Monday, April 02, 2007

The non-compendious exposition of a Perfect Post and a Perfect Question

I award this:
The Original Perfect Post Awards – March ‘07

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 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 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.

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 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


Thailand Gal said...

Julie, I think the best post I have seen on this topic (aside from yours, of course :) was written on a blog by Cecileaux.

He wrote this following paragraph:

They say they want love, but they don't; they want a human object that performs certain functions and fulfills certain needs and they want to seal the deal with a contract commonly known as marriage, or maybe something more ambiguous, such as cohabitation. A little honesty with oneself about this might spare everyone a great deal of wasted time and anguish.

While many people might be able to get above and beyond this, I believe for the most part, Cecileaux is right.

Attractiveness is kind of like "popularity". It's a shifting, fluid concept that changes with the whims of the group. Additionally, what I might find attractive might not be attractive to someone else.

I can't recall now but I think I wrote a blog entry some time back, discussing the merits or demerits of arranged marriage.

All of this to say, I believe the discussion of societal standards of attractiveness are rather hollow and silly because in the long run, when you consider the possibility of spending a lifetime with someone, he or she had better be a person of character, someone who can stick around during the hard times, someone who is responsible and understands the nature of commitment.

This whole packaged idea of what's attractive and what isn't is firmly in the arena of 20-somethings and 30-somethings who still have lots and lots of time left in their lives and believe anything can be fixed by leaving. People are rather disposable. Once we get a bit older, the whole thing takes on an entirely different significance.

Okay. Well, I'm probably throwing spaghetti against a wall here ~ but there it is.



Gwen said...

If nothing else, I like to consider myself equal opportunity shallow: I judge big bellied men just as harshly as I do big bellied woman. ;)

Okay, all joking aside (hmmm .... but maybe that wasn't a joke), I don't know how one takes physical appearance completely out of the picture. We have eyes. We see. We appreciate the beauty of other forms of nature; why is humankind so different?

What I find interesting about the human species is how, empirically speaking, ugly it can be. Is there such a wide variety of physical attributes among lions, for instance? No. All lions don't look identical but their attractiveness doesn't vary as widely as human beings. Self selection has mostly taken care of that. And so lions are judged by other lions, are chosen by other lions, using other criteria. Is it more or less shallow? Who can say? If the biological need of the lion species is to create more fast hunters because fast hunters survive longer, then the fastest, best hunters are going to be the ones chosen for mating. Maybe that seems unfair to the poor hunting slow lion who really wishes she'd get more attention from Leo, but it's not.

So. What are humans self selecting for? It's not actually attractiveness, is it? I mean, spend a day in an airport. Or a rest area. or your child's school dance. Whatever importance we appear to place on physical characteristics, it doesn't really affect our mating habits.

To answer the question you posed at the end of your first section, before you edited and expanded with input from your husband: are men held to higher standards of behavior than women?

I would say, NO. emphatically. Women get the short end of the stick all the way around, GENERALLY speaking. Why is that?

Julie Pippert said...


Hmm I think I need to read Cecileaux's whole post, but...out of context, that reads a bit like a negating of the fact that sometimes it's a rocky process getting to love (and sometimes requires learning some lessons and growing---which couldn't be accomplished without trying, and sometimes making a mistake), and that love is a multi-faceted concept. But I could be wrong so I'll check it out.

Attractiveness does change with times. It seems to be predicated on the royalty (in the US, celebrities, I guess). The privileged.

I disagree that discussing societal standards of attractiveness is hollow and silly (obviously). I think the discussion is important. I think we need to be conscious of what we see, hear and deal with. Then we need to even more consciously rise above it. Because I do agree---and did mention in the post---that character matters more.

I have another limited view around me in that I am not surrounded by people who believe anything can be fixed by leaving or find people disposable. I know I don't.

I'm sure---as things appear differently to me now than ten years ago---things will appear differently to me ten years from now.

Spaghetti on the wall?


Gwen, you've hit my main point with all these vanity posts.

As much as we might want to say it shouldn' much as we might want to say it doesn' much as we might wish it isn't: the truth is, physical appearance does matter.

And, I don't think that is per se a problem. I don't think it is right or wrong: it simply is.

The implementation of it is when it goes wrong. Having a narrow definition of attractive, and sticking to it. Making decisions solely based on appearance. Things like that.

You bring up a really interesting point about human diversity versus animal diversity.

I wonder if animals find themselves looking as homogenous as they look to us. Somehow, I doubt it. Maybe lions are like Swedes.

Your selection criteria point is excellent.

As I said, I think it is an initial factor (weighted with more importance in the male, or weighted with different factors at least) but certainly not the most important final criteria. So I agree.

