Because I attended a religious high school, I never had a senior prom. So I can easily view this rite of passage with an objective, anthropologist’s eye. One ritual I always wondered about was the inauguration of a prom king or queen. The king and queen tend to be the best athlete and hottest girl. But who really cares about having a king and queen anyway? It seems so 1750s. And aren’t the coolest kids really the ones writing code and a few years away from launching the next Google?
I think this ritual stems from our beginnings as humans on this planet. It’s no news that people trace our beauty norms to basic survival instincts. For example, symmetry communicates health. And if you want your genes to continue and not die out, you’d better mate with someone healthy. (Read Survival of the Prettiest by Nancy Etcoff)
But what’s news to me is that as a society, as my friend David pointed out, we want the prettiest people to match up. Why? Because that ensures an even more successful/healthy next generation. Sure, the plain Janes and Joes don’t luck out here, but the species as a whole is better off.
This is a case where our biology hasn’t caught up with today’s reality. There’s no question that future success has a lot to do with intellectual, social and creative capabilities, not just physical health. But, biologically speaking, we’re still attracted to some of the age old beauty markers. And, so, somewhere in the recesses of our brains, we still want the prettiest people to hook up.
So perhaps we aren’t crazy to have prom queens and kings. We’re just hard wired for it.