Monday, August 12, 2013

The pretty one

Would you rather be thought beautiful, or be with someone you see as such?

Lionel Shriver, a (female) novelist, writes:

[A]s I get older, I grow less involved with feeling beautiful than with finding beauty. I am happy to inhabit the eye of the beholder. I spot a young woman strolling down Broadway, smooth, lithe, bronzed from the summer sun, clad simply in a skirt that suits her, and I want to call out, “You will never look better than you do right now!”
This is in reference to the way the piece begins, with Shriver recalling an older man telling her this, her first summer after college.

While Shriver's essay is mostly about the question of weight - a controversial-but-not-really argument that if society has decided thin is beautiful, this impacts how fat people experience life - what struck me was what she writes about looking vs. being looked at. This seems far more about gender than age - women are expected to want to be found beautiful, whereas men are expected to want to be with someone beautiful. This is complicated, of course, in same-sex relationships, although there's always the possibility for adoption of 'traditional' roles, with one partner the pretty one, the other the one who snagged the pretty one.

But within the context of heterosexual relationships, are women really always more interested in being thought beautiful than in being with men they view as such? Are young women by necessity in this situation? And - as goes the modern-day feminist refrain, if usually in a different context - what about the men? Might there be straight men more interested in being looked at than in doing the looking? Or is everyone going to prefer looking to being looked at, and it's The Patriarchy keeping (most, or most young) women from joining in the fun?


i said...

In my culture there's a saying, "A man should look just a little better than the devil."

Which is handy, because the men of Mother Country are unlikely to be asked to pose for CK underwear ads.

But yeah, given that upbringing... I really enjoy looking at good looking men, but I wouldn't want to be with one I thought was too "pretty" or even way beyond my attractiveness level.

Phoebe said...


I wonder which is more common - women not wanting to be with men better-looking than they are, or women wanting to be with the best-looking man who'll give them the time of day? One thing to consider is that if women 'naturally' may care no less than men about a partner's looks, there's less pressure on women to be physically attracted to underwear models. So many women are enjoying the presence of subjectively attractive partners.