Friday, December 17, 2010

Do women know how attractive they are?

Conversation in a bar tonight among one man and two women: Do women know how attractive they are? The man argued no, both women (one of them being me, natch) said yes, they absolutely do, but are conditioned to pretend they don't. I've mentioned before how taken aback I was when my friend Jessica identified herself publicly as "beautiful." It wasn't that I was surprised she knew it, just that she was willing to say it. (I suppose the game of pretending not to know is applicable to both genders. Actors, in interviews, always pretend they don't know they're gorgeous.)

Eventually I conceded that no one really knows how attractive they are objectively. I'd define "objectively" "thusly": Ask a large number of people to rank a head-on face shot on a scale of 1 to 10, then take the average. (I know relevant studies use similar methodology.) But what's more important is knowing how attractive you are in context, in the contexts that matter. For example, I don't think I'm particularly attractive to douchebags, but I do pretty well with the type of men I'd tend be interested in, and occasionally well with the type of men I'm only interested in physically. Basically, I feel confident in contexts where I know I can be myself, and everyone knows confidence is attractive, especially if you're in the 70% percentile anyway.

Other topics included: If you could be more rational or more emotional, which would you choose? I chose more rational, even though some people probably think I'm already too rational (is that possible?), but only on the condition that it's not zero-sum, i.e., I don't have to get less emotional to do so.

Incidentally, while searching for links for this post, I got all wistful re-reading this one; I haven't had a day that eventful in some time.


  1. Good bar conversation topics. A compelling one that came up at the party Martin and I were at last night was "If you needed help disposing of a body, who would you ask and why?" Lots to consider there: extreme loyalty, ethical flexibility, general competence with earth moving tools, etc.

  2. It's possible we share part of a brain. Your posts often reference something I'm thinking about, too. For example, I'm in the process of writing a post about holiday traditions when I go to your link and see that, like you, traditions bore me and I have little appreciation for them.

    Regarding this post, perhaps beautiful people feel they must act as if they are not to be tolerated or accepted. After all, beauty carries a tremendous amount of power, whether we acknowledge that or not. Self deprecation acts as an equalizer.

    Douchebags are also terribly boring.

    I really enjoy your blog!

  3. Thanks, Josephine!! Your post about Christmas letters cracked me up.

    I think yes, women feel the need to downplay their power, or at least their awareness of it.

  4. I didn't know until I was older and saw photos of myself as a young girl. I was told I was ugly and so that's what I believed. It all gave me a rather slutty nature of which I am not ashamed.

    wv: jazossip or jazzy gossip

  5. Less than fond of the "rational/emotional" dichotomy because I have no real idea of what it means. To the extent that the fact-value distinction is well-defined there is no contradiction between having desires and acting to fulfill them. What people tend to mean by "emotional" in this context is either (a) impulsive and short-term in one's desires or (b) tending to assess statements of fact depending on whether one likes them or not. I wouldn't mind being more emotional in sense (a) but would hate to in sense (b).

  6. I wasn't all that great-looking as a kid but for some reason I had confidence I'd one day be a babe.

    Sarang, I think the person who asked the question basically meant would you want to be more empathetic. I think there's a sense that a really rational person isn't who you want to talk to when you're having a bad day.

  7. "I think there's a sense that a really rational person isn't who you want to talk to when you're having a bad day"--I love it! Somehow my friends don't hate me as I fit that descriptor in a lot of ways....I'd like to think that rational and kind can do a hot tango which makes people feel warm.

    I hope all's well!

  8. Sometimes when I'm having a bad day, a really rational person is the type of person I want to talk to. I guess it kind of depends what kind of bad day it is.

    If I was late for work, and stubbed my toe on the radiator, and got in an argument with a friend, and am coming down with a cold -- if it's that kind of bad day -- then I probably would like to talk with someone who's emotionally sympathetic.

    On the other hand, if I'm having the kind of bad day where I'm feeling doubts about my place in the universe and whether anything I'm doing has any real meaning -- an existentially bad day -- then I'd probably prefer to talk with someone highly rational.

  9. Hey there adams24! and Lyle! yeah, I can be a good person to talk to when you're in a bad/sad mood, but usually only if you're the type of person that feels better when someone speaks reason. It makes ME feel better when someone does that for me. But then, it also makes me feel better when someone just pats my head or gives me a hug. I'm not as good at administering pure comfort that way.

  10. my first instinct when someone confronts me with a problem they're having is often to "rationally" attempt to solve it. which can be annoying. so i try to catch myself and channel my more empathetic side. my empathetic side likes to nod, say "hmmmm", mirror poses, ask questions and agree that your sister was being a bitch.

    but i also find that i can't be empathetic for too long. I'll get fatigued and go back to problem-solving. knowing that will probably end the conversation, but by then i'm fine with that!

    oh and Kathleen, I guy I met in prison once told me that the first rule when you kill someone is never tell anyone. ever.

  11. A hug isn't prima facie _irrational_. I do realize a lot of people believe that "rationality" implies a degree of heartlessness but I feel like it's not entirely just to conflate logical coherence with Asperger's and/or sociopathy.

  12. "A huge isn't irrational" - ha! No, but I do think it's true that people who are more rational are often less good at straight up affection. At least in my experience. For example, I think of myself as pretty affectionate and loving and so forth but I get told that I'm not really, compared to other humans.

  13. Um, a hug that is. I should really be able to edit my own comments.