Why Looks Matter And Why That’s OK

The unspoken truth about the media buzz surrounding Jessica Simpson’s visit to Congress is something very primal that most people aren’t comfortable talking about in pleasant company. Ron Reagan said it quite brilliantly tonight on Chris Matthews’ show when he observed that “meeting Jessica Simpson is the closest most of these guys will ever come to an erotic experience.” Well put (not that she’s my type.) But why do so few dare say that out loud?

As with many things from food to drugs, Americans – most especially the so-called “intelligentsia” – have a rather schizophrenic attitude about beauty and sexual attraction. Most will uncomfortably admit, if hard pressed, that beauty really matters; but we seem to want to pretend it doesn’t, as if it’s somehow less worthy of our attention and admiration than intelligence or charisma.

Most men, regardless of intellect, are moved to romantic (read: sexual) engagement and interest visually. There’s heaps of science to demonstrate that this is built into our firmware. Sure, we have this fancy new thing called a cortex, but sexual energy and arousal is very limbically-rooted; and it is indeed sexual energy that is the primary differentiator between a romantic relationship and our other relationships.

In Rita Carter’s amazing book Mapping the Mind, there are powerful images of male and female brain activity during sexual arousal. The difference in the amount of activity at the visual cortex is astonishing. As a supporting tangent: I don’t think it’s a coincidence (nor the fault of western society) that the vast majority of pornographic material is consumed by men.

Luckily for men of unremarkable appearance, women judge romantic partners less heavily on looks – often much less. Women pay a great deal more attention to other women’s looks. But men are nonetheless sized up and judged rather quickly on such things as social status, resources, and even an assortment of physiological cues about physical power. Women have big limbic brains, too; they’re just looking for different signals. This subconscious thin-slicing kicks off the biochemical dance of physical attraction.

Another uncomfortable reality is that of choices – if a guy (in reality or in his own perception) has a lot of romantic options, with other things being relatively equal, he tends to gravitate toward the more beautiful of those options. And he is often expected to justify and apologize for it.

This behavior is further rewarded by the gobs of social reinforcement that is conferred upon men who date beautiful women. Men in social environments who are latched to a lovely female are subconsciously granted considerable “alpha” points (which can later be cashed in for tons of great prizes.) Recent research (such as Nancy Etcoff’s @ Harvard) has shown, for example, that other women find a man more attractive if he is with a beautiful woman than if he is alone, with another male, or with a female of “average” appearance. He does worse still if his companion is perceived to be of “below average” appearance. So, it’s not just men who make these judgments – women do too. It seems we are all moved, in some way, by female beauty.

To simplify and typecast in order to make a point, I also don’t get why the uber-smart girls handle this as they do. I could count on one hand the number of brilliant power-females I’ve met who were just as concerned with their looks as are women of more ordinary intellect. So, while the “pretty” girl labors at the cosmetics counter over which lipstick goes best with the new dress, her “smart” friend derides her frivolity and acts embarrassed and pained to be standing there. Many brighter women scoff and thumb their noses at the importance of beauty – as if beauty is only for those who need to distract men from checking out their minds. But this “new feminism” stuff is right about several things. Among them, brainiacs: beauty is profoundly important whether you choose to accept it or not.

Men are entranced by beauty not because we are neanderthal, shallow, or immature; and not because we may subconsciously recognize that a lot of the primping is done for us. We love it because we are wired to love it.

Of course, we should not be enslaved by our mammalian brains. But we must recognize that the “higher order” stuff – the deeper connection of mind and soul – comes more slowly, long after our inner beasts have snap-judged whether the other is fuckworthy. To ignore our wetware, our hard-coding, just perpetuates the schizophrenia. There is, somewhere, an honest balance we’ve yet to strike.

And finally, there is the question of spirituality. Many who call themselves Holy are the most likely to discourage the appreciation of physical beauty, as if it is somehow diametric to the pursuit of Truth. I object wholeheartedly; The Universe is no less authentically expressing itself in the eyegleam of a gorgeous 18 year old than it is in the glow of the moon, the scent of a lilac, or the craggy bark of a willow tree. Nature’s timeless drive to experience itself is the fuel that powers the engine of existence. The adoration of and immersion into that magical cycle – if done with love, kindness and respect – could not be more Divine.

37 thoughts on “Why Looks Matter And Why That’s OK”

  1. The problem is that beauty so often appears to be the gatekeeper of love. When I hear things like what you and Carter (coincidentally, I am reading Mapping the Mind right now) are saying, while I take them as truth, it’s painful. I feel that I will be forever locked out of the love room because I may not have the goods to get in.

    I appreciated your comment suggesting that deeper connections take time, and often after first blush. And I agree that ignoring the hard-coding just makes for more trouble, like trying to like someone when it’s just “not there,” or pity dating. But, all of this just reminds me that hooking up in a real way is a complex chemistry.

  2. Yes, indeed – very complex business.

    Likewise, I appreciated what you said about how painful this stuff can be – and you put it so wonderfully when you described beauty as often being the “gatekeeper of love”.

