Friday, February 22, 2013

Some notes on beauty, Part 2


There was an article on Jezebel recently about the various reasons that women don't (often) describe themselves as "pretty," e.g., they think they're attractive but they don't photograph well, or they think they're attractive but not by accepted cultural standards, etc. A lot of it, of course, can be explained by fear of looking vain, or someone contradicting you (thinking you're attractive doesn't mean you're free of insecurities). It touched on a lot of things I've blogged about before: how surprising it is when women self-identify as "beautiful," even if they obviously are; my belief that most women have a good sense of how attractive they are to the outside world, but are conditioned to both obfuscate and question this knowledge.

I became sort of obsessed with the comments, some of which critiqued the premise and some of which were just confessions, women explaining how they felt about their own looks. A few pointed out that beauty is a privilege, and calling attention to it is tantamount to announcing that you're rich. (But isn't it better to acknowledge your privilege than deny it?) Some addressed the difference between "cute" and "pretty," "pretty" and "beautiful," "beautiful" and the all-elusive "gorgeous." One woman wrote:

Women tell me I am beautiful all the time. Like older woman will stop me in the supermarket to tell me, friends constantly tell me (one friend stopped a conversation with about 6 other people I didn't know as well to tell me how strikingly beautiful I was and forced people to concur, it was horrifyingly embarrassing because how is one supposed to respond to that?), and I've caught women at bars staring at me only to come up minutes later to tell me how beautiful they find me. Men, however, not so much. It is confusing. I think it is because I am black, and women are more likely to tell me because they don't feel intimidated because most men (as I've been told by men I am friends with) I've encountered would choose a white "5" over a black "8".

Jesus. Is that true? (Of course I immediately wanted to see this beautiful woman.) Once at a bar in Houston or Austin, I overheard a woman (a stranger) approach my friend and former roommate Kate, who was talking to some guy (and smoking, I believe; I think you could still smoke in bars then), and say, rather forcefully, "You are a beautiful woman." Kate handled it well, I thought; she said "Thank you" in a "That was weird/awkward" kind of way and went back to her conversation.

Another commenter said: "Women don't say 'I'm pretty' because I know what I look like, and presumably so does anyone looking at me. So why would I be telling someone how pretty I was, when they could see that perfectly well for themselves?" Hard to argue with that, but I don't think anyone is suggesting that women should walk into a room and declare, "I have arrived, and I'm pretty!" There are contexts where it comes up. When we talk about how we relate to the world, and how it relates back, we often state the obvious, e.g., "They were clearly uncomfortable because he was black," or "He never would have treated me that way if I was a man," even though everyone who's sight-privileged can see who is black and who is a woman.

I half-joke tweeted that "Women know how attractive they are, but they don't know how attractive OTHER women are." I kind of believe this? Like, I know how people respond to me, but I don't really know what it's like to be anyone else and what kind of response they get, so I'm not sure where I fit in the "rankings," such as they exist. There are the people that everyone talks about (as in Autumn's comment about her stunning coworker) but surely there are also people that are secretly lusted after, because they don't fit the culturally agreed upon beauty standard but are oozing sex appeal nonetheless? And maybe I'm just not privy to that. I've always wondered what it would be like to be one of those women that gets hit on in bars. Not that I want to get hit on in bars, for Christ's sake, just that I don't have that kind of beauty. At trivia the other night, the name of some divey Irish bar came up and my friend Erin said that a guy once said to her there, "I want to fuck the shit out of you." Classy, I know, but the point is, I suddenly realized she has that kind of beauty. What I had noticed about her is that her clothes always fit really well.

Image via Wikipedia Commons

19 comments:

  1. First of all, your clothes always fit great too, you aren't a "bitchy" kind of beautiful, and you always smell good!

    I think confidence, approachability, and the overall energy a person is exuding from themselves is as much a factor if not more of a factor than beauty when you're talking about random gross dudes hitting on you at a bar. It's risky to approach a woman you don't know and so it makes sense to find someone who fits the beauty bill but is also not someone who is going to reject them hard not matter how it goes down.

