Could everyone marry a supermodel? A scientific assessment

Marrying a supermodel is viewed by some as the pinnacle of achievement when it comes to relationships. But could everyone do that? And would it be a good thing if we could?

I’ve been out of the loop for a few weeks, meaning I’m out of touch with the latest news. However, I firmly believe that science is applicable in any context. So, with that flimsy rationale, here’s a science blog based on something someone said to me in a pub.

I was in said pub with friends, and also friends of friends, who weren’t known to me. That’s the risk you run when you hang out in public places; people you haven’t met will be there too. They’re so inconsiderate, strangers.

There was a couple nearby, who eventually left. Not because of me; this was late afternoon, and I only publicly disgrace myself after 9pm. I made an observation about the couple after they left, which was that while neither of them was unpleasant looking, on the scale of relative attractiveness it seemed the man would be considered better looking than the woman, based on what I know of societal norms.

I don’t know of any published research on this but those I’ve asked say it’s usually the other way round; you typically get attractive women paired up with less-attractive men. My wife very quickly agreed that this is the case, which was reassuring. Whether this is an accurate assessment of how the world works, an expression of some unfair gender stereotyping, or perhaps the result of some subconscious confirmation bias (why would you notice couples who are equivalently attractive?) I don’t know. I just said it as a possible talking point.

I meant it as a positive thing; many believe men are only concerned about looks, so any counterexample is good. However, one guy I was with assumed I was saying that the woman was ugly, and he took exception to this (which I would too, if I thought someone had said that). His reply to me was “give it a rest, mate! Not everyone can marry a supermodel.”

So I decided to scientifically test this hypothesis “it is impossible for everyone to marry a supermodel” with a basic thought experiment.

First, definitions. Let’s take “everyone” literally as “all humans”. That’s over seven billion people. Granted, many will be children and below marrying age, although marrying age varies significantly between countries. The numbers are too chaotic for authentic accuracy, so let’s say there are six billion people who can marry in this scenario. Still quite a lot.

Contrast that with supermodels. This is not a protected term so its meaning may differ. However, the general consensus is that a supermodel is someone who has achieved international fame as a model. As in, they’ve not gone from modelling to music or acting, they’re very famous for being models. As a result, there aren’t many; the most generous estimates put their number at around 20.

Obviously, trying to get six billion people to marry a group of 20 individuals presents problems. This can be easily resolved if we legalise polygamy; assuming an even split, every supermodel will end up marrying 300,000,000 people. Granted, it’s not going to be like a typical marriage, at best it’s the sort of relationship you get when you adopt an orang-utan for charity; you might feel good at first, a few letters may change hands, but then you slowly realise that this orang-utan is probably in touch with many others and has no particular affection for you, and you just feel cheap and used.

I’m not bitter.

The problem is that legalising polygamy would “undermine the institution of marriage”, and that would be terrible for society for reasons that are very serious and surprisingly vague. Remember what happened when we legalised same-sex marriage? So let’s assume we have to stick to “traditional”, monogamous marriage. What are our options? Obviously, we need more supermodels.

How do we get more? An intensive breeding programme is not an option; even if they were willing to spend the rest of their lives constantly producing children, the typical human gestation period of nine months means 20 women could at best produce a few hundred children, nowhere near enough. Add to this the danger of successive pregnancies, the fact that supermodels with their restricted diets aren’t the best choice for carrying children anyway, and the realisation that the children of supermodels aren’t supermodels by default, and the whole idea seems farcical.

The obvious solution would be cloning. Human cloning is still in its infancy, but in this scenario everyone on Earth is invested in perfecting it. It’s a bit of a leap, but if the combined resources of human society are dedicated to it, we’ll hopefully be able to produce human clones on an industrial scale.

This method raises two problems. One is that DNA gets damaged over time, either by biological or technological copying, hampering the cloning process. Secondly, all current supermodels are female, whereas the human race is only 50% male at most. And in this scenario everyone has to marry a supermodel, and currently all supermodels are women. That’s a lot of women who will have to marry women, and while I support same-sex marriage, I draw the line at making it mandatory. As shocking as it is to find such right-wing opinions expressed in the Guardian, I stand by this.

Both of the above problems can be fixed with the Jurassic Park method: fill in the gaps in the DNA with frog DNA. As that film explained, frogs change their gender in response to a same-sex environment. So whatever the gender of their assigned marriage partner, the cloned supermodels will adapt to complement this. Excellent.

Unfortunately, there is still a problem. Everyone has to marry a supermodel, but a flexible-gendered semi-frog humanoid clone of a supermodel isn’t the same as a supermodel. Fortunately, a caveat is offered by Claudia Schiffer, a rare genuine supermodel, who says:

“In order to become a supermodel one must be on all the covers all over the world at the same time … ”

She was apparently referring to reputable fashion magazines such as Vogue and Elle. So if a new issue of each of these magazines is printed every time a new clone emerges with said clone on the cover, that clone would be a supermodel. Admittedly, at the anticipated rate of cloning, this would require an increase in the rate of publication, say from once a month to once every eight seconds.

Another logical problem arises when you consider the original premise was that everyone would need to marry a supermodel. Even partially amphibious clones would count as people, so are part of “everyone”, and ergo they’d need to marry a supermodel too. But as luck would have it, this won’t be a problem for long.

In the scenario, practically all of humanity’s resources are dedicated to cloning and magazine publication, meaning things like healthcare, sanitation, agriculture, law enforcement and infrastructure in general will be drastically reduced as the demand on resources ever increases. Basically, the majority of standard non-supermodel humans are probably going to die. This is of course a terrible tragedy, but does help with the scenario somewhat. Eventually, the cloned supermodels will be the only type of people left, and presumably they’d pair up.

So, it turns out the guy in the pub was wrong. It may mean a race of billions of genetically and gender-confused semi-frog monsters wandering the crumbling ruins of human civilisation, but it is possible for everyone to marry a supermodel. This demonstrates the importance of thinking logically before you make offhand claims. It also demonstrates why I don’t go out much these days.

Dean Burnett usually interacts with people via Twitter, where the character limit prevents things like this blog from happening. @garwboy


Powered by article was written by Dean Burnett, for on Tuesday 18th March 2014 07.15 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010