    I’d think very few people get “forever locked out”; but it’d be dishonest to say there is not a very palpable impact on a woman’s dating “pool”.

    What probably happens more frequently is that a woman’s appearance and/or personal style makes it more difficult for her to capture the attention of the types of men she is interested in; and conversely, she is equally uninterested in the types of men who are courting her. This is a recipe for great emotional frustration.

    I hope this is gentle and makes sense – not much thought went into it (no coffee yet.) 🙂

  3. Hi Anthony,

    I’m so glad you finally wrote this down.

    I don’t disagree with any of what you say, but I echo CuteGirl’s sense of trepidation about what it means, personally. I’m more likely to be the smartest chick in the room than the most beautiful chick in the room, and so my ego/identity/sense of pride have always been more wrapped up in that unearned virtue than in my appearance. And, lately, I find myself more concerned about my personality: kindness, reliability, sensitivity, graciousness — than about either beauty or brains (since I can’t do very much about my allotment of those two things).

    Still, the idea that I might be “locked out” of a room is a scary one. It’s frustrating only partly because of the uncontrollability of one’s looks (beyond tinkering with clothing and cosmetics, which is necessary but which could never transform me into Jessica Simpson no matter how skillfully applied.) It’s also frustrating because my general sense of self esteem is high: I’m a worthy person, loveable, etc. I know that. To women with a generally positive sense of their own value, the reality that to some extent we’re ‘locked out’ of the romantic club seems so unfair that it’s really tempting to point the finger at those who are doing the selecting, and finding fault with their value system.

    And I think your analysis dodges something important. You say “all other things being equal” men will gravitate toward beautiful women. What I think is unspoken but which is apparently true is that even when all things are NOT equal, men often will gravitate toward beautiful women. That is, if we hypothesize that Jessica Simpson has below-average intelligence, average kindness/morality/humor, and above average looks, I suspect it is NOT the same equation for most men as a woman whose averages would be the same, but whose distribution of assets is different. I’d be interested in your take on this. I suspect beauty is not merely a preference, but in some cases a trump card, or, as CuteGirl puts it, the key that gets you into the room. And I think that’s the part where our cortex and our limbic system might be at odds, and where it might be okay for some kind of shame or embarrassment to kick in. How dumb, or petty, or mean can a beautiful woman be before a man is ashamed to have her on his arm? How much of a scale-tipper is beauty? That’s the part that’s hard to talk about, I think.

  4. I was very reluctant to use Jessica Simpson in the intro, because she’s not my type and is dumb as a brick. She definitely does not fit into the “all other things being equal” category.. so, please take her merely as a “news hook” and she’s not intended to support the points I make later on.

    Beauty is a big scale-tipper. But, I think it depends on the male as to how much of an advantage it provides. Some guys will date a dreadful woman just because she’s beautiful; but most of the “good” guys I know will not – at least not more than a month or so ;). But to the question of *how much* that particular category is weighted is definitely an individual thing. I do think it’s fair to say it weighs much more heavily than most guys admit out loud. In this game, beauty is quietly “admired” but it never seems to be given the out-loud “respect” that other important traits are given.

    But women of average appearance often want to assume the worst about beautiful women, too – she must be dumb, bitchy, or whatever – when perhaps the only reason a beautiful woman might be less likely to be enjoyable, charming, or intelligent is because society has provided her with radically different cues about what she needs to develop in order to succeed in life.

    In my experience, a beautiful woman is no more likely to be petty or mean or vapid than a non-beautiful woman. You are probably right, however, that many males are more likely to tolerate such traits (or in more intensity) in a beautiful woman than in a non-beautiful woman.

    Not quite sure where I’m going here .. I guess I’d say I’ve met a lot of really dumb/vapid/mean ugly people, too. But I think beautiful women are more likely to be assumed to have intellectual or personality deficiencies than their non-beautiful counterparts. Again I think it’s because some of us want it to be true when it’s not, necessarily.

    And you get to something else important: faulting the value system. Anyone who feels someone is a better person because of their appearance is seriously shallow. But to ignore/wish-away the high impact that beauty has on the romantic process is something else entirely.

    To be crass: I may perceive someone of the opposite sex as a tremendously wonderful, incredible human of great worth – yet that will have a negligible impact on my desire to fuck them.

  5. With regards to the “all things being equal,” all things are surely not equal because when women do not do their best to maximize their personal beauty potential and their attractiveness, then they may very well become invisible.

    I mean, it: invisible.

    Not perceived at all, actually.

    When I walk down K Street during the summer all I see is pretty girls in camisoles, skirts, and flip-flops. Girls with tanned shoulders and crescent navels. Girls with pink toes.

    Are all the women on K Street like this? No. I am filtering and so effectively, the women with the mom jeans and the women with the pumps and the women with the Ann Taylor Loft ensembles are invisible. My mind is incapable of seeing them.

