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February 11, 2007

First Things First

First of all, having but lately returned from an extremely sensitive boondoggle fact-finding mission to an undisclosed location underwritten by the prestigious Ebb & Flow Institute, the Editorial Staff are still having trouble getting our liver cells little grey cells back on the job.

This will have to be quick because we have to go to dinner. However, we would like to extend our deepest thanks to Grim for covering for us during this extremely important research trip. We didn't give him a whole lot of advance notice, yet he bravely stepped up to the plate knowing that sacrifices must be made to bring about the kind of groundbreaking research the Institute has long been known for. Secondly, he didn't *really* think he was going to get away with this just because we were gone, did he?

...women do terrible things to themselves in pursuit of beauty. Are they doing it for men (the bastards), or for themselves and other women?

The answer: it's not for men.

In a word: horse hockey.

OK, that's two words, but who's counting? The only thing this settles is that men will do anything to try and win an argument.

Women want to be beautiful for one reason and one reason only: because for women (unlike men) simply being beautiful is the easiest and surest avenue to everything we want in life.

If a woman is at all intelligent, that is perhaps the most profoundly depressing realization possible. There are no words for how unbelievably angry that undeniable truth makes some of us, or how hard we struggle to live with that knowledge every day. For how depressing it is to women as human beings; to know that of all our qualities, that should (after all these centuries) still be the single thing about us that is prized more highly than our learning, our wit, our character.

That knowledge, especially in the modern era, presents women with a terrible decision: take the quick and easy path, or stick to your principles and pay the price? A recent article - enticingly entitled "The Democriticization of Beauty" outlined the sometimes heartbreaking choices involved:

In a free society, why should anyone stand in the way of another person’s transformation from tatterdemalion to goddess? Isn’t this simply the laudable and democratic pursuit of happiness? If opponents of cosmetic surgery are too quick to dismiss those who claim great psychological benefits, boosters are far too willing to dismiss those who raise concerns.

Cosmetic surgery might make individual people happier, but in the aggregate it makes life worse for everyone. By defining beauty up—fifty is literally the new forty if a critical mass of people are getting face-lifted and Botoxed—the pressure to conform to these elevated standards increases. So, too, does the amount of time and money we spend on what is ultimately a futile goal: cheating time. Even for men and women who have objectively achieved success— the award-winning novelist, the highflying CEO—the refusal to meet these beauty standards will brand you as uncompetitive, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

The risk is not a society of beautiful but homogeneous mannequins. “Most of my patients want to look more like themselves than they’ve looked in a long time,” Dr. Weston told me. “They don’t want to look like someone else.” The danger is a growing intolerance for what we would naturally look like without constant nipping, tucking, peeling, and liposuctioning.

Now *that* is a depressing subject, and one the editorial staff just spent several days contemplating in our rare sober moments. We don't want to go into another of our post-feminist rants, but a few weeks ago we read something that really made us think:

I was reading a post over at WebMD on why men don't want sex. The expert gave a number of reasons for the lack of interest--medications, turn-off to aspects of the sex, hormones etc. that all sounded reasonable but I was struck by some of the anger, frustration and downright despair of the male commenters writing in about their lack of desire.

So it's not just women who don't want sex a lot of the time.

And trust us on this one - after spending 25+ years talking (but mostly listening) to other women and talking to our own lawfully wedded spouse, his first comment was, "Wow. Men don't talk about sex half as much - or half as frankly - as you women do to each other. We just don't." For a group of people who - supposedly - are "uninterested" in sex, we sure spend a lot of time talking about it.

All women. Everywhere we've been, in every state we've lived in, in every community. And if you look at the comments on both linked articles from Dr. Helen's post, there are 100+ comments on the "Why Men Don't Want Sex" post - many of them from women.

There are 400+ comments on the "Why Women Don't Want Sex" article. Again, if women aren't interested in sex, why bother to comment? And when one reads the comments (which we did, a few weeks ago) what came through loud and clear was that even in fairly good relationship, if there was no sex, there was a deep sense of hurt.

In other words, something was missing: she didn't really feel loved.

We will never believe that men and women are the same. We are wired differently; we do things for different reasons and respond to different stimuli in ways that often confuse our partners if we expect them to react the same way we do. But another thing that kept coming through in the comments of both linked articles was what seemed to us a mistaken focus on just one side of the marital equation.

Marriage is, always and forever, a partnership; almost a delicate dance in which many things are exchanged, not always of equal value. And we risk exposing ourselves to a great deal of hurt during that exchange. Kim Du Toit puts it well, oddly enough, for what women want from this dance:

I think it’s probably true that a lot of men don’t know what women want, or need, to make them sexually responsive. It’s a problem that’s not going to go away until—[gasp!]—boys are taught by their fathers to respect and cherish women. I learned this from my father, and I know the answer to making a woman satisfied: it’s called intimacy. If a man is always intimate with his wife: touching, kissing, stroking, talking, she will respond in kind and, surprise surprise, she’ll be available for sex.

How hard is it for men to understand that during sex a man (or at least the kind of man worth having) demands of a woman that she yield herself completely to him?

And how hard is it for him to understand that because he is larger, stronger, and physically more intimidating than she, that this type of surrender is difficult (if not impossible) for any intelligent woman absent an enormous degree of trust? What kind of woman would give anything of value to a man who doesn't value her in return?

But in return, women ought to spend some time learning what it is that pleases the men in their lives, and (big secret here ladies) it isn't spending two hours talking about their feelings. Men tend to be visual and physical beings and if you want to please them, (though they do enjoy a bit of romance) you may need to first address their needs. This is only fair. The best thing about marriage is that the partnership it creates affords both men and women the opportunity to develop another side of their nature a bit. Through loving each other, we grow as people.

This is not to say that men should become more like women or women like men.

