UPDATED: Two biology professors have controversially claimed that people from the traditionally more wealthy west side of Oslo are becoming steadily more beautiful as attractive women pick more affluent west Oslo men over their east Oslo rivals.
Dag Hessen and Bjørn Grinde, professors at the University of Oslo and Norwegian Institute of Public Health respectively, claim that power and status are the most important factors when beautiful women choose partners. Their statements have been opposed by others, including Oslo’s mayor, although Hessen now claims that his words were twisted during the interview that is now being quoted across the Norwegian press.
Women ‘more cynical’
Hessen told newspaper Dagsavisen that his belief was based on Darwin’s observation “that species that were found on different islands changed less than other species,” meaning that “as long as there is not any pronounced migration between east and west, the population will not change very much.” He stated that “it is a fact that beautiful women seek beautiful men” but that “men are even more attractive if they also have money and power.” “Men have normally been in positions of power and women have gone after these, both to secure themselves and their children,” he said. Going further, Hessen commented that women “have been more interested in power, money and celebrity” and are “consciously or unconsciously more cynical.”
Those in West Oslo are also better looking because they take better care of their appearances through exercise, diet and clothing, Hessen suggested. Physical characteristics that indicated fertility and “clean, healthy skin” were also important. He said that men have “never liked” skinny women, and that slightly “chubby” women fared better, as this indicated fertility.
“Take a picture of a thousand random people in each place, and get people to rate them on a scale from 0 to 10. I think west side people would get a score a notch higher than the east,” Grinde added.
Hessen admitted that “this is a dangerous theory to put forward” because “it can quickly become self-affirming,” but added that “this is how evolution functions.”
The biologist also believes that dark hair and skin are becoming more attractive to Norwegian men. “When I once took a walk in east Oslo, I saw many beautiful immigrant women there,” he claimed. “That men choose these women could change the ethnic composition in the east-west divide.” Speaking of men in the east, he said “I can say that there are many attractive men that are conscious of appearances in east Oslo. Many have a macho image. I can imagine that there are a number of women that risk the social expedition.”
According to the biologists, some concepts of beauty are universal to all cultures, including symmetrical faces and the proportions between breasts, waists and hips. “But it is possible that a culture can override this, for example if men give women more food.” He suggested that Eskimo women were traditionally bigger because Eskimo men give them more food. He also said that “concepts of beauty are not written in stone,” pointing to the punk scene as having a different conception that the rest of the population.
‘Stupid and provocative’
Many people disagreed with the biologists’ suggestions, particularly questioning how one can define a concept like beauty or attractiveness. Per Fugelli, a professor in community medicine, was even stronger in his criticism, describing Hessen’s ideas as “stupid and provocative.”
“It is stupid because it is an unbelievably naive interpretation of people,” Fugelli told Dagsavisen in reaction. “It is provocative in the way they reduce us to animals – monkeys or crocodiles – as if the only thing we go after is appearance. It reduces love to smells and sex. They forget that humans are not like animals, but are spiritual beings and have thinking capacity. It’s as if human beings are just penises and vaginas,” he stated.
“It is a provocative downgrading of what humans are,” Fugelli continued, adding that “they make the most beautiful of things between humans like a primitive fight for power and survival.” Addressing the east-west divide in Oslo directly, the professor commented that “it is an unbelievable error to convince oneself that alpha males are on the west side.” He suggested that “if women swarmed to the males that were most capable of survival, they should swarm to the fisherman at Røst [a remote set of islands in north-west Norway], not to the weaklings on the west side.”
Hessen: ‘mistreated’ by Dagsavisen
Speaking to newspaper VG, Hessen claimed that Dagsavisen had twisted the issue and that he had tried to nuance an accusation that was put forward during an interview by someone else. “I feel mistreated by Dagsavisen,” he said. He continued that “it is put forward as if I actively have gone out and said that people on the west side are becoming more and more beautiful, but this is just rubbish.” He claimed that what he had said was “that rich people can choose beautiful girls, but to interpret this as saying that people on the east side lag behind is completely mistaken.”
Hessen told VG that he “doubts” that those from west Oslo are more beautiful than those from the east, admitting that there are no studies that can confirm that thesis. “I am self-critical that I did not read through the interview, and I have learned something from this – that is, simply to keep my mouth shut.”
Dagsavisen‘s editor, Kaia Storvik, responded by stating that “we have gone thoroughly through the issue and do not think that we have made any journalistic mistake.” She said they had been through notes on the interview in order to check what had been said, and had not “angled it harder than what we have proof for.” She confirmed that they would publish a letter to the editor from Hessen. Storvik added that they had contacted Hessen in the first place because he is a “clever and important social commentator,” and did so as part of a series of articles planned on the east-west divide in Oslo.
Oslo’s mayor, Fabian Stang, rejected the theory, joking “I live in Frogner in west Oslo, and must be the best evidence that it isn’t true.”