    In fact, there is zero opportunity in most situations for me to fall in love with your brilliant mind, your granite character, your gorgeous, gorgeous soul, your transcendent charm, or your whip-like wit.

    I pursue my friendships based on these things: a brilliant mind, granite character, gorgeous soul, transcendent charm, and whip-like wit.

    They’re not the first few things on my list when I want a lover. When I am choosing a girlfriend. When I want to touch someone with my body.

    For a relationship to turn into a partnership, they are essential, but none of those things are required to catch my attention.

    Okay, I am a sucker for transcendent charm, and whip-like wit. I adore braniacs. But what I hate most is when anyone has a chip on her shoulder.

    And I am mad about a woman that none of my friends consider to be as hot, sexy, fine, delicious, yummy, irresistible, and exotic as I do, but I did not discover her charms over time, I saw her across the room and knew I must have her and I have turned this into a drama that makes the pursuit of Helen seem trivial.

  6. It is unfortunate that women’s general imperative – or more positively phrased, their ability – to ignite attraction and even love in men with simple good looks is so universally perceived by our modern intelligencia as negative for women.

    The fact that is that women can very reliably ensure themselves that they will attract a pool of potential suitors sufficiently large enough to allow them to choose according to their liking simply by presenting themselves physically within a fairly simple set of parameters hardwired and socially programmed into men to fire their passions and their attachment.

    For men trying to attract a large enough pool of women to allow them to be choosy, the equation is a much more complex soup: physical factors (bald generally negative, hairy back generally negative, short generally negative, fat generally negative, style continually changing and unpredictable), social factors (status, wealth, perception by others, fetishized archetypes (e.g. pained poet, bad boy, impassioned rebel, strong silent type, lonesome cowboy, etc.), personal charisma (charm, wit, intelligence, confidence, articulateness, social skills, etc.), and for some women, the man’s future potential as a good mate as a provider and partner.

    Men have quite a lot to juggle and tweak if they are hoping to present themselves to the world in a way that will ensure they have a large enough group of women attracted to them to allow themselves to be selective.

    Women, on the other hand, are actually quite fortunate with the simplicity of their challenge: simply look good. A large group of men will be attracted, and the woman can enjoy the power of selection she desires. Given, there will be work involved. Probably rather hard, sweaty, disciplined work, but the work is simple, straightforward and well-defined. Above a woman’s shoulders, there are limitations to how much can be done to get her looks within the pre-wired/societally-programmed parameters, but the multi-billion dollar cosmetics industry is fully focused on giving women all the tools and technical support they could wish for in this field. As for the rest of the body, the formula there for the vast, vast majority of men is very simple in our modern American society: keep yourself slim and healthy, and keep your muscles toned, taut, and strong. Just be slim, athletic, toned, and healthy and the vast majority of American men will find your body – and thus, you – very attractive.

    Yes, there are men who are exceptions to this rule, but if you want something that will trigger attraction in the vast majority of American men, this is it.

    And the method is simple: eat healthily, work out. Eat only healthy food, and spend a minimum of an hour a day working hard to tone your body. Go running, lift weights, do yoga – whatever combination gets your body slim and tight. The added enormous fringe benefit is that you will live a healthier, probably longer life, and enjoy more happiness and psychological stability – exercise and good nutrition feed and relax the psyche.

    That’s it: Eat Right, Work Out. It’s never been simpler or easier for women in America to ensure themselves a good selection of suitors. Gone are the days when men required proper pedigree, Betty Crocker domestic perfection, virginal purity, unflawed adherence to societal etiquette, perfect-makeup-and-heels-with-dinner-on-the-table-at-six. Now, if you just look hot, you will have a dozen men to choose from. How you choose to manage all your opportunity is another game entirely, but that is a game of managing affluence, rather than scraping together the bare minimum.

    You may respond to this simple truth by stamping your feet and insisting that “I want a man who will love me for who I am” and other such self-excusing tripe, but if you want to invest your energies in something that will give you a broad pick of men (and whining about the realities of the mechanics of male attraction will not do that, just for the record) then invest them in this: Eat Right, Work Out. From your excess you can choose the man who truly loves you.

    If after that, you want to do your hair, primp your makeup, do your nails, dress prettily, fine. That will probably make things even a bit better for you – but those are icing on the cake. Most men barely notice those details. When you look hot during your workout with your slim, strong body, sweat dripping off you, your hair a mess, as far from primped and perfect as imaginable, then you have made it. Dress and primp for other girls. Men don’t really care.

    Eat Right, Work Out. Make your body hot by the hard-wired and societally programmed beauty standards of our modern world, and you will have more men to choose from than you know what to do with.

    It’s never been easier for women. Men’s slavish attraction to beauty is your ally, not your enemy. It puts the power in women’s hands with the minimum of work and the absolute minimum of variance in where women have to invest their efforts. Recognize a good thing when it’s been given to you.

  7. With regards to the “all things being equal,” all things are surely not equal because when women do not do their best to maximize their personal beauty potential and their attractiveness, then they may very well become invisible.