But in a good marriage, both partners learn and take strength from each other. Though we never fully give up our independence, there is a third entity, the marriage and the family, that in many ways becomes more important and far stronger than either person was alone.

Reading the comments at WebMD and on Dr. Helen's post, one thing struck us over and over again: marriage is work. It all comes back to our "Idiot" post - we make promises, not to "feel" love for each other 'til death do us part, but to practice love.

And it does, sometimes take an awful lot of practice to get love right. Sometimes we have to go through the motions when the feelings aren't there at that moment in time, trusting that if we 'show up' dressed to play, the rest will work itself out in time.

Guess what? It generally works out that way. Funny, that. Maybe 99% of life really is just showing up.

Posted by Cassandra at February 11, 2007 11:47 AM

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I stood up for the first time
When I was just eleven months old
And ever since that day, my mama said
I never done what I was told
I never stood for nothing too much
All through my schooling years
But I stood as much as I could stand
I guess that's why I'm still standing here
Yes, and
I stood up
When love called my name, baby
I stood up
Even when that love was all in vain, baby
I got stood up once
And left out in the pouring rain, baby
But I stood up
And I'd do it again
I guess she never understood what she could do
With all her flaming red hair
But I could not stand the heat in her kitchen
So, Jack, I got out of there
I stood up to get a pack of cigarettes
Down at the corner store
New she's standing in some corner of my heart
Behind the kitchen screen door
I don't know about you
But there's a lot of things I never stood up to
Even as I turned and walked away
I guess that's why I'm standing on my own
two feet today
Now they gave last call for alcohol
And no one has to carry me home
You see I only work here now man
My drinking days are long gone
I couldn't stand up after one, no
'Til twenty had me down on the floor
Now the first one doesn't get me
Even though I'm still the last one out the door

John Hiatt

Posted by: The Johnsons at February 11, 2007 01:34 PM

You're welcome.

'The only thing this settles is that men will do anything to try and win an argument.'

It was merely an unfortunate coincidence that you were away when FbL sent the email, not a ploy on my part. I figured we could fight about it when you got back. :)

'Women want to be beautiful for one reason and one reason only: because for women (unlike men) simply being beautiful is the easiest and surest avenue to everything we want in life.'

It would be interesting to see a study done comparing beautiful women with intelligent women. You could use the Postrel standard for beauty, so that you could have some quantifiable measure of it; and IQ tests for intelligence.

I strongly suspect you would find that intelligence mattered more over the term. Beauty will get you an interview; it might even get you a job. But if you can't perform, it won't keep your job for you.

Women who are lucky enough to be both beautiful and intelligent probably do better than those who are intelligent but not beautiful. But that's like saying "someone with two advantages will probably go further than someone with one."

Well, right. Substitute "naturally beautiful" with "born rich," and you see another natural advantage that's more or less comparable. Someone who is intelligent and also rich will probably do very well, even if she's not beautiful; someone who is rich and beautiful, even if she's not intelligent.

'...for one reason and one reason only...'


People regularly make the mistake of assuming that wants are rational. Nobody thought to themselves as a child, "Look how well all the beautiful people do!" and suddenly became interested in beauty. As Postrel notes, the interest in beauty is born into everyone.

The reason women want to be beautiful is that women want to be beautiful. It's a natural longing, genetic in basis.

The rest of the argument is a rationalization. "See all these advantages? That's why we want it." No, you wanted it to start with. We all did. It was born in. Rationality has nothing to do with the question. It's a deeply felt, natural impulse.

Which is to say that, if you managed to strip out all the advantages, women would still have this deep, terrible longing. Look at the woman in the "refund" ad. She's not poor. She's not ugly. She's already got enough beauty to claim all the advantages beauty can claim. There's no rational reason for her to want more beauty, let alone any rational reason to want to doctor herself so 'people can finally see the real me.'

Now, that ad is comedy, but it's true comedy. We've all known people exactly like her. Lots of them, probably.

Anything that is born into women that deeply engraved can't be my fault. I didn't put it there; I can't take it out; and my experience is that no amount of telling a woman that she's beautiful, or even really feeling that she is, can fix that longing in her. Dampen it at times, yes; but she still stands in front of the mirror staring at herself with hate.

Posted by: Grim at February 11, 2007 02:32 PM

Beauty will help you get ahead, plain and simple. Beautiful people are much less likely to be the butt of cruel jokes. Beauty gets you in the door. Some people are shallow enough to only care about the looks - those people who keep going back to the beautiful but not nice people in relationships and complain about the way their significant other treats them - just because the beauty takes priority. People treat you differently is you are one of the beautiful people. If you aren't one of the beautiful people, you'll have to find some other way to get noticed, to distinguish yourself.

I rate higher on the intelligence scale than the beauty scale. Are there things I could do to change my beauty rating? Definitely. Are all those things somethings I am willing to do to achieve society's current ideal of beauty? Absolutely not. There are things I want to change about myself, but I know that in order to do it right, I need to "do it the hard way". I need to eat right and exercise more, but that can be hard to do when you have gotten out of the habit. Like most people (I think), I do those things is cycles. I get myself doing them, then something interrupts (work, money, whatever), and I find it hard to start up again. I'm currently in that "hard to start up again" cycle. But, I won't do the route of cosmetic surgery - no diet pills, liposuction, facelift, nose job, eyelift, you name it, for me. But, I also know that because I look the way I look, I'll have a hard time getting my heart's desire. People (I should say men) seem to have a hard time finding out what is inside the outer package...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 11, 2007 03:08 PM

Wealth will help you get ahead too, plain and simple. Political connections likewise -- look at Chelsea Clinton, who is not famously beautiful nor really super-wealthy, nor to any evidence is she a genius; but who got into the best schools, and got a six-figure job with a hedge fund at once on graduation. I would say knowing the right people is an advantage that outstrips all the others.

