I’m going to say a few things about some issues that get all tangled together; I want to take them apart and see each one on its own merits. I fear I may be branded a heretic, but I’m just trying to be as honest as possible.
Josh Tinley’s great post about the sexualization of female athletes (based on a highly ironic online article on SI.com) got me to thinking. There is a high probability when discussing sexism (for purposes of this discussion, I mean the objectification of a person as solely a sexual object), that the discussion will eventually get to standards of beauty, followed by a quick degradation to personal characteristics, in which feelings get hurt. It is impossible, I believe, to discuss one without the other magically appearing somewhere along the way. We all measure ourselves.
A great evil in the world is outwardly treating people differently (or even with malice) because they don’t fit one’s personal standard of beauty (I use this term for brevity – it applies to both men and women. Guys, substitute “handsomeness” if it makes you feel more manly). I have personally been stung by this evil more times than I can mention. Young, geeky and poor (monetary status is a standard of attractiveness in men, don’t deny it), I was mistreated horribly at one time in my life. This is something I am very sensitive to. If I ever catch you making degrading comments about someone’s appearance, you can expect an uncharacteristic tongue lashing from me.
But here’s where it gets tricky. I’ve seen more discussions than I can count where someone is arguing against the definition of the standard of beauty, and even the existence of the standard itself. And I understand the impulse, I’ve actually succumbed to it many times myself. But, as I get older, I think that this line of thinking can only lead to bitterness, because no matter how hard we slam ourselves against the wall of beauty standards, the wall remains, and we walk away bruised and beaten.
You might as well be arguing against society’s need for oxygen.
There are two things that cannot be changed no matter what we do: human beings are sexual beings, and some things are aesthetically pleasing, while other things are less so.
Now, dangit, before y’all get your dander all up, let me repeat what I’ve always said: every female on earth has a beauty to me, simply from her “otherness”. I am mesmerized by each and every one of you. All of you are wonderfully made. Even Helen Thomas. 🙂 (That’s a FReeper joke, if you’re wondering why I brought her into this).
But the fact remains: a sunset at the beach is more pleasing to look at than a junkyard. It just is. It’s also more pleasing than a backyard, although a backyard is pleasing in its own way. I think most of us are backyards. Some are parks, some are lake-sides, some are woods, some are mountain vistas. I’ve known some junkies who were NYC housing projects. Nevertheless, we are all pleasing to look at in our way. But we are not all equally pleasing.
I don’t believe the standard itself is unnatural. I think we all carry our own with us, and, whether we want to admit it or not, we measure each other against it. Not for value as a person, unless we are no-good lowdown pigs. But we nevertheless place each other on an attractiveness scale. There’s no use denying it.
There is some argument whether our own personal definitions of beauty are unduly influenced by societal norms, or media, or the fashion industry. There is a valid argument that this is true inside a gender. I do not believe it is true between the genders. Case in point: fashion models. I know NO man who is attracted to the stick figures who make up the modeling world. None. As an aside, does it mean anything that there is a prevalence of gay men in the fashion industry, and the majority of female models have bodies like 14 year old boys? But, I digress.
I don’t know where the personal standard comes from; our own opposite-sex parent is part of it, I know. Some of it defies description: why do I find red hair more attractive than blond hair? Beats me. But I know this, even the people who rail against these standards have their own.
Then, something comes into the picture which is even more problematic. Young people, as a general rule, are more aesthetically pleasing than us older folks. There are exceptions, but this is a truism. I look forward every year to the arrival of the summer interns at SCC. Not because I’m keen on ogling the female interns (hips are important to me, and most early-twenty-something women lack them), but because there is a new beauty and energy infused into the workplace. Normally, my building is filled with staid, old-guard geeks. The introduction of youth to the building creates an electricity that isn’t there at any other time of the year. Even if the interns were all male (something that would no doubt please the redneck Canadian), this would be true.
When following NASCAR, I usually cheer for the old guys, because I can relate to them. But it’s always good when Casey Kahne gets interviewed, because that’s one pretty man. Even I like looking at him. He probably won’t be quite as pretty when he gets older. Jeff Gordon is no longer the young, hotshot, good-looking driver. He doesn’t have a commercial where women are dreaming about him, as Kahne does. BUT, beauty is not everything: he’s having one of the best years of his career.
I guess I’m thinking about all of this because it’s really starting to hit me personally. I’m coming up on 40 lbs lost this year. I’ve done quite a few other things to make myself more “aestetically pleasing”. Yet, not only is it harder to accomplish this at 42 than it was at 35, even the results aren’t as good. One of my main goals was to regain the chiseled lines on my face that I had in my heyday. But alas, although I’ve lost 90% of the fat from my belly, I still have “waddles” under my cheeks.
Damn. It’s finally caught up with me. Getting in shape is no longer the magic formula for achieving attractiveness anymore. The best I can do now, is “pretty good looking for an old guy”.
And, you know what? I’m OK with that. My wife loves me; as I get more in shape, she gives me “that look” more often. And in the end, she’s the woman I want to attract. I love the fact that I can still get that look from her at all. I will not rail against society’s obsession with youth and beauty. I’ll do the best I can, and accept my place. Like Gordon, I’m enjoying other successes in my life.
Anyway, there are other reasons to get in shape besides vanity (which, can you tell, I have oodles of?). As a man, it is good to take stock of your body and know you are strong. And I am getting stronger day by day.
And what’s wrong with being attractive “for an old guy”? I’m not there yet, but I’ll take it, if I can get it.