    I mean, it: invisible.

    Not perceived at all, actually.

    When I walk down K Street during the summer all I see is pretty girls in camisoles, skirts, and flip-flops. Girls with tanned shoulders and crescent navels. Girls with pink toes.

    Are all the women on K Street like this? No. I am filtering and so effectively, the women with the mom jeans and the women with the pumps and the women with the Ann Taylor Loft ensembles are invisible. My mind is incapable of seeing them.

    In fact, there is zero opportunity in most situations for me to fall in love with your brilliant mind, your granite character, your gorgeous, gorgeous soul, your transcendent charm, or your whip-like wit.

    I pursue my friendships based on these things: a brilliant mind, granite character, gorgeous soul, transcendent charm, and whip-like wit.

    They’re not the first few things on my list when I want a lover. When I am choosing a girlfriend. When I want to touch someone with my body.

    For a relationship to turn into a partnership, they are essential, but none of those things are required to catch my attention.

    Okay, I am a sucker for transcendent charm, and whip-like wit. I adore braniacs. But what I hate most is when anyone has a chip on her shoulder.

    And I am mad about a woman that none of my friends consider to be as hot, sexy, fine, delicious, yummy, irresistible, and exotic as I do, but I did not discover her charms over time, I saw her across the room and knew I must have her and I have turned this into a drama that makes the pursuit of Helen seem trivial.

  8. The bad news, as accurately outlined here by Mr. Citrano, is that men are universal suckers for an attractive woman. The good news, scheherazade and cutegirl, is that men can’t agree on what’s attractive. Sure sure, a lot of men agree a lot of the time. But perhaps these aren’t your type of men anyway. You want independent thinkers? These guys won’t interest you beyond a first date.

    I, for one, have to avert my eyes from Ms. Simpson’s likeness on supermarket magazine racks, because I find her “face” so entirely unattractive. It’s not that she’s hideously ugly– just so boringly cookie-cutter. No interest, thanks.

    Mark’s advice, above, is worth following because it will make you feel better and live longer. But if you think the system is “unfair”, and really want to buck it, there’s a simpler solution: blind men. Yes, you heard me. Obviates all your worries. If a blind man is attracted to you, you’ll never have to worry that it’s just because of you looks, or that his attraction will fade when you get wrinkles. And if a blind man isn’t attracted to you, you’ll never have to worry that it’s just because of your looks, or that this is further evidence you are “locked out of the room” because of your appearance.

    So what’s your hesitation? Can I venture some guesses? Are you half-consciously thinking, “Compared to other men I might date, I’m not sure a blind man is likely to be as [insert: good a dresser, independent, powerful, in-charge, wealthy, generative, able to support my children, able to share parenting duties, able to defend my honor in a pinch, able to best other men in a showdown, able to fulfill my Sunday morning fantasies of reading the New York Times while snuggling in bed…] ? And whatever kind of vehicle it is that turns you on (old pickup? Porsche? Insight hybrid? Harley?) you know for sure he’s not going to be driving it.

    Maybe I’m being too harsh. But I’ve watched dozens of women worry themselves to pieces about their appearance, and always wonder about the above approach as a possible solution.

  9. There is a saying for that, Darla:

    “The prom queen is always alone on Friday night.”

    One of my cutest exes and her even cuter sister were often at home on Friday night during hight school eating “grinders” with mom because just about all the blushing schoolboys always assume that such smoking sisters were of course going out with the captain of the football team or somesuch. So, in this case, the super-hotties are often alone on date night because everyone just assumes that you have plans…

    Guy self-select rigorously: “we’re not in her league” is something that we’re always saying. There’s one thing we hate even more than not having loads and loads of lemming sex: being rejected.

    Okay, there are the sociopaths who play it as a numbers game and you “cute girls” as a fungible asset — a resource — but most of us try to keep out exposure to crushing rejection to a minumum, especially in Washington, where although there are very few alpha studs, there are loads of men who actively pursue, to borrow predator/prey language, circle the herd until the weak and the sick leave the heard, and then the Washington men ponce.

    So, in Washington, anyway, you need to not only be cute but also be accessible and smile and flirt and be approachable. Give the guy you like an excuse to come up to you. If you are frowning, plugged into your ipod, or otherwise closed, then Washington men will rarely try.

    Actually, in DC, there are so many mind-bendingly cute young women in DC and so few even remotely good-looking men (lots of power, lots of wealth, lots of connections, and lots of pedigree, though) that to be a woman here must surely be tough.

    I just got back from a date and the girl was really pretty and charming but because she travels the world doing amazing save-the-world development work in cool places like Madagascar, she considers butt jeans and groomed eyebrows and heels and flirty tops and stylish ensemble to be antithetical to who she needs to be.

    She even mentioned that her little sister spends $300 on jeans and is super cute and super hot and so forth and all I could think about was, “I kind of want to date your sister.”

    Is that wrong?