Advantages are just that. But people (I should say women) go nuts over beauty. Everybody would also like to be richer than they are, but they don't usually get so personally angry that they're not richer.

If you were the child of a President, you could largely cut your own ticket. But you're not mad about that -- and you're not trying to blame it on men, who had no more to do with that fact than with the fact that you are not more beautiful (an interpretation about which I shall take your word; I had imagined otherwise, given your charming screen name).

You'd be just as right to shake your fist and say, "People should be able to see my worth, even though I don't know Ted Kennedy well enough to have him schmooze on my behalf!" Indeed, they should -- and can't -- but that's not my fault either. Yet nobody really gets upset about that. We hear the odd complaint now and then, but they aren't so heartfelt that we don't vote for these scions of power when they run in elections.

Yet people take beauty very personally. Again, I say, it's not for rational reasons -- it doesn't have to do with your experiences. It's born in you. This deep devotion to beauty, and these feelings of inadequacy for not having perfect beauty, are not arising from experience. They are arising from hardwire in your brain.

If rationality were the driving force, we'd see just as much anger directed at every advantage that people enjoy from birth (including, indeed, intelligence!). The fact that we don't is telling. People get very deeply upset about beauty, in a way they just don't about wealth or power or connections -- or the fact they they weren't born any smarter. As far as I can see, all of those factors are at least as important as beauty in determining success, and probably moreso (especially the last two). But it's beauty that everybody gets mad about.

Posted by: Grim at February 11, 2007 03:42 PM

"But, I also know that because I look the way I look, I'll have a hard time getting my heart's desire. People (I should say men) seem to have a hard time finding out what is inside the outer package..."

Depending on what your 'heart's desire' is, beauty may be a terrible route for getting there. For example, if you desire a particular dream house or lifestyle, wealth is probably what you should be wanting -- then you can buy it for yourself.

If what you want is love, beauty can't hurt, but again -- a man who loves you will think you are beautiful. You really will be beautiful to him, whatever you look like. Beauty matters only insofar as it may help in initially getting attention; although, as I said elsewhere, what has drawn me to women hasn't been their looks, but a sense I had about them. The ones I've loved, I have loved because of how they made me feel, not because of how they look.

I think the sense that beauty is working against you in love, though deeply felt, is irrational and not backed up by empircal data. Stable, successful marriages (for example) rarely belong to the most beautiful people. This is the one point of agreement between myself and Cassandra -- it's the union and love that are important. She has done well in that regard, I gather; I have also. I don't know how pretty Cassandra was as a girl, but you can see from my pictures with the horses that I'm neither tall nor handsome. It can happen for anyone, and indeed, too much beauty may very well work against real success in love.

That is to say: the kind of man you want will think you're beautiful. Even without the surgery. I can say that with confidence.

As for all the other 'hearts desires' beyond love, money is a better way to get them. Instead of surgery, or buying memberships to gyms, invest. :)

Posted by: Grim at February 11, 2007 04:23 PM

Thanks for thinking my screen name is charming. When I decided to go ahead and create a blog, coming up with a pseudonym was hard. I've never really ever been one to pick up nicknames. I wanted something unique to the blog circles I travel. My fellow blogger, Lyric Mezzo, made some suggestions, but I didn't like them. I came up with Miss Ladybug because when I was very little, my dad used to call me "ladybug". The "Miss" I think is self-explanatory - me making no secret of the fact I have never been married.

Although I haven't ever considered myself one of "the beautiful people", I also don't think I every really fell into the "ugly" category, either. When I was in high school, I guess you could say I had a few suitors, but I wasn't really emotionally ready for the whole dating thing. I've always been shy (especially in person), but I'm not as shy as I was back then. But still, I am much more likely to say things in writing than to say those same things in person. Once in college, I did date a few guys (during school and while on summer break), but nothing for me that ever got serious, for whatever reason. Since college, however, it's been a very different story. I've put myself out there, without success: even actually asking guys out, either to be turned down or stood up. During the summer of 2005, I had a pen pal that got my hopes up, telling me he thought I was sexy (don't recall anyone telling me that before), and asking if I'd be interested in meeting after he returned. Then, I stopped getting emails from him. Eventually, his unit returned and still I heard nothing. That was just about a year ago. Why did he decide to stop all contact? I don't know, but I do know that it's not because he didn't come home - it was just first apologies for being too busy to respond, and then nothing, not even a "sorry, I'm involved with someone else" or an "I changed my mind". Coward...

I thought when I went back to school a year and a half ago, but to my disappointment (but no real surprise), there were hardly any men in any of my classes. I'm done with school now, so it's the search for a teaching job to put my Masters degree to use. Right now, I don't really have any outlets for trying to meet new people. My family is big into baseball in the summer, and we go to LOTS of minor league games, but no one has ever hit on me or flirted with me out there, either. I don't think I'm unapproachable out at the ballpark - it's not like I am glued to my seat the entire time.

I guess I don't get upset about people who have connections to get ahead because I don't want to be part of that world - full of people more concerned with "who you are" and what they can get from you. I'd rather be part of a world where people are more concerned with what you are - what you have accomplished. I'm not out to be a millionaire, either. Some things are more important that having lots of money. Yes, I want to have enough to pay my bills, live in a safe and comfortable home, and be able to do some of the things I'd like to do (like take up horseback riding again, for one thing). But who wouldn't want to be called beautiful?

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 11, 2007 07:35 PM

That's more or less my point, ma'am. :) It's in the genes. As you say -- everyone wants to be called beautiful.

Posted by: Grim at February 11, 2007 07:43 PM

PRINCESS!!!!! Boy, am I glad you are back!!! Mean ol' Grim locked us out of the house, ate all the cookies, drank all the chocolate milk, and played with all the good toys by himself.

