Can a Leopard Ever Change Its Spots? - Cheating Week on BTR


Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has a long history with infidelity, even outside of his recent scandals. Photo by Steve Jurveston.

An Editorial:

Many may think that fashion is frivolous, yet fashion often influences and is influenced by what is occurring in society at any given moment. One of the big trends this season is dots and spots, and anything animal; from Marc Jacobs and Jill Stuart to DVF and Thierry Mugler. This can be interpreted as fashion reflecting all the current blemishes (and spotty records) of high-profile individuals from politicians to designers. This brings us back to the age-old question: Can a leopard ever truly change its spots?

If the blemish in question is sexual infidelity viewed through lens of the animal kingdom, the answer seems to be no. According to a PBS article, promiscuity in the animal kingdom abounds: “About 90 percent of mammals have multiple mates, and cheating on social mates is observed in almost all species. In fact, only 3 to 10 percent of mammals are even socially monogamous.”

As humans we like to think ourselves as above the base behavior of lower species of primates. Bugs, beetles, and bees may feel so inclined to do as they please but we live in a society with laws, morals, and wedding vows. Therefore, we either didn’t inherit the genes present in most of nature, or we just make the choice to deny them. But do we really? According to, 57% of women and 54% of men have cheated on a partner in a relationship. If it walks and acts like a bower bird…

If our romantic and sexual behavioral patterns mimic the rest of our frolicking four-legged, eight-legged, or feathered fellows, does our instinctual inherited animal psychology not follow suit in other areas of our lives? According to Pschycolgy Today, it is the large prefrontal cortexes in humans that allows for the ability to exhibit self-control not present in our animal predecessors. Thus, whether or not these instinctual animalistic behaviors exist, our human anatomy can also help us to supersede them.

Yet there are also times when our PC ability becomes impaired and the animal within us finds itself successor. In his book, Managing Stress, Brian Luke Seaward writes that high levels of stress can have us reverting back to a flight or fight mechanism or experiencing heightened feelings of fear and anger (Seaward 111). Given that understanding, perhaps those experiencing high levels of daily stress in the public eye (from celebrities to politicians), are more likely to revert to animalistic tendencies. It’s not to say that their prefrontal cortexes are any smaller than the average person, but that the increased daily stress in public overshadows their ability to exert proper judgement or willpower in what might otherwise remain more private–or unacknowledged–areas of their lives or nature.

By condemning those caught in less self-controlled moments–individuals who have cheated, broken a law, or somehow succumb to their animalistic base nature–are we not focusing on their bad behavior to deflect from the existence of our own, however controlled or hidden? Or do we consider it our responsibility, as the kings and queens of the animal kingdom, to take the higher moral ground, to cage ourselves into the context of the society we live in? Within this caged context, no wonder some desire to break free.

After answering the call of the primal, though, this same person becomes subjected to those who seem to remain within our wires–at least publicly. In other words, those publicly ruled by their prefrontal cortex seem to feel the right to call out the person who escapes theirs, even if only momentarily. Which is why those who do disregard the PC in a very public way (politicians, leaders, heads of fashion labels, etc) are condemned even more so. Their indiscretions and spotty behavior are twittered, YouTubed, and splashed across headlines. They didn’t quietly howl at the moon at midnight.

Take for instance, someone like John Galliano, at the time head of Parisian fashion house Dior, who was videotaped (and later Youtubed) slewing anti-Semitic statements while intoxicated at a bar in Paris. Perhaps Galliano’s outburst can be explained scientifically. In addition to the high stress which the head of a fashion label must daily encounter, recent studies have shown that alcohol can impede the ability of the prefrontal cortex to operate normally. Thus, as Science Daily reports, when alcohol gets into our system it can inhibit NMDA receptors, “thereby reducing the ability of an individual to control their behavior and possibly leading them to engage in actions that are not beneficial. In other words, the normal risk/benefit assessment that this brain region engages in is disrupted.”

To have an understanding is not to excuse anyone’s actions. Merely, it is an awareness of where and how extremely poor judgements can quickly occur whilst under stress, or intoxicated, or otherwise under an extreme situation that affects one’s prefrontal cortex.

In another recent public episode of a lapsing prefrontal cortex, for Representative Anthony Weiner what could be more fitting for a fall into animalistic ways of infidelity than to use a forum named after the speech of a bird? Similar to Galliano, Weiner’s PC lapse caused him his high-profile public job.

Leaving the bird for the leopard, the official answer is no. A leopard cannot change its spots, but what about humans that only act like animals momentarily, or repeatedly? Once we dismiss the PC and show our spots, or allow them to dictate our choices, can we ever wipe our personal–and public–body of work clean?

From feathers to fur, the animal and its tracks run wild in the Fall 2011 fashion season. Should we allow fashion to have its fun whilst taming our public personalities, or do we forgive momentary animalistic indiscretions? Maybe we are not “just human” after all.

As a society, should we not acknowledge the spots for what they are, without seeing the entire person as tarnished? Or rather, do we overlook the personal for the public and embrace the creative genius or skill or power that said individual possesses? As in fashion, public judgement seems to be on a case-per-case basis, with every brutish-acting individual being skinned, tanned, or forgiven as the public so chooses. Fashion can be fickle and so to can our memories. Many of those publicly caught in some form of animalistic tendency or another seem to have a history of similar behavior and yet are still allowed to maintain their public career, as in a “Tiger (roaming free in the) Woods.”

So choose your fashion –or behavior–of choice. From the mostly monogamous wolf, fox, and bird to the rarely faithful remaining 95% of mammal species, wear your feathers or horns. In fashion, we can change our feathers at any given moment, it’s a choice we make whether to do so or not. You decide whether PC- neglectful behavior can be rectified or exhibited once than dismissed entirely, or if once we let the cat out of the cage, it chooses to roam endlessly wild.  Whatever the case, lets just call it what it is: label a tiger for a tiger and not try to call it a bald eagle (which remains faithfully bonded to one partner for life).

Just a thought… Python print is very prevalent in fashion this season as well. Do we condemn the serpent’s actions just to flaunt its pretty patterns on our person, or is this our public demonstration of a possible existence within us all that otherwise must remain safely within its culturally-created cage at all times?

Written by: Carolina Rommel


Seaward, Brian Luke. Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Wellbeing. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2006. 111.