eyebrows are keepers of emotion, easily conveying sadness, grief, puzzlement, greetings, sarcasm, eroticism, and much more with their contrasting properties. Most eyebrows stand out dramatically from facial skin tones (even chimps’ eyebrows are light on dark faces), making them good emotional indicators, even at a distance. If an ancient human possessed eyebrows that contrasted significantly with his or her facial color, that human could have easily signaled a “mean no harm” message from far off, preventing an injurious or deadly enemy attack.
This communicatory theory might also help to explain why a man’s eyebrows are bushier than his female counterpart’s. In the wilds of the savannahs, ancient man’s needs to communicate at a distance were likely greater than a woman’s. Creating peace among tribes, or creating havoc, was usually left to the brawnier of the sexes. This evolutionary holdover can also loosely be used to explain nature’s propensity for creating unibrows on men more often than on women.
There are noted gender differences in the human brow. The human male’s brow is heavier, creating more of a shelf over the eyes. The eyebrows are less arched, generating a plane that is often nearly horizontal. These differences likely served two purposes. First, the human male’s brow has a more aggressive appearance. The more testosterone coursing through a male’s system at puberty, the more likely he is to display a heavier brow (but only within his genome—someone could have injected Pee-wee Herman with buckets of testosterone at puberty and he would still look, for the most part, like Pee-wee Herman). Therefore, heavy-browed men generally (and rightly) gained a reputation for being domineering, aggressive, and fertile. These men likely won many battles, as well as sired many children.
Second, a heavy forehead with big, bushy eyebrows gave early man some distinct advantages in the field. He had a screen from the sun, diversion for rain and sweat that ran down his brow, and better protection for his eyes in the case of a blow. For these reasons, a heavy-browed man was more likely to make it home at the end of the day with meat, to a mate ready to create plenty of heavy-browed, hardy sons.
The waxing chair will never host as many males as it does females. Though some men feel compelled to tame their eyebrows into neatly trimmed facial decorations, most will continue to view them as they were meant to be: masculine implements that served a purpose in the ultimate survival of our species.
The outer ridges of the ear are as unique as fingerprints, but with no significant difference in construction between males and females. Though the outer ear is considered to be vestigial, because it cannot move to home in on sounds like other animals’ ears can, it does hold value in helping humans to hear. The human ear can zero in on a sound’s location to the accuracy of three degrees, thanks to its design and to the neck’s impressive rotational ability.
Earlobes serve no protection or hearing purpose. They seem to have been maintained by the human body for two purposes: erogenous satisfaction and beautification. When humans are engaged in foreplay, the earlobes become engorged, responding nicely to kissing and other such activity. When humans are engaged in the spending of copious amounts of money, these same bulbs of fleshy tissue make perfect seats for diamonds, and emeralds, and rubies, oh my!
The male eye: “All the better to see you with, my pretty.” Human beings gather 80 percent of all information with their eyes—that’s 400 percent more than is gathered with all of our other senses combined. The function of the eye itself is so complicated that even Charles Darwin, evolution’s guru, tripped and blundered over how such a complex machine could have been a product of natural selection.
The eyeball of the human male differs little anatomically from that of the human female (it may be a bit larger); however, the presentation of the eyeball on the masculine face shows some notable differences.
A man’s eyes usually seem to be smaller, more sunken, narrower, closer together, and deeper set than a female’s eyes. These differences are not due to the construction of the eyeballs themselves, but rather to the masculine, testosterone-crafted features that surround them. A man’s eyes will most always appear to be smaller than a woman’s. This isn’t because the eye itself is smaller, but because his lids are lower, creating a more squinted or drawn-blinds look.
Whatchoo Lookin’ At?
The human eye is distinct from other mammalian eyes in that it shows more of the white. This characteristic likely survived because of its invaluable signaling ability. To illustrate, a chimpanzee’s eyes are fully brown. From any significant distance, it can be difficult to determine if the chimp is looking at you, your child, or the man in the Bermudas and straw hat to your right. Without the zoo fence separating you from the chimp, you could fear attack at any moment, because his gaze, and his intentions, are significantly veiled. Conversely, when you encounter a man, you can pinpoint the object of his intentions by determining the direction of his gaze or the nervous movements of his eyes.
Back in the day, when words still eluded humans, a look that was ill perceived could have meant the difference between life and death. Without visible whites, any man, at any time, could have been met with the grunting or pummeling equivalent of “Whatchoo lookin’ at?” when in fact he wasn’t looking at anything but a rock, a tree, or another man’s cavewoman . . .
Okay, maybe sometimes he deserved what he got.
Body Watch: The whites of man’s eyes make it simple to determine the direction of his gaze, but they also make it easy to pinpoint the best way to communicate with him. If he looks up while talking to you, he’ll respond best to visual words from you (“I see” or “Picture this”). If he looks to the side while thinking, he’ll value auditory cues (“I’ve heard” or “Listen”). And if he looks down when searching for his responses, he’s a tactile sort, who likes hands-on references (“Touch on the subject” or “I sense”).
The human male bats an eyelash for, not at, evolution. How many times have you envied the length and fullness of a man’s eyelashes? They’re not supposed to have features of beautification, right? Well, all that would be a great argument if eyelashes were meant to beautify.
Eyelashes are actually the curb feelers, the whiskers, and the awnings of the eye. The eye deserves such protection, since it is a direct connection to the brain and the most exposed portion of the central nervous system. Such a dynamic, sensitive, and exposed device as the eye might be more widely insured if famous artists, golfers, and interior decorators weren’t gifted by nature with the small but powerful implements known as eyelashes.