Posted by: RWB at February 11, 2007 07:50 PM

Yes, we all want to be called beautiful. But first, we need to find someone to tell us that. If my mother tells me I'm beautiful, it's not going to have the same impact as it would coming from a man who is looking at me as a woman, and not as a family member. I'm not going to be told that from some random guy on the street. That random guy on the street would have to get to know me, and I would become beautiful in his eyes. There are plenty of women who men look at and automatically say "she's beautiful". I'm not one of them, and I don't think I ever have been.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 11, 2007 08:35 PM

Grim, in many ways you make a convincing case. But not quite...

I have written and rewritten comments on this post probably half a dozen times today.

It's so hard for me to articulate. I just know that my own experience has told me other than what you say. You can't convince me that looks don't get a lady's foot in the door when it comes to men, that men don't look at a random stranger and make (un)conscious decisions. That may change a bit for many men as they age, but I see it over and over again in my life and the lives of others.

I can't tell you how much it still amazes me that my current BF puts his arms around me and doesn't then run screaming away... because his behavior runs counter to 90% of my life experience. I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that at his (relatively older) age, he's not as fixated on the packaging as someone my own age. But I must admit, I find his desire for me puzzling. Again, it runs counter to my experience, counter to what I see around me, and counter to what the sales/viewership numbers of media says.

Grim, I would hold yourself up as the rule; rather, the exception that proves it.

Posted by: FbL at February 11, 2007 09:49 PM

Grrrr. Last line above should say WOULDN'T, not WOULD.

Posted by: FbL at February 11, 2007 09:50 PM

"If my mother tells me I'm beautiful, it's not going to have the same impact as it would coming from a man who is looking at me as a woman, and not as a family member."

Let me tell you that, even if a man who was looking at you that way said it -- and meant it -- it would not convince you. My wife knows I mean it; she can feel that I do, and how much I do. Yet she still stands in front of the mirror and mutters; she still looks sad when she handles old clothes.

These women who are beautiful -- who know they are, because they do make their living on it, these models and actresses -- are never satisfied either. The whole world says they are beautiful, but they go on crash diets; take cocaine; drink nothing but prune juice; go mad.

What I am trying to tell you is that it isn't men making you feel bad. It is something inside you. No one else can make that something go away. A man, even a man who loves you, can't make it go away. Actually being beautiful can't make it go away.

If you want to stop hurting because of it, you will have to make that happen yourself.


"I just know that my own experience has told me other than what you say. You can't convince me that looks don't get a lady's foot in the door when it comes to men, that men don't look at a random stranger and make (un)conscious decisions."

I don't think I've tried to tell you either thing. What I have said is that beauty will do for no more than an introduction; it is a natural advantage, but not so powerful a one as wit or intelligence or wealth or connection.

How many beautiful women do you know who have been promoted past their mental capacity? I can think of only one, myself, but perhaps you've known others. What was the reaction to them?

If my experience here is a guide, it was: distrust; dislike; sniping behind her back. Among women, yes. But among men, too. She is recognized for what she is: someone who is not good enough for the position she occupies, someone upon whom no trust can be placed, someone who has had to turn to manipulation because she has no talent.

That is not a route that leads far. You might get that one promotion, but no more.

You, feeling not beautiful though you do, will eventually go far. You may have a harder time at first, but I am sure of you. I have told you so before, and it is true. You will see in time that we -- all of us who have seen what you have accomplished, and told you you would do well -- were right about you.

Had you been more beautiful and less kind and hard-working, I would not think so. Had you been less kind and hard working, but born into a politically well-connected family, I'd expect you to go farther still. To return to the example, if you were Chelsea Clinton, you'd already be rich, and could name your post.

If you want to be angry about injustice, there is an injustice! It isn't one I know how to fix, though.

But we are who we are, and perhaps it is who we were meant to be. You have some advantages too. I think they will carry you farther than you imagine.

Posted by: Grim at February 11, 2007 10:04 PM

1. Pile, start running :)

2. Well, I am happy to be back too, though I think I'm still sort of in shock :p

What is up with this weather?

3. Grim, I have to take up a bit for Miss Ladybug, though I do see your point too. No, it's not all looks, but I really don't think men appreciate what it is like to be female either. Miss Ladybug nailed it:

If my mother tells me I'm beautiful, it's not going to have the same impact as it would coming from a man who is looking at me as a woman, and not as a family member.

I thought about this a bit earlier while I was driving. I think I'm going to throw the question out there to the women: when you go out, do you really care what other *women* think? Do you dress up for yourself, for other women, for men, or is it some combination?

4. Fbl: thank you. You're not the only one.

Believe it or not, though my experiences in life have been very different from yours, I've erased several comments today too.

Grim, I wouldn't hold yourself up as the rule; rather, the exception that proves it.

Maybe just a tad strong, but not off base. I have been friends with guys all my life Grim, and I've seen the same thing. It takes many men a lot of living to get past (or maybe outgrow is a better word) the tendency to stop at what Fbl called the outer packaging.

I've known several guys who passed up ladies they had very strong feelings for because they needed to lose a few pounds, or even (this blows me away) because they were afraid their friends wouldn't think she was 'pretty enough' (this from a guy who DID think she was pretty enough). Guys are also competitive, and sometimes that plays into it if they aren't secure in who they are.

However, I would argue (as Grim did) that a woman doesn't need a guy like that. I might also argue however that the love of a good woman might help him see that he doesn't need the approval of his 'friends' for silly things like that -- that he only needs to do right in his own eyes.

As far as believing you when you tell us we're beautiful, Grim, I think perhaps we are talking about two different things there.