Your child's phenotype is sort of a crap shoot, isn't it? There's no guarantee.

Our case: dark dad, fair mom, both dark-haired, one brown-eyed, one blue-eyed (both with blue and brown eyes in family). Two kids: one brunette (light), one blonde, both fair (how they both missed the dark skin boggles my mind and evokes guilt) and both with brown eyes. Patience looks like my child. Persistence (blonde aside) looks like my husband's child. My sister and I look unrelated. We have some mannerisms in common, so if you know us, we appear to be raised in the same family (which we were) but you'd probably never guess we share the same biological parents.

Anyway! (Slapping hand over mouth to stop genetic speculation)

I have wondered about that. I think it goes all the way back to definitions of masculine and feminine and what each is inherently (something that asks both to extend and suppress true selves since we all fall on a continuum) and ultimately, because women bear the young.

Thailand Gal said...

Julie, I don't think I wrote that well ~ which I can vaguely account for by mentioning it was my first comment of the day. :)If I came across as critical, I apologize because that was certainly not my intent. It's not my style.

What I really meant to say is that I believe *buying into* the societal definition of beauty is hollow and silly. Continuing to give it energy only makes it more powerful.

I think we need to be conscious of what we see, hear and deal with. Then we need to even more consciously rise above it.

I would have to agree. That's correct. But perhaps we need to look at some ways to get beyond it. What would it take, in your opinion, to get rid of the singular definition of attractiveness that we see around us now? Do you think consciousness alone would do it?

Given that you would be dealing with as much groupthink as there is in the culture, do you think it would take a major social engineering campaign to do it? Listen to how many people say "well, that's just how it is, so I guess I have to go along.."

Even then, people continue to segregate themselves. I remember when it was socially acceptable to make racial generalizations. That became socially unacceptable so the culture targeted people who are overweight. It's okay to talk about other people's "fat asses" or make character judgements based on body type. (Fat people are all lazy.) What next? Hair color? Eye color?

That's really at the root of all of this. Have you ever noticed how many people surround themselves with others who look just like themselves?

All I can think of is how damaging this has been for those who don't fit into the mold. How many lives have been destroyed because of it? Teenage girls have committed suicide over this stuff.

So in that regard, if I seem a bit touchy on the subject, that's why.



Julie Pippert said...

Chani, I'll have to think more, so this isn't per se my only response.

However, what can we do? A major social engineering campaign? Yes.

Grass roots.

Let's stop making appearance so important to kids. Let's stop making them think we love how they look, or rather, that we love them for how they look. Let's not link love with looks.

This is hard.

I try, though.

Gwen said...

I agree about the way we talk to kids. This is a constant struggle for me, because while I want my daughters to be whole, I still find them pretty damn cute and feel like telling them that every now and then. And I've also read research that claims that a large part of a girl's self esteem is based on having a father who affirms her PHYSICAL beauty.

I was perusing US magazine today, don't ask me why, and I noticed something about celebs, the ones we destroy ourselves over not looking like: in their daily lives, they are pretty ordinary, even not stick thin. But get them in a movie or on the red carpet and it all changes. All that beauty is so much work, but we forget that; we assume it's normal life, something to try to attain.

My sister has this theory that very few people anymore are normal sized. She thinks everyone is either very large or very small and so we've lost any sense of what "normal" or "average" looks like. Therefore, we have no realistic model of what to achieve, if, say, we're trying to lose weight. Because how much weight is enough? The funnyish thing is that my sister counts herself as average, but I know lots and LOTS of people who would call her thin. I guess because the images we see all the time are so skewed, we don't even know what "good enough" looks like anymore.

Re: genes and how they don't turn out at all like Mendel said they would. Ain't that the truth? lol. I went to school with Danielle Crawford, Cindy Crawford's little sister, who was attractive enough (and very cool and sweet, in case you care) but was NO Cindy Crawford. Like you said on another post, amazingly beautiful people really are rare, which is, genetically speaking, counterintuitive, isn't it?

Bones said...

Julie- this is a temporary placeholder. I've read it ands spent some time thinking about my response, but i have an all-day meeting. I'll give you my thoughts this evening.

Bones said...

Okay.. here’s my beef.

A particular friend of mine who is a civic-minded woman loves to take shots at Victoria’s Secret as the poster-child for making women feel like they have to be thin. I’m saying that’s BS.

Dove gets all these kudos and pats on the back for the Dove campaign. And it’s a great campaign- but they aren’t doing it for the kudos. And Victoria’s secret doesn’t have thin models because they are trying to send the wrong message about the ways they want women to look.

