ugly discord

Many couples fight about money, fidelity and bathroom normsSara and i seem to be struggling over the concept of beauty.  While the topic is slightly abstract, the conflict is real and edgy.

At the center of this fight is oppression.  If i find someone beautiful, then am i oppressing, disrespecting or dismissing someone which i dont find beautiful?  Are my beauty standards influenced by the $100 billion/year advertising industry? [This one is an obvious yes] Is beauty inherently unfair?

i bristle at the idea of having to give up my experience of beauty for someone else’s notion of political correctness.  Sara bristles at the notion that this issue is about political correctness.  “It is about being an ally.” She says.

We can wander in a philosophical direction and ask “What is beauty?”  Is it simply an esthetically pleasing appearance? Can it be captured in a still photo?  i am comfortable with these limiting constraints.  And in my world view it is an intensely personal and individual experience.  [For the purposes of this debate i am limiting the discussion to the most contentious point of the beauty of people, ignoring beautiful music or art, which is less politically interesting.]

So then the challenge is “Does this notion of beauty dictate who it is i choose to interact with and how?”  In some contexts, i admit it certainly does.  There is a link between my notion of beauty and what is attractive.  In a party or social setting, all other things being equal, i am more likely to try to start a conversation with someone who i find more beautiful.

And my life is more complicated than this.  All things are never equal.  If someone is saying especially clever things, this will almost always trump beauty as something i am drawn to.  Or if someone is being funny, or theatrical or otherwise animated and alive, physical attractiveness becomes a secondary consideration in drawing my attention or attraction.

And i get the piece about beauty being unfair and certainly the part about it perpetuating unhealthy behaviors and reinforcing negative self messaging, especially in women.   And i have definitely failed to be an ally on this issue at points.  As Sara points out in her post, my strongly stated preference for long hair had created a fear in one 8 year old girl who i adore that if she cut her hair i would not like her anymore.  i am more careful about these strong pronouncements now because of this incident.

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

17 responses to “ugly discord”

  1. Becca says :

    Thanks for addressing this topic. It is so pervasive and so tricky. I have seen so many well-intentioned men deeply hurt the women in their lives because we can’t measure up to the unconscious beauty standards that have infiltrated everyone’s brains.

    Personally, as a woman, I have gotten to the point where I truly don’t care if very many people find me beautiful. I do care that my lover does. Seeing me as beautiful = love in his eyes. For me (and many other women I have talked to), when we truly love another, they are beautiful to us, even if society may have other opinions. It’s just part of how it works (oxytocin perhaps?). I want that reciprocated.

    Unfortunately, too often, cultural ideals of beauty keep men from seeing the treasure before their eyes.

  2. Ian Mayes says :

    Another good photo for this blog entry:

  3. cardin says :

    hmmm. thats a really cool post- i like the part about the 8 year old girl. but what is it about so many girls that make them susceptible to internalizing your comment in such a way? In general i dont think that boys would react the same way in a similar situation. Maybe its because that type of thing isnt usually said to a boy.

  4. Will Forest says :

    We know that standards of attractiveness are societal, and contextual, and otherwise variable. Yet, we can be pretty sure that our human ancestors had standards of attractiveness, and that long ago, they were based at least partly on evolution by natural selection, as so many of our characteristics are — which means that attractiveness is NATURALLY important to us, and probably means that basing our actions on attractiveness had species survival value.

    But so did aggression. So did lying.

    What’s interesting to me is the question of how a modern human being should behave, in the changed circumstances of the modern world. We should hold in check our aggression, and our lying, though they can still have value and probably should both be unleashed under some circumstances. Our philosophers haven’t given as much thought to how much we should resist our susceptibility to the influence of attractiveness. Attractiveness, and susceptibility to it, both probably have very little species survival value nowadays, but the susceptibility is natural and not easy to overcome.

    I particularly liked the illustration for this post.

    Will Forest

  5. tickledspirit says :

    The power of mere physical attractiveness is a tragedy of anonymity. In a community in which people know each other complexly, we see a whole picture beyond the physical body. We look a people and see all of what we know of them, how we’ve seen them love, how we’ve seen them hurt, how we’ve seen them in their messiness. “Beauty” gets superceded by complexity… and I like it better that way.

    • tickledspirit says :

      Hmm… thinking again about my response. I was writing as an idealist, looking for how the world is better when we’re connected with the people around us. But you already are, Pax. So my assertions aren’t true across-the-board… maybe they’re just true for me?

    • Ken says :

      ::“Beauty” gets superceded by complexity…::

      I like this, TS 🙂

      I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot lately. My lover and I declare each other to be beautiful rather often, and a part of me regards such pronouncements with a bit of “so what”. Something I’ve been thinking about in relation to this is a challenge that a certain Tickled Spirit issued to me years ago, to abandon the word “good” for more richly meaningful adjectives, to state more precisely how one feels: I feel joyful, I feel alive, I feel sated, etc.