Your wife believes you when you say you think she is beautiful, but it is natural for her to grieve a bit for her lost youth, and she would be unrealistic if she didn't realize that to men this is important. Anyway, that is all I'm going to say about that tonite.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 11, 2007 10:19 PM

Grim, those were amazingly eloquent and kind things to say. You are someone whose esteem I value.

I'm a little confused though. Are you speaking in terms of career? I was speaking in terms of a romantic life, which has been exponentially more desert than garden-like. Even my current relationship is more a "port in the storm" than a love match (and we both have said that openly), though there is certainly affection and attraction. I have never "lit up" a man's life, and I suspect I never will.

You said beauty "gets you in the door," as if it just means you have to work harder and it will balance in the end. But not being beautiful is more than just an inconvenience. When lack of beauty means no second look, there is no chance for the "real person" to be seen because there is no second look.

It's like one of those flow charts: "IF _______, THEN ______." The first split is "Pretty OR Ugly?" "IF ugly, THEN exit." That's how the world works.

Posted by: FbL at February 11, 2007 10:31 PM

And Cassandra nailed it: "...because they were afraid their friends wouldn't think she was 'pretty enough."

It's the same reason that my BF hasn't introduced me to friends/coworkers. There is the age factor, but it's not a scandalous spread. Really, it's the appearance. His 20-something co-workers wouldn't hesitate to dog on him for my appearance--"If you're gonna rob the cradle, couldn't you at least get a pretty/thin one? I mean, you might as well get yourself someone your own age!"

I have asked many men about this (including dear friends that I respect). Their verdict is invariably "A young man will f*** just about any woman of any shape/size/features, but he'll keep the ugly ones a secret." I see this start to change at about age 40. Which, I suppose should give me hope, as I am nearing my mid-thirties. But I'll tell you, it's been hell getting that far.

Posted by: FbL at February 11, 2007 10:42 PM

But remember, this whole discussion began after looking at an unscientific poll that said women would give up sex for a new wardrobe, and a look at some of the things women do for beauty. In that context, we weren't talking about what being connected or intelligent will get you.

When I think of what being beautiful would get me, the first thing that comes to mind is getting noticed by men - not getting a job or a promotion. My best friend told me a long time ago that she worries that I will "settle" for the first man that comes along and proposes. I sometimes wonder if I haven't missed my chance already for the only thing that is not within my power to get: a good man who loves me, to have a family with, and to grow old with. I did well in my previous jobs, and I just finished school, got good grades, and I'm sure I'll find a good teaching position, but I can't make anyone love me.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 11, 2007 10:44 PM


I was mostly speaking of career; love is another matter, but it isn't nearly as stark as you have come to believe.

The flow chart approach you suggest, FbL is needlessly depressing. One thing we do know is that people tend to be attracted to others of roughly the same 'level' of attractiveness. As an aside, this reinforces the hypothesis that there is a genetic standard at work, because people are able to look at each other and recognize that they're at about the same level.

I've known some incredibly ugly people who fell deeply and happily in love. And stayed there.

One thing that can be hard for a man to get past, though, is the idea that you don't think you're good enough for him. He will pick up on that, and figure you know yourself well enough to be a good judge.

Have confidence, girl! I've met you, and I can readily think of several women I know less attractive than yourself who married last year. It's hard to believe in yourself when you've failed several times running -- I know very well, sad to say -- but you ought to do so.


"It takes many men a lot of living to get past (or maybe outgrow is a better word) the tendency to stop at what Fbl called the outer packaging."

I don't argue that there aren't some bad men out there. There are far worse men out there than men who won't give you a romantic chance because you're not as pretty as they'd like.

What I do argue is that adhering to this genetic beauty standard is neither necessary for real love, nor likely to produce it. The really beautiful don't seem to do well for long-term relationships. Even the modestly beautiful often divorce, having hooked up with another modestly beautiful person who decides that he or she can do better -- and leaves.

I also argue that the idea that beauty is the best/surest way to everything you want in life is a flatly false idea. Beauty is one advantage that some people have; but it is only one among many, and not a very powerful one.

I don't know how much can be done with a genetic predisposition to feel bad about how you look. I do believe it is possible to train even unconscious things through meditation and exercise.

I think, though, that this is the real truth of putting an end to women not feeling beautiful, and wishing to. Becoming more beautiful isn't going to do it, except for a brief high -- we can see that even the very most beautiful cannot feel satisfied.

As for my wife, I know she knows that I believe she's beautiful. I just don't think she believes that she is, in spite of the fact that she knows I do.

You've spoken (well, ranted) with some eloquence about how men can sometimes make you feel. Well, let me tell you that this insistent sorrow makes me feel bad, too. I have learned there is nothing I can do to fix it; I cannot heal this wound. My love cannot. I honestly believe that, if my love cannot, no man's can.

If it is to be healed, then, you must learn to do it yourselves. I hope that you will try. It is something that a man cannot help but be saddened to see, and you know how much we hate it when we cannot fix the things that hurt you.

Posted by: Grim at February 11, 2007 10:56 PM

when you go out, do you really care what other *women* think? Do you dress up for yourself, for other women, for men, or is it some combination?

It depends on the situation.

If I'm going out on a two-person date to dinner or some such thing, I'm dressing to be appropriate to the setting and I don't care what any woman there thinks. I care very much what my date thinks, of course. If I'm going to a formal event, what other women think is a huge component, without a doubt. I know they will scrutinize and judge both me and my date. If I'm going out with a female friend or a group of friends, it's similar but probably at a lower intensity-level than the formal setting.

For me it's more about "Am I dressed appropriately?" than "Do I look pretty?" In general, my guidelines are that I want more than anything to be appropriate to the setting. Doing otherwise draws attention that I don't want. So, I'm not trying to out-do anybody or make some kind of "statement" by my dress. More than anything I'd rather NOT be noticed, but if I expect to be noticed, I tend to over-dress a touch in the philosophy that slightly over is better than under.

