to Good Times by Gwen at Woman on the Verge because it blurred through so many complex issues so eloquently and intriguingly, I kept going back for days to read, re-read, ponder, and consider. If you haven't read it, do. If you still aren't convinced: beginning with a brief "book group" like discussion of The Poisonwood Bible, Gwen outdoes Kingsolver with her own, personal essay about being raised abroad as the daughter of missionaries. I didn't even wait for the Perfect Post call. Before I even commented, I sent the link to MommaK.
Thanks to MommaK and Lindsay for the Perfect Posts.
After my Confessions of a Not-so-Fatty McFat on Friday, Bones put the screw to me with this question:
I want to point out a double standard, and then ask whose double standard it is. I'm honestly not sure.
It is so perfectly okay for boys to have a big ass and a Buddha belly. In fact, plenty of women have told me that big guys make them feel safe, or whatever.
So, is it that women are less judgmental than guys, or is it that women hold each other to a higher standard than they hold guys to. I've seen evidence of both and I’m really curious to what your reactions are.
Let's review the brief evidence:
* I---by stint of habit, long-standing---immediately thought of myself as "big" when confronted by an early-20-something about the dress size I wore.
The truly appalling part of this is that when I was a chipper early 20-something, I was this height (almost 6 feet) and weighed about 120. A few years later, I weighed about 120-125 when I got married, in a very fitted sheath dress. And I was worried about looking too BIG. I wore control top panty hose, I shit you not. Yes, I want to travel back in time and slap me silly too.
But my angst was all internal and I never, ever would have ever called someone else large.
(For the record...my fitting was today. I was assisted by the manager and assistant manager, both of whom are older than me, and who were appalled to hear that size X was described as "large." They had plenty, PLENTY in sizes X, Y and Z. And as it so happens, other than a couple of fitted shirts in a large, the rest were size X and medium. I tried things on in a Y, and it was a little loose. We did not even bother with Z. For the record.)
I find it ironic that I am more comfortable with my body now. Let me tell you, aging has its perks. I only wish I hadn't wasted all that energy.
* I elaborated on the concept that attractiveness has high societal value and I have admitted that appearance has some value to me. Call it vanity if you wish. However, I am the perfect psychological case study of "beauty is in the eye of the beholder and comes from within."
I was raving about my daughters' ENT to my friends. "He is the BEST doctor...he's so careful, so caring, so attuned...you can't do any better than him...I wish all doctors were like him...and he's not hard on the eyes either."
Another friend, who also goes to this ENT, said, "Were you wearing your contacts that day? Are you kidding? He is not good-looking at all."
I reflected and if I analyzed it, okay, so maybe...maybe she had a slight point; I mean, I would never call those sorts of looks (just as looks) attractive, not really my type.
But in my mind's eye---which is how I see people I know---he's so beautiful as a person that he's beautiful.
* However. Note: In the description of the person, I added in the completely irrelevant point about how he looked. It was mainly for joke factor, but...still...
Do you find yourself doing this? Catching note of appearance? Using it as a description? Do your eyes linger longer on someone who appears very attractive? Do you respond differently? Maybe feel less at ease, intimidated, more bashful...or the opposite around a very attractive person?
(The above are actual questions...not hypothetical.)
Here's the thing about most heterosexual women I know and with whom I have discussed this: we look at men and women alike. Just in different ways.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Right Bones? This is what you're getting at.
Here's the thing: speaking for myself (and sort of on behalf of women, any of whom should feel FREE to weigh-in here) we women know that our appearance is judged far more by society---this means men and women alike---and held to a higher standard.
I acknowledge being somewhat complicit in this. I understand that appearance, my appearance, is weighed when measuring the value of me. I do try to look as good as I can.
Here's the caveat: I like to do so with very little effort. I am sure with more effort on the hair, more make-up on the face, less functional and more flattering clothing I could look a lot more attractive than I do on a daily basis.
However. I can get away with no make-up, wash-n-dry hair, shorts and a tee shirt in my world. So I do. I swat away those gnatty ideas that I owe it to myself to put time to myself and look my best. What I really owe to myself is to do what matters most to me, and trust me, fashionista is not on my priority list.
But why this "obligation" to look attractive? Why do people need women to look attractive?
Theories abound like mosquitoes in the summer. There's a historical component: in the past, women's primary value was beauty and bloodlines---other aspects to the female were considered either unwomanly or irrelevant. There's a biological/physiological component: women need to look beautiful and healthy to men because then they look like better breeding mates. Blah blah blah. My PhD (were I to have one) wouldn't be in this field. So I won't even try to play an expert on the Internet.
The bottom line is: look around.
Who stipulates looks requirements in personal ads? What sex of celebrity is discussed more frequently in terms of weight and dress---appearance? How often do we hear about Mrs. Ex McCartney's leg? Who is allowed to be overweight: the King or Queen of Queens? When a President is in office, do we discuss how he looks (other than health)...and the First Lady, what do we concern ourselves about with her? You don't need me to go on and on.
It is so oppressive and intrusive that it simply gets to be a mentality. We get into the habit of judging by this standard that is constantly held up in front of us. We get into the habit of judging. We get into the habit. It becomes a thoughtless thing.
Here I am working on becoming conscious about it---to the point of writing publically and often about said efforts (weekly, in fact)---and I still get sucked in.
It's a powerful current.