    My sister looks just like me and she has always been approached by men way more than I have. Her energy is so welcoming and it hits you like a cloud of rainbows and kindergarten teacher patience. People sense that and see her as someone they can easily break the ice with. I know that I can turn my approachability energy on and off (my sister cannot to her dismay!) to a certain point. I hardly ever have random men talk to me now that I'm married - even when I forget to wear my ring.

    Now in the case of my experience you described here: that situation lives in the realm of unexplained circumstances. I was actually eating dinner with 2 other girls in a pub/restaurant at 8pm on a Thursday night. They asked if they could sit with us and we all definitively said no. They sat down anyway and I got stuck next to a guy who wanted to fuck the shit out of me. We weren't approachable and it happened anyway.

    -Erin ( sorry I had to post anonymously, iPad wouldn't let me choose any other options)
    Twitter: @erinmcostello

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    1. You make an excellent point about the "risk of rejection" calculation men must be making on the fly. And this might be why I've heard that 6-foot-tall models (you know, like Elle Macpherson and co) don't get hit on. That reminds me: One of the grosser "techniques" in pickup artist culture is to find a group of women and talk up the least attractive one, which is supposed to have the effect of making the hotter girls jealous. (Ughhh.)

      xo

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    2. I hate guys like that, so presumptuous and aggressive. I have a real problem with guys who do that to girls, which has led me to confront them in the past, which tends not to work out well for anyone. Still, I don't get why they think they can just get away stuff like that. The comment is one thing, intruding on your dinner is something else altogether.

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  2. I wish I had something more substantive/theoretical to add, but in the absence of that, I'll say that that composite image is fascinating, especially the part where (if you click through) the compositer says that "The high scores tend to have narrow faces." I often find myself saying how beautiful I think women with conspicuously wide faces are.

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    1. In a head shot, in particular, a narrow face would seem to betray a thin body.

      Can you think of an example or two of a wide-faced beauty?

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    2. Tiffani Thiessen

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    3. Do you like men with wide noses? I always hear women say they find Tom Hardy and Jonathan Rhys Meyer so attractive, but their extra-wide noses alarm me.

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  3. Kate Moss and Miranda Kerr spring immediately to mind.

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    1. One of KM's distinctive features is her very wide-set, catlike eyes.

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    1. Dear Anne Boyer, a Cory Fofanah is probably best to be avoided.

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  5. "Jump on it, let's do it, ride it, My pony" ha ha ha hahahahahahhaat u.

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  6. Sometimes I wonder if we don't too often confuse beauty with status. To borrow from Keats, one may be really hot but not so truthful, in which case one could be, at best, lukewarm.

    Everbody who is anybody in poetry these last fifty years loves the Beats (or, if you are more discerning, the New York school) but ...

    this would, concerning beauty, be my advice for the kids: show too much worry these days about your haircut, your form, and good luck being beautiful, let alone fucked or cool. Some of you should already know this. Best,

    tpeterson

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    1. Yes, I think this has always been the case, hence voluptuous bodies (as in rolls of fat) being considered beautiful at one time, as they were a marker of wealth (I can afford to eat!). Now, skinny is a marker of status/wealth, because anyone can afford to eat cheap, high-calorie food, but not everyone can afford a personal trainer...

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  7. I can't help but wonder about this in olden days fat was hot; is this a case of simplification? What, for example, did the succesful prostitutes look like? Especially in the days of very, very determined marriages (more so, for example, than many arranged marriages today) just because one gets a mate doesn't mean aesthetics were anything like the major reason for that position. I get that five eleven and a buck twenty may be a newish LOOK, but that's a long ways from even other kinds of trim and, if defined only contrastively, could get orphed into big.

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    1. I think it's based on actual scholarship, but also in nude paintings you used to see a lot more voluptuousness on bodies presumably chosen for their gazability.

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  8. Too, I wonder if the non elite of yore found the elite hot, or were they turned on more by their less pampered bodies?

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  9. Oh, the jumble of thoughts I have on this subject, which I started to type into comments and then realized that I didn't really want to talk about this on the Internet. :) So now you'll have a random email from me instead. Lucky you!

    But the fact that I don't want to talk about this on the Internet - Possibly another data point about women and beauty, amiright?

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