Neither of those organizations would have the ad campaigns they have if their research and focus groups didn’t tell them that the ad campaigns would sell product. There may be some guys who work on designing the campaigns, but the bottom line is, VS’s market research shows that having thin women with big boobs sells more underwear than Dove women would. And unless it’s Valentine’s Day, women are doing the underwear-buying. Not guys.

But guys do place far too high a premium on looks. There’s no denying that. But don’t we all place too high a premium on things that are arbitrary? If you will remember a while back, I commented on how hypocritical it is to claim that looks are a shallow measure of a person, but to think that intelligence is a fair measure. They are both arbitrary; one has no more or less control over their potential for smarts than they do over eye color. If anything, body mass is LESS arbitrary. That doesn’t make it a fair reason to judge people, however.

People judge people for different reasons, I suppose. And we should be so lucky that people selected mates based on looks! I’m a firm believer that people select mates based on events that happen in their childhood. Women who were victims of violence subconsciously find guys who will subject them to violence. And defend them. It’s long been documented that men find women who have some of the same characteristics of their mothers. The bottom line is we pick mates based on subconscious attractions that are sometimes good and sometimes bad for us. I’d dare to say that our conscious decision-making plays a miniscule role in the entire process.

This is kind of rambling, I realize. I’m steaming from a series of bad events at work. But I wanted to answer sooner rather than later. Everyone had excellent points. I really liked the one about lack of diversity in the animal kingdom. If I were feeling more chipper, I’d make some kind of flippant comment about male birds being far more colorful than female birds, but I’d get in trouble and regret it, so I won’t make the comment.

Thanks for entertaining the question Julie. Your blog gets me through the day.

Julie Pippert said...


Thanks for thoughtful reply!

Sorry work is sucking rock sin some way for you. Really. I get that 100%.

Especially now. Holy cow, especially now.

Anyway, first:

"It’s long been documented that men find women who have some of the same characteristics of their mothers."

Them's fighting words, my friend.


Yeah you can always count on Gwen to get to a great point or the heart of the matter. The animal kingdom point is almost it's own blog post.

I agree that we pick people who enable us to act out roles and scripts, which are hopefully not too unhealthy.

And yes, looks or intelligence (as selection factors) are both inherent.

However, I maintain one provides actual benefit whereas the other is merely aesthetics.

I.E. if I marry a smart man, we have a better chance at success and living well. He might be a better partner due to superior communication skills, and creative thinking and contributions to life situations. If I marry a man who is *simply* good looking, then well, eye-candy, but what else does beauty add? (I guess luckily the two aren't mutually exclusive LOL.)

As for marketing and media...err...

I might be odd (no...really?) but I don't shop at VS b/c it's overpriced and poor quality IME and no amount of strutting defies suspension of disbelief models can overcome that. I don't buy Dov either b/c it is too drying, and no amount of real women models can overcome that.

However, on any given day, I far prefer the Dove real women models in front of my eyes than the VS models. And I am comparing both in underwear.

I agree though that it isn't altruistic, the Dove campaign.

Still...can we negate the good it is doing simply because it also happens to benefit the bottom line?

All in all, you make excellent points (and thanks for reading, wiht more thanks for the comments, always awesome...and I like your blog too).

I think it is a highly subconscious process too.

My eldest has begun expressing likes and dislikes of certain types of men. We were watching some show and her comments revealed an evolving "taste" that I'm intrigued to watch grow.

Don't worry. I only put my kids on glass slides and under the microscope once a week.

And the male and female birds? Oh so many fun places to go with that!

Hope your weekend makes up for the week.

I hear the ladies in DC have found fashion! Thanks to Nancy Pelosi! Who freed them from the boxy black suit prison! And now they vie with the cherry trees for Most Colorful Sight. Or so said the NPR report today on Marketplace. I know, I know.

Julie Pippert said...

Gwen, the celeb point? Too true.

I actually noticed that on AI, for example. The little video diaries.

And as for the kids. Well. I think my are stunningly adorable and can't help myself sometimes. I try to be more specific, or sub in a word like "precious" to you know, not fixate them on "beautiful and sweet" but I'm sure it's so ingrained in me that it's more failure than success LOL.

Bones said...

Pelosi is great, except that she can't bend forward. Her face is pulled so far back that if she leans forward more than vertical her eyeballs will fall out. And her staff HATES picking her eyeballs up off the floor.

kim said...

The other day I blurted out something about my niece being so thin. I did not say it approving or disapproving, but I should have kept my damn mouth shut. My niece could have interpreted thin in many ways. My intent is of little relevance if my niece develops an unhealthy body image because of my careless comment.