  10. Your head, cute girl? What about your abs?

    If your goal is to whinge, then whinge. But if your goal is to enjoy love, then expect a bit of work. Anyone who has been in a relationship longer than six weeks will tell you that relationships are work. Why would anyone expect finding the person that you are going to be in that relationship with any less work?

    Yes, the dance of seduction, and attraction, and falling in love is strenuous, but hell! You are potentially turning over your heart and vulnerability for the rest of your life. Isn’t that the real goal in the end? If you’re doing to do that, the other person better damn well be attraactive.

    And, frankly, Mark is right. It is so simple for women. It’s hard work for anyone except for the lucky few to draw enough potential mates to be able to select Mr/Ms Perfect. At least for women it is incredibly simple to figure out what you have to do to attract all those guys.

    Sorry about your headache. Get a good night’s sleep. Get up tomorrow, eat a healthy breakfast and do an hour of vigorous exercize. You’ll feel great, and if you keep doing that, you’ll probably start having to think of excuses for why you can’t give every one of the guys who ask for it your number.

    And maybe Anthony is being gentle, but we’re being honest. What is it you truly want?

    P.S. If you have suffered some horrible disfigurement or maiming injury, I apologize and redirect all these comment that are then inappropriate and insensitive at women who have not suffered such things but still prefer to whinge rather than do something about their lot.

  11. Your hard-wiring argument gets a bit blurry when you deal with the fact that the concept of “beauty” is culturally constructed and can change over time.

    One very good reason to mock and decry the more outrageous standards of “conventional” beauty is that it’s based on media/capitalism driving home (again and again) underaged, stick-limbed, poofy-lipped women who bear little resemblence (at times) to even a small subset of the population.

    It’s true that a few studies suggest people select for sexual partners based on evenly proportioned features, clear skin, reasonable weight and a few other factors that roughly translate as “good health.” But there’s a whole slew of other factors out there which are just cultural; and blindly engaging them results in young women breaking their noses and having them redone, having fat injected into cheeks and lips, having bags of various substances implanted in their breasts, and developing eating disorders.

    Why do you assume that “pretty” women wear lipstick and dresses? You’re not ‘hard wired’ for *that.*

  12. This is anonymous because I would die to post this with my name, but it can be total honesty.

    Yes, a guy is hotter if he is with a hot girl, because you are thinking he has something good going on if he has HER. It sounds dumb but it is the reaction.

    I consider myself very attractive. My intelligence is maybe a little above average, but not like my appearance.

    At my job I am around alot of super-beautiful girls. Some are very smart and some as nice and sweet as average looking girls. Non-pretty girls who are very smart assume that beautiful girls are idiots and talk to us like we are 12. I may be not be smart, but I am not necessarily an idiot because of looking good. Pretty girls don’t seem to do this to other pretty girls. I sometimes get catty/bitchy when that happens (a non-beautiful girl is condescending or using my looks to judge me, sometimes even OUT LOUD). There are lots of subtle ways I can turn the tables and use my looks against them, too. I know it’s wrong but now and then I do that when feeling judged. Defense, I guess.

    Looking good is hard work! People say it’s hard to keep up on things so you are smart, well it’s also hard to stay beautiful also. I eat really good, I run every day, I dress great. I am not complaining, I would not change it, I just wish to say it’s hard too.

    I wish we could test the theory in reverse, like do blind people assume super-smart people are ugly?

  13. And I think that Scoplaw’s logic is flawed because at no point does he/she ever suggest that although the styles of beauty change, it’s ever based on anything besides beauty.

    I went to a local DC single social where the promoter, a brilliant young female lawyer and a Federal Judge clerk (and married — she wants everyone to be married!) actually said the following:

    “Chris, you should talk to the girls, they’re some of the most brilliant, successful, and powerful young minds in Washington.”

    At that point I wanted to laugh. Since when does anyone ever suggest a girl to a man that way? “She has an amazing character and a great sense of humor” is generally akin to saying, “she’s unattractive” to a man.

    Isn’t that fucked up? Isn’t that weird?

    Is it me, or was that the absolutely worst marketing of single women in a singles social mixer possible?

    And, why is that?

  14. It is not all advantages. When you are beautiful past a point, nice guys do not come up and talk to you.

  15. There is a saying for that, Darla:

    “The prom queen is always alone on Friday night.”

    One of my cutest exes and her even cuter sister were often at home on Friday night during hight school eating “grinders” with mom because just about all the blushing schoolboys always assume that such smoking sisters were of course going out with the captain of the football team or somesuch. So, in this case, the super-hotties are often alone on date night because everyone just assumes that you have plans…

    Guy self-select rigorously: “we’re not in her league” is something that we’re always saying. There’s one thing we hate even more than not having loads and loads of lemming sex: being rejected.

