I Won the Genetic Lottery

Have you seen Cameron Russell’s TED Talk?  In it the model says that she “won the genetic lottery.”

Not to detract from anything she said, because I think her point about the emphasis we as a society place on physical beauty is sound, but I’ve been thinking about that phrase “genetic lottery.”

It is not the genes but society that bestows the prize.  We decide what we value.

“I am the recipient of a legacy,” she says. “For the past few centuries, we have defined beauty not just as health and youth and symmetry that we’re biologically programmed to admire, but also as tall, slender figures and femininity and white skin… I’ve received all these benefits from a deck stacked in my favor.”

I have won a genetic lottery too.  I was born with a particular kind of literary mind and into a family that nurtured it. I won a genetic lottery when it comes to intelligence, I happen to be able to learn things fairly quickly, at least in certain subject areas related to language and humanities.  (We’re all ignorant only on different subjects.)  In spite of what you might think by looking at a glossy magazine, society does reward the things I happen to have been born with too, just in different ways. Oh not with fame, usually.  Not with regular appearances on TV.  Not, truth be told, with heaps of money.

But I’m happy with the spin of the wheel I got.  In spite of the upside of being celebrated for beauty, I wouldn’t enjoy the model’s life of being viewed and displayed and scrutinized.  I’m sure  being a top model is  a great life, but I don’t envy it.  I do sort of envy J.K. Rowling.  I would like to be a best-selling author.

In spite of the downsides, I am pleased to live the life of a writer. It was a twist of genetic fate that I was born with this aptitude. I won the genetic lottery.

I don’t think the lottery is a good metaphor, actually, because only one person wins.  In truth, there are a lot of traits society needs and which it rewards in different ways.

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