      I am starting to look at beauty the same way. There are people I know who have a kind of beauty that probably has a lot do with mathematical symmetry — everyone sees them as beautiful, because their facial proportions are “just so”. There is no particular merit in it, and I expect they either get tired of hearing how beautiful they are, or they derive some fairly petty pleasure from.

      On the other hand, the beauty that I most often respond to is richer than that — I am responding to my lover’s joy, her aliveness, the emotional connection resonant in a shared smile, the mischievous twinkle in her eye. In this case, beauty is not exactly superseded by complexity — it arises from complexity and/or is found in the richness of context and relationship.

      There’s some room for “I statements” here too: beauty is not just about how you look, but about how I respond to it. Sometimes “you are beautiful” means “You look so full of life and joy, and I feel so glad for this time we are sharing together”. It’s probably worthwhile to mine our responses for these richer meanings and to say them outloud sometimes — particularly if the “shorthand” declarations of beauty are a source of tension. I’ve been working on that one lately.

  6. Jason Sharma says :

    I don’t understand why beauty is traditionally to be confined to women. I imagine that to many women, looks are everything. Where as for men, who cares? Why is there such discrepancy? Mostly I find beauty to be a matter of taste anyway. I prefer to cherish what makes an individual unique rather than merely judge how well they adhere to societal standards and ideals.

  7. Whisky Doll says :

    Ooohhh, love this entry. Though I’d like more information about what Sarah specifically thinks, the impression I am getting is a little two-dimensional or perhaps just limited. Here are my thoughts:

    Being an ally is important to all of the human race. I also find that in human beings there is a tendency to accuse people of particular actions before looking to understand where the initial reaction to any moment is coming from (the “Two to Tango” reality of life)… For instance:

    I feel neglected at a party because someone I find attractive or am involved with is giving attention (attention that I want) to someone I feel is more/societally attractive than myself. A host of feelings are sure to arise, and I may accuse this person of being a less evolved human being or of being callous or being superficial because in the moment that’s how I justify my negative emotions… If I pause and look deeper, I may realize that my angst is due to age-old internally developed feelings of inferiority, or the fear of being invisible/left by someone I care for, or that I mourn not having the shape or coloring or hair length of my imaginary nemesis. I am threatened somehow, somewhere, deep within my self. These feelings can be addressed within myself for what they are, and I can ask for what help I need from this other person… I can ask this person for attention, I can let them know I am feeling vulnerable, I can ask what they desire from the object of their attention, I can ask to have my own attractiveness re-affirmed through words or actions… we work together to heal the wounds that grip us through our years of living – and these wounds DO happen to men and women and everyone in between. Boy-people are also unsure of their balding heads, guts, lack of muscles, pale thighs, body hair amount and placement, junk size, wallet thickness, the list goes on…

    Commercial Marketing means to make EVERYONE feel inferior. That is 90% of why we buy what we buy. We want a magic cure for insecurity and pain, not a conversation about our deepest fears… though I find conversations lead to less fear most times, not more products in my cabinet and the same old feeling of “lesser than” following me around every day.

    The other thought/part of this conversation I wanted to weigh in on is that, of course, it is natural to spend time with people you find attractive – FOR EVERYONE. Sometimes what you find attractive is generic (societally speaking), sometimes it is emotional (“your nose is like my Mother’s”), sometimes it is “exotic” and arouses an inspired curiosity (whatever that looks like to you and your experiences thus far)… Looking into a room of strangers we gravitate to what looks good. Next DOES come conversation – maybe you made the wrong choice and get bored immediately, maybe not, maybe someone comes along with a more interesting conversation, a certain charismatic appeal that is less that visual, magnetic pheromones, sexy gestures or attitude, a performance that arrests your attention… This means we are attracted in complex ways to the people around us for varied reasons (THAT, my friends, is evolution!). It doesn’t matter what you looked at first, you’ve ended the party after a journey of varied and individual interactions each confirming what is attractive to you in different ways. I think this is fantastic.

    Survival of the fittest includes visual, mental, emotional, and many other top-notch qualities (and too often[?] drunkenness coupled with a dogmatic understanding of choice). What matters is that we human beings, with our vast ability to consider deeply and communicate clearly are here for each other AND ourselves. That we advocate for our own needs to be fulfilled, that we support each other, voice our fears, listen when others are in pain, allow for every individual to have the experience they are having without it infringing on our own sense of internal truth (though perhaps be informed by it from hereon out), know that there is no magical land without internal strife, and move constantly towards it anyhow by growing our own inner confidence. We have to do this together.

    Fuck the idiots who you cannot be yourself around and who do not see you as beautiful… or rather, don’t.