    Okay, there are the sociopaths who play it as a numbers game and you “cute girls” as a fungible asset — a resource — but most of us try to keep out exposure to crushing rejection to a minumum, especially in Washington, where although there are very few alpha studs, there are loads of men who actively pursue, to borrow predator/prey language, circle the herd until the weak and the sick leave the heard, and then the Washington men ponce.

    So, in Washington, anyway, you need to not only be cute but also be accessible and smile and flirt and be approachable. Give the guy you like an excuse to come up to you. If you are frowning, plugged into your ipod, or otherwise closed, then Washington men will rarely try.

    Actually, in DC, there are so many mind-bendingly cute young women in DC and so few even remotely good-looking men (lots of power, lots of wealth, lots of connections, and lots of pedigree, though) that to be a woman here must surely be tough.

    I just got back from a date and the girl was really pretty and charming but because she travels the world doing amazing save-the-world development work in cool places like Madagascar, she considers butt jeans and groomed eyebrows and heels and flirty tops and stylish ensemble to be antithetical to who she needs to be.

    She even mentioned that her little sister spends $300 on jeans and is super cute and super hot and so forth and all I could think about was, “I kind of want to date your sister.”

    Is that wrong?

  16. Your hard-wiring argument gets a bit blurry when you deal with the fact that the concept of “beauty” is culturally constructed and can change over time.

    One very good reason to mock and decry the more outrageous standards of “conventional” beauty is that it’s based on media/capitalism driving home (again and again) underaged, stick-limbed, poofy-lipped women who bear little resemblence (at times) to even a small subset of the population.

    It’s true that a few studies suggest people select for sexual partners based on evenly proportioned features, clear skin, reasonable weight and a few other factors that roughly translate as “good health.” But there’s a whole slew of other factors out there which are just cultural; and blindly engaging them results in young women breaking their noses and having them redone, having fat injected into cheeks and lips, having bags of various substances implanted in their breasts, and developing eating disorders.

    Why do you assume that “pretty” women wear lipstick and dresses? You’re not ‘hard wired’ for *that.*

  17. Scoplaw – I disagree. Fashion and the entire concept of “plumage” is quite deep-rooted, actually. While styles may change, the attractiveness of someone who CARES about style does not. And to my original thesis, even if it were not hard-wired, why does it then necessarily have less value? Do you not also agree that other traits are similarly culturally-nurtured (e.g. intelligence, personality?) And so why are they somehow of greater worth? Because they last a little longer?

    My logic is the reverse of yours. To me, the less a woman bears a resemblance to any significant “subset of the population”, the more likely she is to be beautiful. The more she does bear a resemblance to a significant portion of the population, the more likely she is to be average and unremarkable.

    And the whole concept of “reasonable weight” and “eating disorders” is another area in which we are very schizophrenic, but I’m going to cover that in another piece. For now, I’ll just say that American thinking on “eating disorders” is quite disordered.

  18. And I think that Scoplaw’s logic is flawed because at no point does he/she ever suggest that although the styles of beauty change, it’s ever based on anything besides beauty.

    I went to a local DC single social where the promoter, a brilliant young female lawyer and a Federal Judge clerk (and married — she wants everyone to be married!) actually said the following:

    “Chris, you should talk to the girls, they’re some of the most brilliant, successful, and powerful young minds in Washington.”

    At that point I wanted to laugh. Since when does anyone ever suggest a girl to a man that way? “She has an amazing character and a great sense of humor” is generally akin to saying, “she’s unattractive” to a man.

    Isn’t that fucked up? Isn’t that weird?

    Is it me, or was that the absolutely worst marketing of single women in a singles social mixer possible?

    And, why is that?

  19. Chris,

    I agree – whenever I hear a woman described to me entirely in terms of her “wonderful personality” alarm bells begin sounding in my head immediately.

    When attractive females are being described either by men or by other females, it’s never left out of the description.

    Seems like a silly marketing strategy.

  20. I’ve also been reminded by a couple of you (via IM) to admit something else that I’ve mentioned in the past – which gets to the “power” of beauty. That is, its acute hypnotic effect; beauty has the power to exert stupefication upon otherwise smart, substantive males.

    Example: normal, otherwise very “together” male is engaged in conversation with others whilst an extremely gorgeous female either enters the conversation or enters the scene off to the side. Normal male begins acting as if someone is shining a flashlight in his face, suddenly far less able to make cogent conversation.

    Many of us get much better about this as we age. 😉

  21. You are a sexist pig, Anthony! That said, I hear you. I was at the gym and someone approached me and all I saw were these amazing blue eyes. I smiled at her and she walked past and I was stupefied. I followed her and she went into the office. I followed and booked a few hundred dollars of personal training. I was stupefied, transfixed, and hypnotised by both her eyes and her beauty.

  22. You are a sexist pig, Anthony! That said, I hear you. I was at the gym and someone approached me and all I saw were these amazing blue eyes. I smiled at her and she walked past and I was stupefied. I followed her and she went into the office. I followed and booked a few hundred dollars of personal training. I was stupefied, transfixed, and hypnotised by both her eyes and her beauty.