Humans didn’t wake up one morning on piles of molted hair, shivering under the weight of Jack Frost. It happened gradually, over generations. Furthermore, humans didn’t really lose that hair at all. Instead the hairs evolved to be smaller, giving men and women the illusion of being hairless. While in the midst of this transformation, humans who maintained eyelashes had the use of eyes that were shielded from sunlight and were better able to focus on important tasks like defense and hunting. Those humans who had tiny hair triggers on their eyes that would snap the blinds shut, quickly enough to put any Venus flytrap to shame, effectively saved their eyes from dust, sand, dirt, and insect irritation and trauma.
Eyelashes: Not Products of Your Ordinary Follicles
At the point where the standard human skin of the eyelids joins the conjunctiva (the mucous membrane that lies on the underside of the eyelid), eyelashes sprout. But what is an eyelash, really?
Under a microscope, the human eyelash looks much like a human hair, until you make your way to the image of the very tip. There you’ll find evidence that the eyelash is actually a sensitive feeler encased in material that’s similar to the covering of other hairs.
Give your arm hair a quick brush with your fingers. Now do the same to your eyelashes. Eyelashes carry a definitive sensation, which promotes the quick closing of the eyelid when anything brushes against the lashes.
Nosing around in a big way: one of man’s biggest and best endowments. The human nose is unique compared to other creatures’ snouts. It’s not a muzzle; it’s not a beak (although in some cases it has been referred to as such). Generally, the human male’s nose is more prominent than a female’s, and there are a number of theories that strive to explain this difference.
Our primate cousins’ noses are flat with upturned nostrils, so why is the human nose so prominent, with nostrils that face the ground? It can be helpful to picture our ancestors as having a variety of nose shapes—like those you might find in a rhinoplasty catalog, plus some more, upturned, less contemporary noses. When hand-to-hand combat became part of tribal life, injuries were common. The bony bridge of the nose, in conjunction with the heavy brow and cheekbones of the typical male, protected the eyes against blows from blunt objects. You know today that if you were to smack your boyfriend in the face with a two-by-four (this is allegory, not relationship advice), his eyeballs would be minimally affected. This is in part thanks to the bony protection provided by the prominent male nose. Those human ancestors with flat, minimally protrusive noses would have been more susceptible to soft tissue injury (and a blind man on the savannah would have had the same chances of survival as a blind man walking on the D.C. beltway).
Another factor that contributed to the shape of the modern human nose was our ancestors’ descent from the treetops. On the ground they had to swim; and if you’ve ever snorted a schnoz-ful of water, you know how difficult an upturned nose would have made a simple dip or a lifesaving dive. Additionally, the closer to the ground a human found him- or herself, the more dust, sand, and other wind-driven materials they would be exposed to. Downturned nostrils were likely aids in keeping such debris out of the nasal passages and sinuses, as were mucus and nostril hair.
Humans’ first words were far from soliloquy, they in no way mimicked the Gettysburg Address, and they were far from profound. In fact, they weren’t words at all; they were grunts and whistles. As vocal cords developed to give humans a wider range of vocal capabilities, there was a greater need for resonance within the sinuses. A larger nose gave them this ability. Speaking with less of a nose would result in everyhuman sounding more like anyhuman-with-a-nose-pinched-shut.
Body Watch: We all know about the wooden puppet whose nose grew when he told a lie. But, believe it or not, little cartoon boys aren’t the only victims of this malady, known in the biological realm as the Pinocchio Effect. When a man is aroused, anxious, or being deceptive, the capillaries in his nose will become engorged, causing it to grow by up to one millimeter. This change is imperceptible to the human eye, but it will cause him to swipe or scratch at his nose.
Though the human nose is larger than those of other primates, it claims a sense of smell that is significantly deficient. This might seem counterintuitive at first, but it can be helpful to focus on your nose’s other important function: air temperature and humidity regulation. Sure, noses smell (a sense that was lessened as sight evolved to be a human’s primary sense), but they also serve to police the air that enters and exits the nostrils, sinuses, and lungs. The ideal temperature for air that’s inhaled is 95 degrees, and the ideal humidity is 95 percent. The nose ensures that these ideal factors are reached. This explains why peoples of arid climates (Middle Eastern peoples, for example) have large-bridged, more prominent noses—the greater surface area of the mucous membrane is needed to add the proper humidity to the inhaled air. Flatter noses, such as those of Eskimos and Mongolian peoples, didn’t need such adaptations; moreover, longer noses would have been more susceptible to frostbite.
One Man’s Stench Is Another Creature’s Chanel No. 5
Though today’s human’s nose doesn’t detect smell as well as our ancestors’ noses did (just ask the sneering sommelier), we cannot discount the ability that it has retained. Long ago, human noses transmitted information to brains about the safety of potential food items. Our scent receptors’ qualities are species-specific, thanks to evolution’s weeding out of those humans whose receptors weren’t matched to their dietary needs and weren’t capable of sending alarm messages to the brain. If humans weren’t repulsed by something that could harm them, they might eat it and die, effectively cutting off their reproductive abilities and leaving those with better sensitivity to dangerous smells to procreate.
An example: Rotting flesh smells putrid to a human, but is beak-watering to a turkey vulture. Human feces repulse humans, but rabbits eat certain types of their own pellets for nutritional reasons.
If a rabbit and his nose didn’t find his own turd appetizing, he might become nutritionally deficient. If a human found his own feces enticing, he could end up seriously ill or dead. Herein lies the importance, and the fascination, of evolutionary scent tweaking.
Why are men’s noses larger and hairier than women’s? When you consider all of the evolutionary factors covered above, this can be reliably explained. First, a man would have needed more facial protection, because he belonged to the gender that most often found itself embroiled in brawny battles with trappings like clubs and fists (if women fought, they likely used fingernails and teeth). Men n