October 10, 2013

"Beauty is often treated as an essentially feminine subject, something trivial and frivolous that women are excessively concerned with."

"Men, meanwhile, are typically seen as having a straightforward and uncomplicated relationship with it: they are drawn to it."
The implication is that this may be unfortunate — not exactly ideal morally — but it can’t be helped, because it’s natural, biological. This seems more than a little ironic. Women are not only subject to a constant and exhausting and sometimes humiliating scrutiny — they are also belittled for caring about their beauty, mocked for seeking to enhance or to hold onto their good looks, while men are just, well, being men.
Women have the power to rebalance things, but they are too nice/decorous/deceitful to do it. We would need to become more expressive of our desire for beauty in our male partners. If it's really true that men subject us to a constant and exhausting and sometimes humiliating scrutiny, then we could do the same to them. I don't think it's really that bad — constant and exhausting and humiliating — but we could put the same amount of pressure on men.

Men who seek other men seem to be putting much more pressure on each other than women put on heterosexual men. You might say that's because men desire beauty more than women do, but I think it's more that women hold back from demanding what they want.

We are hoodwinked into trying to be nice (which produces results that aren't necessarily that nice). So here we are, working at both beauty and niceness in ourselves, instead of demanding — and perhaps getting — beauty from men.

How about more direct expression and honesty? Women, like men, love beauty. Stop denying that you want it, and stop complaining that you don't have enough of it for yourself. What's really "trivial and frivolous" is endlessly fantasizing that other people are making you fritter away hours looking at yourself in the mirror and fiddling. Own your vanity, revel in it, laugh at it, or reject it, but move on to other activities, like finding a man who's as beautiful as you are.

AND: By saying "as beautiful as you are," I am not bullshitting that all women are beautiful. If you insist on getting someone who is more beautiful than you are, how is that going to work? You may say that men are looking for women who are more beautiful than they are, but that's my point. Why should that work? If you think it works because men sweeten the deal with money, that's something you might use to deepen your contemplation during that otherwise possibly frivolous time you spend at the mirror.

39 comments:

mr said...

Women may not be putting the same pressures upon men to maintain their physical desirability, but many certainly exert "constant and exhausting and sometimes humiliating" scrutiny upon the qualities they *do* consider desirable: viz, economic and class standing.

If there is a difference, it devolves to what each sex (and individual) is more finely tuned to desire.

Ann Althouse said...

Vanity used to be considered shameful or even sinful.

When you've lost the awareness of vanity as something that is wrong, you're adrift. You've got to find some other way, some nontraditional approach to taking responsibility for what you are doing to yourself. Blaming others is also something that was traditionally considered shameful or sinful.

Matthew Sablan said...

Men used to be described as beautiful. There was a time where calling a woman handsome wasn't interpreted as an insult [that is, she looks like a man.]

I don't know if beauty is treated as trivial or frivolous. Most art is art because it is beautiful. But, I suppose, that is expanding the meaning beyond what we were talking about.


But, I think most women know that women love beauty. More than one woman has told me they wear what they wear not because men like it, but because other women like it. I was told I would like a woman just as much in a cream, peach, red, green or blue skirt and top. But, other women, they were much more serious in examining beauty.

So, I don't know. Also, there's currently a lot of talk in places about men with body image issues (especially among high school athletes.) Not as prevalent, I imagine, as among women, but it is a concern I've seen crop up in a few places [I think CNN did a story a few months ago.]

rhhardin said...

Is there a mirror for a sense of humor that women could use.

David said...

I've always been a beauty snob. It wasn't really a choice. It's how I was drawn. I like women generally but a beautiful woman is one of nature's gifts. Like a sunset? Or perhaps a lovely woman is more a work of art, like a painting or a symphony. The expectations and demands of beauty can mess a woman up, but it can also give a woman a quiet confidence that is a wonderful platform.

A really beautiful woman remains so with age, if she accepts the aging and cares for herself. My wife is 65, adverse to surgery, etc and still beautiful by any reasonable standard. It is hard to explain why that pleases me so, but it does.

Ann Althouse said...

If women love beauty so much, why don't they demand and get more of it?

It seems that these women who complain about the demands for beauty that are made of them don't have an intrinsic love for beauty but they are regarding it as currency and they work for it. It's like money, a means of exchange, good because of what you can get with it.

If you really work on your own appearance because you love seeing yourself being beautiful, then why are you not interested in the beauty of what is around you?

Ann Althouse said...

"I've always been a beauty snob. It wasn't really a choice. It's how I was drawn. I like women generally but a beautiful woman is one of nature's gifts. Like a sunset? Or perhaps a lovely woman is more a work of art, like a painting or a symphony."

