Words by Nneka Samuel
Is there such a thing as a perfect human being? Lior Pachter, a computational biologist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley, seems to think so. He performed an experiment in silico that suggests Puerto Rican women are the ideal human beings due to their mixed race genetics. Pachter referred to a 2004 study which says that most Puerto Rican women living in the United States are roughly 53.3% European, 29.1% West African and 17.6% Native American. Science speculates this makeup may enable biological advantages.
Pachter’s study used the most common type of genetic variation among people and isolated “good” alleles – alternative forms of a gene found at the same location on a chromosome. While concluding that it is necessary to be “admixed” to collect all of the “good” alleles, Pachter notes that “admixture itself is not sufficient for perfection.”
But who and what defines perfection? Since we cannot physically see all of the factors that contribute to a person’s genetic makeup, what we are really talking about here is mere aesthetics. And while gains have been made, the ideal woman and the most saturated image of female beauty in film, television, and fashion the world over, is still white. Will this study revoke that harmful, biased thinking? Highly unlikely. Moreover, what do these findings mean for non-Puerto Rican Caribbean women, and women worldwide? Is this study even worthy of merit?
The problem lies in the “p” word: perfection. When it comes to our physical attributes, women are constantly bombarded with impossible ideals, souped up, glossy images that erase stretch marks, cellulite, moles, freckles and crows feet. We are told to be skinnier, thinner, lighter, less hippy; taller, less wide. Women are constantly pitted against one another and in this unhealthy comparison game, no one wins. Perfection is an impossible feat. If at all achievable, perfection starts in the mind and grows in the heart – in knowing your worth and accepting what makes you uniquely you, genetics and all. We don’t need an experiment to tell us that.
While the reason for Pachter’s study was partly to disprove the racist beliefs of Nobel Prize winner James Watson, who in his work tried to genetically reengineer humans, it does more harm than good. It may boost the egos of the women it favors, but it fails to take into account that there truly is no such thing as a perfect human being.