And I don't think it's exclusive to women. I think it goes both ways. However, it is a double standard. I do not think men are judged as harshly, or held up to as high a standard (although I think this is changing...I see more sexualizing and objectifying of young men now than I did in my salad days...and I see more young men aware of this, and going along with it...for example, cougar hunters).
I think this is because the standard evolves from the mating priorities of the opposite sex (with no offense intended, I'm not adding homosexuality into the mix right now).
Appearance is on a woman's list of "ideal mate," sure, just not necessarily at the top. I think appearance is at the top of most men's list. It's not the end-all or be-all for any of the men I know. That's selling men short. And I don't like to do that. I just think as a factor it is weighted differently, at least initially, by the two sexes.
In short, Bones, I definitely think you nearly hit the nail on the head: it is both. They aren't mutually exclusive. (Most) Men and women are less judgmental of men's looks, and (most) women do hold women to a higher standard appearance-wise. Now here's my addition: and so do men.
Here's the other addition: I heard guys talk about women during the dating years. Plenty o' talk. It mostly centered on "hotness" factors. True: Young. Stupid. Yadda yadda yadda. They always wondered what women said. I think they were hoping to hear talk about how we thought they looked. (In fact, I think there is a lot more male vanity and pride of appearance than credit is given.) I held my tongue and let them fantasize. In truth, we talked about how they acted.
Now you want another question out there, ask me, "If women are held to a higher standard of appearance, are men held to a higher standard of behavior (in relationships)?"
Okay, I had my husband proofread this---ran it past him. As a result of that discussion I thought of a few points I ought to share to qualify my opinion. And he, as usual, brought up some really relevant points.
We've been married 14 years, together 16, and have known one another about 20. That sort of limits our sphere of single knowledge.
Further, I hope I didn't center this too much around "mate selection" because I don't think that was part of the original question and is not the only time looks are judged (although it very well might be the genesis of it).
However, it does bring up an intriguing thing to consider: when I was single, I was more concerned with how the guy I was attracted to viewed me. I would say now that I have no interest in how a man views me, but that can't be true. It feels true, though. Outside of my husband, I really don't give a rat's ass how a man sees the physical me.
I am, however, more attuned to what women think of me (and of other women) now. It's possible that women critiqued my appearance all along but because I never cared, I didn't take note (other than seeking feedback in order to make best impression on Guy Crush of the Week). I don't know why at this stage I do hear it, and therefore must care...do care.
It might be due to being a mom. I am listening more to other women, now.
My husband thinks I ought to emphasize that while appearance is probably one of the first things a guy notices and cares about, it isn't the key to choosing who a man wants to be in a relationship with.
There's a point I'm trying (and failing) to choke out about appearance and its decreasing value compared to other factors the more involved with a person you become, and the longer you are involved. I think it has to do with seeing with the mind's eye, but also with gradual adjustments of what you see. But this can be affected by input from other people, and how that effect impacts your perception and feelings depends upon how important "what others think" is to you. It probably did not do my husband (or me, for sure) any good to hear a certain someone we both know call me fat a while back...but because he pretty much thinks on his own (sometimes to my chagrin) it didn't impact what he saw and thought of me. In other words, it didn't lessen my value to him. Further, it wasn't the most important thing of value to him.
And that leads me to the final thing he and I discussed before other tasks intruded: it depends a lot on the person.
A lot of the guys I dated were what I like to call "your loss, my gain." I could make a list but how tacky. Instead I'll once again cite my husband. After we began dating, women bled out the woodwork. Some claimed prior claim (WTF? he's a piece of land you plant a flag in?), some bemoaned lost opportunity, but most telling was the time a mutual friend and I dropped him off at work on our way to do something. As he walked in to his office, she said, "You know, until you started dating him, I never noticed, but...he's got a really nice ass. In fact, he's a really good looking guy. How did I miss this? I only ever noticed how nice he was!" And I swear to goodness I snorted in patronizing laughter at her.
This girl was notorious for dating Asses. Literally. In both meanings of the word.
I, on the other hand, dated People (Men). I have wonderful memories of dating, on the whole.
This is a point that has long stymied both me and my husband. Both of us frequently had many friends of the opposite sex, and saw and heard plenty on both sides of the fence. There certainly does seem to be some fire to the smoke about "girls prefer jerks" and "all guys want is a pinup babe." I think it denigrates both sexes and most people and yet, we could both tick off quite a few anecdotes.
I brought up the point that most guys flocked to a few girls, and he counterpointed with girls always liking the same few guys. After we both went hmm for a few minutes, we decided there was an issue of people (both sexes) seeking out the "should" and superficial factors, such as good looking. He believes it was primarily because people were simply seeking to hook up, but to tell the truth, I knew few people who simply wanted a hook-up. Most people I really hoped to find love.
But, remember the first caveat...this was over fifteen years ago, which means the people we knew were early and mid-20s.
Finally, my (well, really my husband's) closing point is that while the media is a convenient target, it is not the most insidious perpetrator of this appearance obsession. If we didn't feed the beast, it would, of course, die.
Now...what do you think? And let loose...be honest...
Edited to add: Now this bit at Salon was an intersting thing to read while this topic was on mymind.
P.S. Speaking of comments, I sort of wrote over the interview post below. I had to put the Perfect Post post up today, and I really wanted to respond to Bones' question.
copyright 2007 Julie Pippert