You sound like the opposite of a beauty snob. Your tastes are quite plebeian. Sunsets and symphonies? Come on!

She said, snobbishly.

Ann Althouse said...

"Is there a mirror for a sense of humor that women could use."

Yeah: Twitter.

David said...

True, I am a plebe.

I did try to think of better examples than sunset and symphony, but I was too lazy to puzzle over it.

Alice Munro would have had a better simile without even trying.

EDH said...

I've always heard that many women are made insecure by the prospect of being with a man who is deemed more attractive.

Ann Althouse said...
Vanity used to be considered shameful or even sinful.


"Vanity, definitely my favorite sin."

Anthony said...

mr nails it - women's sexual preferences are more than just about looks - women look for self-confidence, economic status and potential, etc., at least as much as they value physical good looks.

Teenage girls, however, are more beauty-focused - look at teen heartthrobs throughout the years. They've all got a certain level of projected self-confidence (because they're celebrities), but they're also all very pretty.

Biff said...

Strange how the author makes no mention of how women engage with the beauty of other women, aside from a parenthetical, "Women level this gaze on each other as well." Nearly 2,700 words in the article, and only nine words to hint that men are not alone.

Big Mike said...

My wife looks in the mirror and sees a woman in her sixties with greying hair.

I look at my wife and see a beautiful woman.

Ann Althouse said...

"Vanity, definitely my favorite sin."

Great!!!

Thanks. I saw that movie long ago. Fabulous. Thanks for remembering that.

Henry said...

People have to fill their column-inches, I guess.

Ann Althouse said...

"I've always heard that many women are made insecure by the prospect of being with a man who is deemed more attractive."

That sounds like a belief men use to soothe themselves, or is it something that women say to soothe themselves.

I think the woman wants her man to look good, and his looking good makes her look good. Maybe at some point he's so much better looking that it makes catty people say why is HE with HER?

Anyway, my father was better looking than my mother. Maybe that's because they met in the Army in WWII, and there were lots of men and far fewer women. She had her pick, perhaps. She's gone now and I can't ask her. Did you look for the handsomest guy?

Ann Althouse said...

When people do get to the point of asking why is HE with HER?, what do they speculate? Do those speculations make her look bad? I think not!

I think they say: She must be great in bed.

Right?

I'm old, so I don't really know what young people might say these days.

SGT Ted said...

If it's really true that men subject us to a constant and exhausting and sometimes humiliating scrutiny...

It's not true. No man is subjecting any woman to anything by merely looking at pretty women. Men like to look at pretty women. It's called biology.

Men who notice a woman's beauty are not responsible for the woman's emotional reaction to his observation. Unless he is being a pig about it. But just for looking?


madAsHell said...

7 out of 18 comments from our hostess.

Methinks she wrestles with demons today.

n.n said...

The male peacock has the beautiful plumage. The female human has the wonderful curves. It's not discriminatory. It's nature's choice.

That said, context matters. Men should not demean women and women should not exploit men. The prerequisite for civilized society is men and women capable of self-moderating, responsible behavior.

n.n said...

why is HE with HER

I have never given that much thought. I do not covet my neighbor's wife.

Larry J said...

SGT Ted said...
If it's really true that men subject us to a constant and exhausting and sometimes humiliating scrutiny...

It's not true. No man is subjecting any woman to anything by merely looking at pretty women. Men like to look at pretty women. It's called biology.

Men who notice a woman's beauty are not responsible for the woman's emotional reaction to his observation. Unless he is being a pig about it. But just for looking?


My wife and I have been married for 30 years. From the start, we said it was alright to "look but don't touch." People are human. I glance at beautiful women and she looks at handsome men, then we go home together.

One day about 20 years ago, we were meeting at the food court in a local mall. As I walked towards her, a particularily FINE looking young woman was walking in my general direction. I looked at my wife and she was locked onto my eyes, laughing. She was going to catch me looking but I maintained focus on her. It was a big joke to us.

I'm told most women dress more to impress other women than for men. Why does it seem some women never matured past the junior high level? Why should you care about what someone you likely don't even know thinks of your looks?

SGT Ted said...

The subject reflects Rush Limbaugh Undeniable Truths about Life #24:

"Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society."

Characterizing beauty, which is a function of biology and mating, which allows for genetic success, and has driven the Arts, and sometimes caused wars, for centuries, if not millennium, as "trivial and frivolous" is to ignore the natural world and to deny all of human history.

SGT Ted said...


I'm told most women dress more to impress other women than for men.

I think that's a pretty little lie they tell each other and themselves so they won't feel that they are betraying "the sisterhood" by admitting they like attracting male sexual attention using their looks.