I used to say "who cares how I look?" and I probably looked like it, haha. Throughout college (10 years of it, essentially), I wore whatever was comfortable--only "dressed up" and wore makeup once a week (church), if that. Same thing when I started teaching, but I made concessions for the sake of "appearing professional" by dressing in a style that was halfway between "casual friday" and executive style (during my training I had "appearing professional" drilled into me as being part of developing professional credibility for a new teacher).

I learned something about myself when I started volunteering at the airport USO. I learned that if I didn't feel "good" about what I was wearing and how I looked, I couldn't do the work. I had to be welcoming, confident, and believe that my presence was appreciated.

I never felt "pretty," but by dressing carefully and expertly applying my makeup, and then adding a warm & friendly spirit, I could be a welcome sight to those who walked through the door. And I quickly learned that if I didn't do those those things I lost any chance of appearing confident (and thus friendly and welcoming, too). Frankly, I spent a lot of time pretending to have personal confidence that didn't exist, and the clothes helped.

But I don't think it's a coincidence that I met my BF at the USO...

And now at my current job I wear makeup everyday because, frankly, I think I look scary without it.

Posted by: FbL at February 11, 2007 11:07 PM

Reading all these comments, I have to say that honestly, I don't think that men and women are that far apart when it comes to the secret (or often not so secret) desire to be attractive to the opposite sex. Perhaps men worry less about what their peers think about their personal looks, but many guys find a personal satisfaction in getting that 'cut' or 'ripped' look.

And there's always that inward wince one has when you're sitting and having a coffee and a bunch of girls at the table behind you gush about how 'Hot' so-and-so is in that magazine.

And damn you Brad Pitt! Damn you!

Having said all that, though, I think that the effect of beauty is far more beneficial to a woman as an advantage. Sort of like having loads of money is probably far more beneficial to a man when hunting for the opposite sex.

Posted by: Kevin L at February 11, 2007 11:15 PM

I have to agree with FbL. I'm just about past my mid-30s - I'm closer to my 37th birthday than my 36th. Last time I went on an actual romantic date, I was still in college. I've attempted a long distance relationship that I probably let string out a lot longer than I should have - I'd had one too many "I'm coming for a visit" that didn't actually happen, but again, that was still close to 13 years ago. He "found" me in August 2001, calling me up after something like 7 years, telling my how I was hard to find, that he was married, but wouldn't still be except for they had a kid, trying to pick things up and apologizing for how he'd behaved. When I made it clear that there could be nothing but friendship, he got the message and I haven't heard from him since. But since I sent him that letter 13 years ago telling him to have a nice life, that's been about it. There have been plenty of guys I've been interested in, only they haven't been interested in me. I try not to let that make be bitter, but it is really hard sometimes. Especially at this time of year. This is hard to admit in a public forum, but in all my life, I have never, not once, been someone's Valentine. That, and the meanest thing anyone has ever done to me was done on February 14, 1996. So don't tell me beauty isn't important, because I, like FbL, have life experiences that tell me otherwise.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 11, 2007 11:18 PM

Well, let me tell you that this insistent sorrow makes me feel bad, too. I have learned there is nothing I can do to fix it; I cannot heal this wound. My love cannot. I honestly believe that, if my love cannot, no man's can.

If it is to be healed, then, you must learn to do it yourselves. I hope that you will try. It is something that a man cannot help but be saddened to see, and you know how much we hate it when we cannot fix the things that hurt you.

Grim, a man like you cannot "heal this wound," but the woman lucky enough to have a man like you in her life would probably find it doesn't matter quite as much to her as it does to other, less blessed women.

Posted by: FbL at February 11, 2007 11:19 PM

This is hard to admit in a public forum, but in all my life, I have never, not once, been someone's Valentine. That, and the meanest thing anyone has ever done to me was done on February 14, 1996.

LOL in sympathy! Join the club! The date just never lined up right for me (until this year). And like you, February 14 has some nasty connotations, though for me it dates back to my junior year in high school.

[I hope that doesn't sound flippant. Trust me, I have so "been there, done that" and I feel for you. It's all a mystery to me, frankly. I just seem to be out of step with the rest of the world...]

Posted by: FbL at February 11, 2007 11:24 PM

"This is hard to admit in a public forum, but in all my life, I have never, not once, been someone's Valentine."

For what it's worth, neither was I, until I met my wife. On the other hand, it's normally a man who would ask someone to be his Valentine, so I suppose it's my own fault.

Still, this is a new era, and the old rules don't always apply. Have you considered asking someone to be yours?

Posted by: Grim at February 11, 2007 11:49 PM

I didn't think it was funny at the time, and I still don't. Some of my co-workers thought it might be funny for me to receive a Valentine's Day box of chocolates from someone I had met once when we'd all gone out for Happy Hour - the cousin of one of my co-workers. That guy didn't send it - it was all a big joke. No one, before or since, has done anything so cruel to me.

