I think it’s funny that a few weeks ago, I posted a minor aside on beauty at the end of a post about something else, and everyone commented on the aside, but hardly anyone commented on my two posts fully devoted to “beauty” (Part 1, Part 2). Am I driving my usual male readership away? I’m not sure if most of my readers are actually male, or the males are just more likely to comment (probably?). I’m always surprised when a woman I know or know of (either a friend or a writer I admire) tells me they read my blog, because so few of them ever comment. Anyway, I think “beauty” is a gendered term; though I might describe certain men as “pretty” or “beautiful,” it’s clearly been feminized by the US culture at large.
I like to read trash on planes. I brought Heroines with me for the flight to Boston, but spent most of the time reading the March issue of Allure. There’s a very annoying essay by A.L. Kennedy, a Scottish writer, about her fraught relationship with her own looks. I guess I’m interested in stories of people who always considered themselves unattractive and later found out they were attractive or whatever, by whatever means, but honestly, I think there is something about this chain of events that often leads people to be kind of annoying, at least temporarily. Think about it: the hot girl in college who was “homely” or just dorky in high school, suddenly realizing her power – wasn’t that girl always pretty annoying? Like she always had to tell you every time somebody remarked on her attractiveness? Life tip*: Other people hitting on you = need to know basis, and most of the time, nobody needs to know.
*Also a note to self.
Anyway, this woman recounts how she was short and basic-looking and people always told her she was clever and never told her she was pretty, so she decided early on that looks were irrelevant. Which is all well and good. But then she comes to some suspect conclusions. For example: “Beautiful woman [sic] aren’t funny—unless they think they’re ugly—because they don’t have to be. People like them anyway.” Look, this is the kind of thing only a mean, insecure person would say. You could just as easily claim that beautiful people aren’t nice, because they don’t have to be, or that beautiful people aren’t interesting. But I know this to be false because I have beautiful friends who are also funny, nice, and/or interesting. You could also say that beautiful people don’t have to wear makeup or nice clothes—why would they, etc.! But in my experience, people would rather be attractive in two or three or four ways, if possible, than one. Then, also, there are unlikeable beautiful people. For the record, I also know unattractive people who aren’t funny. Guess what, all the combinations are possible! It’s just that when you start selecting for rare traits (very beautiful, very funny, very intelligent, etc.) it starts to get unlikely that you’ll run across people with multiple “gifts.” That’s not sociology or psychology, it’s statistics.
Then she goes on to talk about some dude she’s dating who is “visually intoxicating—he really is horribly beautiful”—but he doesn’t know it! UUGGHH. The myth of beauty without vanity. Smarty-pants Autumn at The Beheld made an interesting point recently about cognitive dissonance w/r/t beauty—the idea that a woman can experience herself as attractive and have deep insecurities at the same time, and that this dissonance is what the beauty industry preys on, rather than the storied self-loathing. I like and find truth in this idea. The idea I object to is this cultural myth that all women hate themselves and have no idea what they look like. What demeaning bullshit.
A friend of mine told me that, due to various factors in his/her background, he/she thinks non-religious types find him/her more attractive than religious types. This led me to a realization: I always assume that only intellectual types find me attractive, whereas I have limited currency in, say, a sports bar. Which points to that cognitive dissonance—my sense of my attractiveness or lack thereof is always qualified, always followed by a “but.” (Pun intended: One of my most complimented body parts is my ass. (A nice ass is the last refuge of those with flat-chested kitten syndrome.))
BTW, the next article in the magazine was about “pickers,” i.e. people who self-mutilate, who overgroom. (See Carrie Murphy’s admitted addiction to her blackhead extractor.) There was a line about a woman who picked at the inside of her elbow until the muscle showed through. Eczema horror, anyone?? Reminds me of the woman whose head itched so much she scratched through to her brain.