  23. Anthony,

    It’s true that most cultures have a concept of “female beauty” and that the concept is usually centered around elements that show a potential sexual mate as being genetically desirable -€“ evenness of features, general health, so on. Some standards of beauty have other origins – for example, in the case of Chinese foot-binding (or high heels), the imposition of limitations on women’s mobility to ensure their sexual fidelity. Female castration/genital mutilation is sometimes societal justified on a moral scale to serve an ulterior purpose – e.g., good/desirable women undergo genital mutilation (which is though to reduce libido/promiscuity, a good) while bad/evil/undesirable women do not. Still other standards have correlation to greater societal practices, such as ritualistic scarification and so forth, that modify the body with no functional ramifications.

    Cultural standards of beauty are not normative, and they’re not absolute. That means there’s no such thing as a kind of universal ‘beauty’ that women can subscribe to, beyond, as I noted, even features, good health, etc. Skinny/plump, passive/aggressive, short-haired/long-haired, small-breasted/large-breasted, blondes/brunettes, elfin/roman noses; each of these things are judged beautiful or not by various cultures and change pretty quickly. I’m not even going to get into racial issues.

    These standards are not ‘€œhard-wired’ into the brain – it’s true that we have reactions to our ideal of beauty, but that ideal is not a universal, so it does not make much sense to talk about it as though it were, which is what most of your posts suggest -€“ an agreed upon idea of ‘€œbeauty’ that’s centered on a western standard of physical attractiveness that might be epitomized by Jessica Simpson.

    The standards of beauty, being mutable, should be examined and critiqued to see if they produce bad effects since they can be changed over time. In my previous post, I’ve pointed out some problems with the way our standards impact women – this of course says nothing about raising false consciousness in men.

    **

    Personally, as a complete aside, I’d rather date a ‘plain’ girl who is witty, vivacious, intelligent and talented, rather than a Jessica Simpson. A woman who would spend her time obsessing over lipstick is fundamentally unattractive; who wants to be with someone who spends their human potential in this way?

  24. Chris is accurate about most guys self-selecting. Many guys who do approach are jerks. “S” is too touchy but yes, beauty gets looked down on.

  25. What makes Maureen Dowd unattractive is certainly not her great legs, her brilliance, her wit, her hot red-headedness, or her age, it’s the fact that she is an unmarriagable harpy all on her very own. She has made herself repellent. Outside of being hot and sexy and fuckable, it comes down to being warm, open, honest, true, faithful, satisfied, supportive, and marriageable.

    As I have said before, “a Mistress does not a Wife make.”

  26. Anthony,

    It’s true that most cultures have a concept of “female beauty” and that the concept is usually centered around elements that show a potential sexual mate as being genetically desirable -€“ evenness of features, general health, so on. Some standards of beauty have other origins – for example, in the case of Chinese foot-binding (or high heels), the imposition of limitations on women’s mobility to ensure their sexual fidelity. Female castration/genital mutilation is sometimes societal justified on a moral scale to serve an ulterior purpose – e.g., good/desirable women undergo genital mutilation (which is though to reduce libido/promiscuity, a good) while bad/evil/undesirable women do not. Still other standards have correlation to greater societal practices, such as ritualistic scarification and so forth, that modify the body with no functional ramifications.

    Cultural standards of beauty are not normative, and they’re not absolute. That means there’s no such thing as a kind of universal ‘beauty’ that women can subscribe to, beyond, as I noted, even features, good health, etc. Skinny/plump, passive/aggressive, short-haired/long-haired, small-breasted/large-breasted, blondes/brunettes, elfin/roman noses; each of these things are judged beautiful or not by various cultures and change pretty quickly. I’m not even going to get into racial issues.

    These standards are not ‘€œhard-wired’ into the brain – it’s true that we have reactions to our ideal of beauty, but that ideal is not a universal, so it does not make much sense to talk about it as though it were, which is what most of your posts suggest -€“ an agreed upon idea of ‘€œbeauty’ that’s centered on a western standard of physical attractiveness that might be epitomized by Jessica Simpson.

    The standards of beauty, being mutable, should be examined and critiqued to see if they produce bad effects since they can be changed over time. In my previous post, I’ve pointed out some problems with the way our standards impact women – this of course says nothing about raising false consciousness in men.

    **

    Personally, as a complete aside, I’d rather date a ‘plain’ girl who is witty, vivacious, intelligent and talented, rather than a Jessica Simpson. A woman who would spend her time obsessing over lipstick is fundamentally unattractive; who wants to be with someone who spends their human potential in this way?

  27. I understand there are variables – many – to the cultural concept of beauty. But the underlying limbic desire to move toward that beauty (however defined) was the drive to which I was referring

    And I offered Jessica Simpson as a news hook, not an example. Jessica Simpson is dimwitted and definitely FAR from my personal flavor of female beauty. But to a Congressman from middle America who hasn’t had sex with his wife in 10 years, that girl is a walking orgasm.