Your "desert vs. garden" analogy? I'm stuck in the middle of the Sahara with no apparent way out, and I have been for well over a decade, so it's not just "timing" that has made me miss being someone's Valentine. I hate any "couple holiday", or getting invitations for me and "guest". Never had a Valentine, never had someone to kiss on New Year's Eve, I always have to go to things like weddings alone. I have even been asked if I was a lesbian. How's that for hoping to get a date? Someone actually thought I was gay... One of my sisters - the one soon to be 26 - has a boyfriend (6 months younger than me) that she's been dating for coming up on 3 years. For all practical purposes, he's going to be my brother-in-law, even though there is no official engagement. There's something wrong with this picture, though. She shouldn't be the one to get married first. Even my 22 year old sister has someone, although he moved to New Orleans at the end of the baseball for a job. He calls all the time to tell her how much he hates it there. Me, I've got no one. At least my mother doesn't pester me about when am I going to get married...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 11, 2007 11:50 PM

I think said before that I have asked guys out before, and more than once. Most just politely decline, and one said yes, only to stand me up on the night of "the date". Since I've been back in Texas (just over two years), I've not met anyone. I can't really count that pen pal I mentioned, since he and I never met, only exchanged emails and photos. Right now, there isn't even someone I think about because I haven't been anywhere that I might meet anyone. I don't know where to go - I'm not a regular church-goer at the moment (don't tell my mother...) and they don't so much have a "singles group" as a "young adults" group anyhow, and although I'm a Soldier's Angel, there aren't any activities to attend in my neck of the woods. And I think we're mostly women in my area, anyway. I do go out to bars. I can't afford to take any classes for fun, or join a gym right now.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 12, 2007 12:01 AM

Miss Ladybug, email headed your direction.

Posted by: FbL at February 12, 2007 12:10 AM

I didn't realize there were border regions with mostly women. You're in southern Texas, aren't you? I posted a link to your "open letter" on the border situation at Grim's Hall yesterday, which is why I'm thinking of it.

Posted by: Grim at February 12, 2007 08:27 AM

As I think about it, though, it may be that FbL and Cass are right. I've cited a lot of evidence -- not just the unscientific survey, but also the scientific studies by Postrel, Dove's and the other ad campaigns (which are unscientific evidence, but empirically successful), etc.

A lot of how I feel about this issue, though, does come from personal experience. I gather this is true for you two as well.

Yet I feel a bit foolish this morning, because I realize I don't actually know anyone who's had any of this surgery. My wife hasn't, for example -- so it's odd for me to involve my feelings about her inability to see how beautiful she is in a discussion about surgery.

Maybe if she had the surgery, she'd finally wake up and feel as beautiful as she is. Maybe it could do what I can't -- take away that pain. I think the celebrities I have read about don't seem to have that experience, but I don't really know any of them, so I can't be sure. Surgical approaches are increasingly popular, so perhaps there's something to them.

I think Postrel is right to say that this is a drive for a genetic image of perfection, and that -- as perfection is not achievable -- it's a drive that can never be satisfied. But if it can be satisfied, perhaps these "terrible things" aren't really terrible at all. Do you know anyone who has had these surgeries? What was their experience with them? Did it improve their lives?

Posted by: Grim at February 12, 2007 09:03 AM

I'm actually in Central Texas. I did at one time live in El Paso when my father was stationed at Fort Bliss.

My cousin's wife has had that gastric bypass surgery. She was extremely heavy. I don't know if there was an underlying medical issue that made her so heavy. She can no longer eat like a normal person because she essentially no longer really has much of a stomach. Back when I was still in Arkansas, I had a membership at a women's gym (a place I felt a lot more comfortable than the time I had a membership at a co-ed gym). One woman who also had a membership had that surgery, as well. The way Curves does things is they want you to be weighed and measured once a month so you are able to measure you progress (or lack thereof). Occasionally, there would be incentive competitions for who could lose the most, both weight and measurements. This woman took first place, because of her very recent surgery. Otherwise, I would have lost the most that month. She was going to have a tummy tuck once she had plateaued with her weight loss - with as much weight as she was going to lose, she was going to have lots and lots of sagging skin.

Surgery of any kind is not something I think I want to do to achieve society's idea of beauty. I know I am not ugly, but I have never been the girl guys noticed first. I would modify FbL's little flowchart, though:

The first split is "Pretty OR Ugly/Fat?" "IF ugly or fat, THEN exit." That's how I see the world working.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 12, 2007 10:13 AM

Personally, I tend to think that if there is some actual defect in your appearance (as opposed to not being 'pretty enough'), surgery could really improve your self image. I think more importantly it might just allow you to let go of some hurtful things and enjoy life.

But I have never seriously considered surgery for the same reasons Grim cites: a gut feeling that once you let your personal appearance be that important to you, you would find new reasons to be unsatisfied and that perfection could never be attained (I've read articles about women who become addicted 'tinkerers' - why stop with lipo? Now you notice you have crow's feet or spider veins or some other dumb thing keeping you from being movie-star perfect).

Ironically, I just watched a DVD of myself yesterday (the first time I think I've ever seen myself on video!) climbing a waterfall in a bikini. ACK!!! it was an interesting experience at 47 :) Even worse because I didn't have time, this time, to work out or try and make sure I looked my best before I left. I was too busy working. So it was just me, as is.

Before we got off the boat I sort of deliberated: keep the shorts on, or take them off (I knew I'd get soaked). Practicality won out over vanity. But then I didn't realize we would be videotaped!

It was funny watching. I had dreaded coming home and seeing it in a way - this time really sort of brought home to me that I'm not a kid anymore, and I can be hypercritical of myself. But you know, it was OK. I was all right with it. I was happy and I had an absolute blast and that was what I saw when I watched the video - me having a lot of fun, which after all was why we were there.

It was actually better than still photos, I think, which I really hate because my spouse is always taking pictures of me. And that's why, I think, I wouldn't have surgery. It was an odd experience being on a big boat with a bunch of mostly younger folks. While I'm not overcompetitive I think I do still care how I look. I still want to be at least somewhat attractive. But I also realize that I am not getting any younger, and somehow you have to find a way to do that gracefully.

I hope I will be able to do that, and still be having fun when I'm 80, and above all not letting the way I look ruin my day. Yes, looks matter, but having a big smile on your face is often the best aphrodisiac of all. Joy is a huge turn-on, as is the ability to open yourself up to other people and not be afraid of getting hurt by them. If I lose that, I will indeed have lost something far more important than mere surface appearances.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 12, 2007 10:32 AM

Hey, look on the bright side. Still photo, bikini, 47 or 80, you'll never look as bad as you did here.


