Monday, February 25, 2013

I had one more beauty-post in me yet!

-Autumn is back at The Beheld, I'm back just at WWPD. That was an exciting guest-blogging stint, and I'm so grateful to Autumn for the opportunity. And she's spot-on to bring up the "Girls" beauty-disparity kerfuffle. I didn't, on account of I'm still getting through Season 1, but I haven't been avoiding spoilers, and this was absolutely the beauty story of the moment.

-Sometimes a middle-aged man approaches a very young (13, maybe 14-year-old) girl to photograph her:

I first met [him] when I was in, like, 8th grade, and it was my first year at Coachella. I was just walking around with my friend and her older sister. Usually there are a bunch of photographers there always pulling people aside for fashion blogs or something— they’re always taking pictures. And I guess there was this photographer that pulled me over and he was like, ‘Oh, can I take a couple pictures of you?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, sure, why not?’ And after he gave me a card and walked away [...]
Adorbs! Not creepy, like the male street attention plain-looking middle-school girls such as myself received on a constant basis at that age. Because, you see, this was fashion, and the middle-aged dude in question was a famous fashion designer. This woman - sorry, girl, she's now 17 - is not underage. She's art.

-A final thought on women-and-male-beauty, before I retreat back into other projects entirely unrelated to this admittedly compelling topic: I agreed to let the Huffington Post reprint my already-controversial "too brilliant to bathe" post... realizing, as I did, that that post only really made sense in conjunction with my earlier post on male beauty. I hadn't wanted to repeat myself, but for things to work as stand-alone documents, sometimes doing so is useful. And... writing these posts, and reading the (coherent) responses, has left me with a more precise sense of what it is, exactly, that I'm arguing.

So. When I say that male looks should/do matter to women, what I mean is not that men had better race over to the gym. Nor do I think the problem is one of 'leagues' - that is, of women dating men obviously less attractive than they are, as in others would be able to see it. As a rule (and Autumn's post I link to above also discusses this), people tend to pair off long-term with those similar to themselves. Supermodels with supermodels, and so on down. Ordinary-looking men who believe they're entitled to supermodels are rightly mocked, as are conventionally-bad-looking/badly-groomed men who contend that on account of being "nice guys," they're owed attention from pretty girls-next-door.

But! We tend to respect that men will only be with women who appeal to them physically, and that most men will be attracted to a certain number of the women within their own 'league.' As one commenter at the Huffington Post expressed it (and I'd anticipated this argument at The Beheld), there's this sense that for relations to be physically possible, a man needs to find a woman attractive, but not vice versa. (This commenter helpfully explained to me the mechanics of heterosexual intercourse, thereby ending that mystery. Thanks guy!) That friction and imagination can make things possible ... this is I guess not immediately obvious. Regardless, whether considered in graphic or abstract terms, there is a popular belief that men need to be physically attracted to their partners, but that women have the capacity to come around. That female sexuality is basically about being looked at, so if the person admiring you does nothing for you, admired is admired, and that's good enough. (To those inclined to be skeptical of such assertions-of-the-obvious, Google "men are visual.")

There are a great many benefits to acknowledging that male looks matter. Most obviously, the joy of being with someone one is attracted to is substantial, even if contrarians will point out that not everyone cares about this, that some people are asexual, etc., etc. Oh, and one can also add that perhaps men themselves want to hear they're attractive. As it stands, men benefit from rarely being judged entirely on their looks, but the vast majority of men who are not perfume-ad models may be interested to hear that they're gorgeous to someone. This isn't about the what-goes-around-comes-around revenge of women judging men negatively. It's mostly about women judging men positively. But yes, some acknowledgement that women are looking, too, would probably involve a little more grooming-type effort on the part of men. Ideally not 24/7 effort of the sort unfortunately demanded of women, although moisturizer-marketing aside, I don't believe that's imminent.

But there are less-obvious benefits as well. Specifically, the rom-com/pick-up-artist notion that any man can persuade any woman to get involved with him romantically rests on the idea that no 'no' is ever definitive. The reason women tend not to pursue men in this way is in part that women assume 'no' means this man is not physically attracted and won't come around, or even if he did, who'd want to be with someone who didn't find her beautiful? If men understood that women, too, divide the world into physically-appealing-enough-to-be-a-possibility and no-thanks - and if women, meanwhile, refused to go on 'he's a nice guy' dates, or to go through the charade of not being physically attracted to guys they are physically attracted to, as though this would be some radical gender-role reversal and would amount to coming on to strong - then this might put a dent in the kind of quasi-creepy pursuit many women must contend with.


Britta said...

I haven't watched season 2, but the stuff on Slate about the episode made me really, surprisingly, angry. If men think it's normal and expected that a hot woman will fall for an average guy, they better be willing to recognize and be ok with hot men falling for average women. Apparently attractive women who aren't in to every man that hits on them are stuck up bitches, but...a woman who looks normal (and LD is nowhere close to ugly) shouldn't dare to even look at a man who's "objectively" hotter than her?

Phoebe said...

Oh, I know which story you mean, and it was generally received as frustrating if not angering. I was, again, hesitant to weigh in because I haven't yet gotten to Season 2, and will probably have more thoughts on this once I can also say something about the episode itself. But... On the one hand, I think it's fair to say that viewers are accustomed to one variant of the looks-disparity couple but not the other (and, while Dunham isn't ugly, Hannah, her character, might be, in part b/c of the styling and in part b/c she's always surrounded by a cast of TV-attractive sorts). Part of "Girls" and Dunham's oeuvre seems to be playing with the idea that someone with Dunham's looks (again, styled to look worse) isn't who we'd normally see onscreen. Thus, perhaps, all the nudity. On the other... the proper response is to question how it came to be that we're surprised. Not to be like, ick, a woman who isn't the height of conventional hott has dared play a romantic lead.