    You, however, imply that one has to choose: one either can have a witty, vivacious, talented “plain” girl, or can have a hot one who is functionally retarded.

    And that was the reason I wrote the post in the first place – that psychosocial bigotry that the intelligentsia engages is, that is, “if she’s hot, she certainly can’t be witty, vivacious and intelligent.”

    And to your question “who wants to be with someone who spends their human potential this way…” I’d ask, even if I grant you that human potential is “wasted” on beauty [note: I don’t, I very much disagree] – where does one draw that line? What if she enjoys other pleasures you find “frivolous” – a certain television show, a silly hobby, etc. Does a mate have to be constantly engaged in activity that you judge as a high intellectual calling?

    You’ve clearly stated that female beauty is relatively unimportant to you, and I think that’s somewhat unusual. But if you would actually *prefer* a plain girl over a beautiful girl, with other factors relatively equal, that would make you *extremely* unusual (not that there’s anything wrong with that..)

    Also, I think the standards to which you refer impact men as well – and probably more so. I doubt it’d be real easy to work one’s way to the “premium” segment of the dating pool as an unemployed, soft-spoken, diminuitive male who lives with his mother.

  28. What makes Maureen Dowd unattractive is certainly not her great legs, her brilliance, her wit, her hot red-headedness, or her age, it’s the fact that she is an unmarriagable harpy all on her very own. She has made herself repellent. Outside of being hot and sexy and fuckable, it comes down to being warm, open, honest, true, faithful, satisfied, supportive, and marriageable.

    As I have said before, “a Mistress does not a Wife make.”

  29. Thank you Scoplaw…I couldn’t put any of this better. You have aptly pointed out the shortcomings of the perspectives Anthony and et al presented, and undoubtedly restored my confidence in men.

    I must be honest, as for the majority of the males who have posted here…you wouldn’t have half a chance with me. Why? Because the assumption that I would want to have sex with a man who translates beauty as skin deep is utterly repellant. I’ve dated men like this and quickly found them borish, and that attitude a physical turnoff.

    If great sex really is the ultimate goal, then you have a long way to discover it! It won’t be found on that pathway. It’s found in loving someone as yourself, and may at times be a sacrificial thing.

    My father gave me a beautiful insight into this one day…my mother and I were getting her ready to go out on a special occasion. He walked in and was hurt and affronted that she’d put make-up on. His explanation:’I like her the way she is!’ My mother is 73, and still manages to bring a gleam of joy to my father’s eye, and heart.

    Anthony, maybe if you can learn to love like that, you’ll finally discover
    the magic and beauty and Truth of the universe that you aspire to embrace.

  30. I have been out of a 14yr relationship now for about 5 months. He was 10 yrs younger than me and what I would call good looking. I recently started talking to a guy that I went to school with over 35 yrs ago. We spent hours on the phone and he made me laugh, and seems to have all the qualities I am looking for —-except I just don’t find him attractive. I’m trying to get past this but, it just keeps knawing at me how good looking the other guy was. This new guy is coming to my house (he lives 500 miles away) for the week-end and I’m hoping no one I know sees me out with him–what’s up with that. Even though I know he’s really a great person other people are going to judge him and me too for that matter based on his looks. Why do I care??? How can I get past this?? Will I?? I’m 54 years old for Christ sakes.

  31. I have been out of a 14yr relationship now for about 5 months. He was 10 yrs younger than me and what I would call good looking. I recently started talking to a guy that I went to school with over 35 yrs ago. We spent hours on the phone and he made me laugh, and seems to have all the qualities I am looking for —-except I just don’t find him attractive. I’m trying to get past this but, it just keeps knawing at me how good looking the other guy was. This new guy is coming to my house (he lives 500 miles away) for the week-end and I’m hoping no one I know sees me out with him–what’s up with that. Even though I know he’s really a great person other people are going to judge him and me too for that matter based on his looks. Why do I care??? How can I get past this?? Will I?? I’m 54 years old for Christ sakes.

  32. doris for you to care so much about what other people think doesnt say much on your part. If you really like this man then it should not matter what anyone eles thinks. Looks are not everything. If you like him then looks should not matter. Based on that the human mind is set on attraction so we think that there is this image we must follow. In my own opinion its a little over rated. if you really like him and is happy then go for it!!! i say screw everyone eles and there one image mind. your 54 years old its your turn to be happy you only live once…gd luck

  33. doris for you to care so much about what other people think doesnt say much on your part. If you really like this man then it should not matter what anyone eles thinks. Looks are not everything. If you like him then looks should not matter. Based on that the human mind is set on attraction so we think that there is this image we must follow. In my own opinion its a little over rated. if you really like him and is happy then go for it!!! i say screw everyone eles and there one image mind. your 54 years old its your turn to be happy you only live once…gd luck

  34. its 2007 and damn, did i like this post. well said sir. I’ll check that Mapping the Mind.

  35. its 2007 and damn, did i like this post. well said sir. I’ll check that Mapping the Mind.

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