Posted by: Grim at February 12, 2007 12:58 PM

Look buster - we have it on Good Authority that that little work of Art "reflected an exuberance that is on the edge of being out of control yet in control. This was a fine line, as a visualist to walk, yet this tension seemed to be well within the artiste's grasp".

We hope that is clear.

Posted by: Pshaw at February 12, 2007 01:04 PM

"...yet this tension seemed to be well within the artiste's grasp."

If only she'd had as good a grasp on the pen. :)

Posted by: Grim at February 12, 2007 01:07 PM

Anything that is born into women that deeply engraved can't be my fault. I didn't put it there; I can't take it out; and my experience is that no amount of telling a woman that she's beautiful, or even really feeling that she is, can fix that longing in her. Dampen it at times, yes; but she still stands in front of the mirror staring at herself with hate.

That's why you, as her lover, become the mirror that reflects back the beauty you see in her. This also means that you need to be a mirror which will not show any of her perceived (or your perceived) blemishes back at her.

You always compliment her, especially when others are around, and even when she's not with you.

Another point, if a man is trying to figure out what to do to make his lover want sex, he's completely missed the point.

It's not about what you do, it's about what you are. Provider, protector, lover, "cherisher" and friend.

Posted by: Tony at February 12, 2007 02:30 PM

If only she'd had as good a grasp on the pen. :)

Oh, my bruised ego!

Yes, well Tony... although friend Grim is always the gentleman (and he truly is - I consider myself to have been lucky to get to know him this year) you can see by that last comment that he needs to work on his complimenting skills!

But no doubt he is far gentler with his lady wife :p

She probably doesn't pick on him either, though... heh.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 12, 2007 02:52 PM

It's true: I'm much gentler with her, as long as she remembers not to pick on me. :)

On the other hand, I always tell her about the meanness I bestow on you, to her great delight. :) You must remember that my son's first words were "Mean daddy!" :)

Posted by: Grim at February 12, 2007 03:54 PM

I think I would like your wife very much, Grim :)

Posted by: Cassandra at February 12, 2007 03:56 PM

Thank you all for a very enlightening discussion.

Posted by: unkawill at February 12, 2007 05:24 PM

Well, some parts of it at least were enlightening :)

Posted by: Pshaw at February 12, 2007 05:51 PM

From the Christian world view: we were created perfect (i.e. beautiful) and then when sin entered the world people started becoming deformed inside and out. So, in one way being beautiful represented "perfection". As such it doesn't matter if being beautiful gets you anything. People crave perfection for perfections sake. In this way being beautiful differs from being rich or powerful.

After the fall, outward beauty (of form) and inward beauty (of personality, behavior) didn't always coincide. Studies show there is a strong disposition to believe beauty and goodness go together. In Genesis, men stopped valuing women for their character and started focusing solely on outward appearance. I imagine being predisposed to seek after perfection that this valuation of appearance over character just cemented the downward spiral of women into objectification and valuing beauty for what it could get them.

The problem with beauty as opposed to rich or powerful parents is that is that ordinary people usually can do something about making themselves look more beautiful or presentable (short of plastic surgery) while there isn't much anyone can do about who their parents are. Not that there isn't a lot of envy going around associated with wealth and privilege.

However, there is also much we can do to make ourselves beautiful on the inside, although this is harder. Remember Melanie in Gone with the Wind. She had beauty of character while Scarlett for all her beauty looked quite unattractive with the grumpy, envious, hateful looks that tended to adorn her face at times.

My Mom used to say that I was more beautiful because of my open, happy, friendly character than because I was objectively beautiful. It goes back to studies that show we think people with smiles are more beautiful than frowns. I won't ever forget the young girl with the pock-marked acne face at a local DQ. Her smile and look of welcome was so beautiful in contrast to her face. That is when I really understood what my Mom said. That inward beauty can shine through outward beauty.

About getting past the automatic rejection based on looks it helps to have a reason to hang around people so one can get past the surface. Beauty is a quick way to sift through possible friends/partners which can be bad for less attractive people. On the other hand, you'd be surprised what friendships get formed when people are in a situations that require deeper interaction. Church groups are one way, but also book clubs increase interactions that allow your charming personality to shine through whatever drawbacks in your appearance you have.

My last thought on beauty. I do remember a study showing that medium-attractive people get the most dates. Or as my brother told me. "you aren't so beautiful that guys are afraid of you, but you aren't so ugly that they are afraid to be seen with you". Insightful compliment that I regret to say I didn't appreciate at the time.

Oh, I thought of one more. Best compliment from my husband. I think husband's compliments sometimes for me get classified with your mom's or family's. Anyway, I was walking across campus where he was working and he told me that from a distance he didn't recognize me at first. And he looked away at first because he didn't want to oogle the strange pretty woman, then he did a double take when he realized it was his wife. For the record, yes, he did care that I was pretty, but we were the member of the same group for six months before we started dating. We were both interested in the other's expertise (he in my psych and me in his history). So, yes, beauty helped, but I wouldn't have gotten promoted unless I was interesting for him to talk to.

Posted by: baberuth at February 13, 2007 05:30 PM

And trust us on this one - after spending 25+ years talking (but mostly listening) to other women and talking to our own lawfully wedded spouse, his first comment was, "Wow. Men don't talk about sex half as much - or half as frankly - as you women do to each other. We just don't." For a group of people who - supposedly - are "uninterested" in sex, we sure spend a lot of time talking about it.

It's not the lack of talking about it that's the problem.

*looking for a rock to hide under*

Posted by: Masked Menace© at February 14, 2007 06:00 PM

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