    P.S.: I don’t believe, Pax, that you stating a preference about hair length is “THE reason” a little girl has a fear. It may have contributed to or reinforced in internal struggle she already has for a plethora of collected-over-8-years reasons. But you addressed it. We move on, and we learned something new in the process. Show me a person without internalized fears, self-loathing, and insecurities; I’ll show you a robot who can’t love, be vulnerable, or care what you think anyhow.

    • Sara Tansey says :

      dear whiskey doll, you can find more about my side of the conversation at the corresponding blog: you can let me know if it still feels two dimensional and limited. i resent that you jump to that conclusion rather than imagining the narrator might be giving his own spin.

      • Whisky Doll says :

        Thanks for the link Sara. My comment to Pax was actually meant to say just that – that I was finding his explanation of the situation a bit one-sided and I wanted to know more in depth about your specific POV and how it pertained to the conversation he was posing in blog-form. My musings are in direct reaction to his blog, not a comment on your depth of thought, or even opinion on you or him or your relationship, at all. I’ll enjoy reading your thoughts. I’m sorry you are having feelings of resentment at my response. I am on no side but my own…

        I guess related: I, having grown up in a very female dominated and feminist household (as a feminist female myself), have always wondered why conversations about gendered baggage don’t often look to both (all) sides and see the equivalencies I’ve observed abound. In relating to others I see that all people have problems associated with not feeling up to the the standard of who they believe themselves to “should be”… I may have a POV that is reflective of my [bi/omni/whatever]-Sexual preferences, having been married to a woman for the past 5 years, and in long and short term relationships with people of varied genders along the way, my experience tells me that our fears and feelings are ours ungendered and individually to wrestle with and free ourselves from. These fears, in my opinion, are not necessarily put on us past the point of social suggestion, though how wild those suggestions grow unchecked or unbattled within our psyches can be profoundly impactfull of our outlook and dealings in general with the rest of the human population.

        I love conversations and questions such as these. Thank you both for opening your relationship thoughts/discoveries/questioning to a public who can engage from different angles. And again, Sara, I will be reading your thoughts shortly.

    • Jason Sharma says :

      You are a very good writer, Whiskey Doll.

  8. paxus says :

    This is rich and i am super happy people are commenting int he blog, rather than on FB or Google+. And Sara’s sister post is getting some interesting traffic and comments. Below is my favorite. I hope to get back to some of the points made in these comments soon, and i am scrambling in the moment as i oft do.

    Paxus at Twin Oaks
    4 Red 2012

    Great blog. You touch on much of what I have also experienced in my life as a female-person… I have always had a hard time in long term relationships with men due to some of what you discuss here. I think it is hard to be a minority in intimate relations with someone without that particular minority experience. Hard because the person(s) you love, respect, and want to be completely open and gain 100% understanding from will never know your life, struggles, and experiences in the same way a best friend of the same minority status might… I don’t know what the answer to this quandary is other than continuing to talk and put yourself in each other’s shoes to the best of your imaginative abilities (exhausting and hopefully an evolution over time).

    On a flip side though, I’ve also felt objectified and repulsed by women lovers who put forth a “macho” attitude about sex, generic visual preferences in their mates, and ideas about sexual roles. Because of THIS experience, I choose to look at this issue in its entirety as one that afflicts ALL people, not just how “men view women”, “women view men”, or what roles we are each supposed to succeed at playing for each other…

    I had a gay male friend once who, when I returned home in tears after walking home and being cat-called, said this to me: “Next time turn around, approach the person who is offending you, and say, calmly and clearly, ‘that really hurt me’.”… This is NOT, by any imagination an easy or lovely thing to consider doing when you are offended!… Though that thought shifted my brains a little… I think about it. I think that having someone tell you they are hurt by your actions in an honest and calm way can only serve to make you consider your actions, and even choose to apologize (perhaps). I think it would definitely make most non-psychotic people question the experience and maybe even apply that questioning to future behavior… As the person advocating for your self, it can deepen your self confidence and shed some of the fear you have in the moment of being offended, it can lead to an apology, or even explanation that the situation was incorrectly interpreted; the possibilities are endless. The point is that we are pointedly calling out a behavior and thus creating consequences for dehumanizing actions.

    I also believe in Men teaching Men not to be inconsiderate assholes, in Women teaching Women to love themselves is important work too… The only thing we are capable of in this lifetime though is being the individual that we are… so conversation needs to be a coupling of how we keep our own individual reactions in check, how we advocate for our needs when we have them, and how we hear, support, and consider the people in our lives telling us how they are hurt by our actions. I don’t think it’s possible to live a life without offense or to not offend. I do like to think we *should* try to be supportive more frequently than we hurt… in this endeavor alone we learn to be better.

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