Does a mother’s love stop you seeing the imperfections in your own mini Winston Churchill?
- Credit: Archant
Why do you never see baby pigeons? asks Ellen Widdup.
I will tell you why. Because they are the ugliest things known to nature.
I know this after following a trail of bird droppings across the patio to a nest in a bush in my garden.
Gentling poking my way through the branches, hoping not to disturb, I peeked around a leaf only to recoil in disgust and horror at the hairless, scrawny, bog-eyed creature beneath.
Its mother has abandoned it. Understandably. And its father is doing his best to feed it, while averting his eyes.
It’s a wonder this species continues to thrive at all.
After all, most animals produce offspring that is more pleasing to the eye than their adult counterparts.
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Think chicks, puppies, kittens, calves, foals and little lambs.
Science says their fluffy faces and infantile features give them an advantage because if we are evolutionarily programmed to find them visually appealing, we will work harder to protect them.
The same is true for newborn babies.
It is their vulnerability, their inability to do anything for themselves, their helplessness, that make us want to wrap them up in cotton wool and keep them safe from harm.
And yet, much like baby pigeons, little humans are fairly unattractive.
Where do you think the term “a face only a mother could love” actually comes from?
A recent survey found that 82% of parents think their baby the most beautiful on Earth.
But I’m more interested in the 18% that admit their offspring is anything but.
Raise of hands, please ? who else is surprised that so many mums and dads have noticed?
After all, most of us, upon giving birth, look down into the face of a miniature Winston Churchill and sigh with delight.
We cast our eyes about the hospital ward, checking out the other new mothers, and feel sorry for them because their children are all funny-looking, while you had been gifted with an angel.
Certainly, upon being handed my own mucus-covered, purple and red screaming daughter, whose head was pointed like a cast member of the 1993 flick Coneheads, I was blind to any imperfections.
I could see past the infant acne, the cradle cap, the excess skin-folds, the squashed nose like she had done a round with Mike Tyson and the limbs too big for her frame.
Instead I watched her, mesmerised, as she slumped in my inexperienced arms like a little drunkard, eyes crossed as she tried to focus.
Her baby pictures certainly don’t match with my memories.
For a time I assumed she just didn’t photograph well.
Or that the photographer was simply no good.
But really it was just because she needed a considerable amount of time to grow into her looks.
She was, like so many other newborn babies, far from the Evian-ad gorgeous I believed she was.
My son wasn’t a beauty contest winner either.
As a C-section baby who managed to avoid the birth canal, he did have the edge in the looks department.
But while bald on top, the rest of his body was covered in peach-like downy hair and he had big, boggly eyes – a little like ET.
“He’s perfect,” I sighed happily, marvelling at the nutty colour of his skin that I later discovered was jaundice.
He still is perfect. So is she. Perfect to us as their parents. But not perfect human beings. Because we are not so stupid as to believe there is such a thing.
Having said that – as relatively young parents (I was 27 when I had my daughter and my husband 26) – we have given our kids the best start in life as far as perfection goes.
A recent report found that older dads have uglier children.
Yes, you read that right.
Choose to breed with a man twice your age and your spawn are likely to be considerably less attractive.
In fact, one anthropologist stated that “someone born to a father of 22 is already 5%-10% more attractive than a 40-year-old father, and the difference grows with the age gap”.
Science is brutal.
Of course, I’m not precisely sure how the research was carried out.
I can’t help but imagine a methodology involving a conveyor belt of newborn bodies rolling past judges holding up placards rating their looks from one to 10.
Something like Strictly Come Babies.
The research went on to suggest that “children born to older fathers are more likely to be ugly… but may also live longer”, which reads like one hell of a backhanded compliment.
“You’re gruesome, but you’ve got longevity”.
The only good news from the study seemed to be that the age of the woman had no bearing on the outcome of the child’s appearance.
Which is a turn-up for the books, isn’t it?
As the bearers of babies, we usually get a right old earful about our biological clocks and our fertility, don’t we?
Last week some NHS doctor actually called on the Education Secretary to include fertility lessons in the national curriculum and for women to start trying for a baby before they turn 30.
With that sort of attitude, it probably won’t be long before someone somewhere flips the other bit of research to blame us girls for the older father issue, too.
“Women making bad partner choices is creating ugly Britain”, or something like that.
But before they do, there is one final bit of research I want to remind you of.
Numerous studies have discovered that thanks to nature’s way of confirming paternity, newborn babies are far more likely to look like dad than mum in the early days.
Which, pleasingly, means that even with my husband regularly – and smugly – pointing out that he is my junior, if our next kid takes after the other two at birth, it can only be his fault.