Peter said...

The covers of magazines for women mostly have women on their covers.

And the covers of magazines for men mostly have women on their covers.

Perhaps the publishers know what sells- both sexes (except gay men) find attractive women more interesting than attractive men?

St. George said...

"Nothing is so deceiving as a beautiful surface."

Tolstoy

Illuninati said...

I don't buy the premise that women's looks are important to men but men's looks are not important to women. That is not my experience.

The women I've known are very much aware of men's looks and sometimes comment about other men among themselves in front of me.

The exception is that women are probably more willing to ignore looks than men if the man is very wealthy or has political power. This is probably hard wired into the brain by evolution since the offspring of rich and powerful men have a survival advantage over the offspring of average men.

Larry J said...

The exception is that women are probably more willing to ignore looks than men if the man is very wealthy or has political power. This is probably hard wired into the brain by evolution since the offspring of rich and powerful men have a survival advantage over the offspring of average men.

It's called hypergamy.

Inga said...

There is absolutely nothing wrong with desiring to surround yourself with beauty. The men I've been drawn to usually had one striking feature, eyes, hair, wide shoulders, well formed thighs, or a combination of two, or if I was lucky even three. What attracted me most was his mind and if he used well. Confidence enhanced his physical features. I dated a very handsome guy who was painfully and I mean it even pained me, shy. Who knows with some effort on my part, he could've gotten past the shyness, but I was an adult woman desiring an adult male.

OK, back to beauty, you have a point Ann about men desiring women more beautiful than themselves, more than women doing the same. It probably would be less painful for both men and women if they were realists and saw themselves as they were and picked partners accordingly. I think occasionally unequally yoked partners were attracted by those qualities not revealed in facial features or a magnificent body and seem quite happy. I'm ashamed to say that I've been one of those who wondered, "Why her? Or Why him?"

As far as women wanting to be beautiful for other women, eh, I don't see it as being of prime importance. I think looking good and wearing beautiful clothing pleases the wearer most. A gorgeous fabric in a striking color makes me feel happy wearing it. It's a work of beauty in and of itself, actually its wearing beauty. I'm not primarily concerned that it enhances my own "beauty".

William said...

I make an honest effort to trim my nasal hairs and put on a clean, fresh sweatshirt every day, but that's as far as it goes. My vanity--futility is the better word--was centered around sports. I spent countless hours practicing tennis and baseball in the vain expectation that someday it would all pay off and I would become gifted in those sports.......I just recently saw Julie Christie in a movie. She has gone the plastic surgery route. She looks waxen and smooth. Her face has no wisdom. She was more than beautiful when younger. She looked like she knew all the secrets of existence. I don't blame her for wanting to maintain that beauty, but it's all in vain. She co-starred with Robert Redford. He's apparently not gone the plastic surgery route. His face has lots of wrinkles. I thought that his surrender to time was more graceful and attractive than that of Julie--or maybe wrinkles just look better on men.

Freeman Hunt said...

When women say they dress up for other women, I think they mean it. Men want women to look beautiful, but they couldn't care less about nails, shoes, accessories, jewelry, etc. In fact, many men find these things strange or even irritating. They want to see an effortless looking beauty. Women, by contrast, are very likely to appreciate and give compliments on a well put together outfit or nice accessories, so women are much more likely to wear these things around other women.

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that a lot of those above have a lot of good points. The basic issue is that males and females have very different sexual strategies. As someone pointed out, the male strategy is quantity, while the female strategy is quality. But overlaid over this is the necessity for women to secure someone to aid in the child rearing, and esp the acquisition of resources to support his woman or women and their children. This limits the genes that she can acquire from alpha males, due to the reality that males suffer great evolutionary harm when they raise the children of other men, as contrasted with providing resources for raising their own.

So, females are more wired by evolution to prefer a good provider over a beautiful one. But males are wired to prefer the beautiful one, because much of beauty is tied to health and good genes. (For example - symmetry is rated as contributing greatly to beauty, and is greatly a result of good prenatal health).

Now, we may be entering a period where females are going to be less needing support (whether their support comes from the government and Obama, or through their own accomplishments, often as a result of having acquired a good education). So, I see more and more women mating with beautiful and apparently (but often not really) alpha males. Still, there is a lot of evolution to overcome.

Ann Althouse said...

When women show their appreciation for how other women look, I think they are doing some or all of these things:

1. Communicating friendliness and being sociable.

2. Sublimating envy.

3. Thinking about things they could do to look better (like get a dress like that or a haircut like that), so it's like shopping for ideas to be used on themselves.

4. Expressing hostility in weird way. ("You look great" = you look bad on other occasions.)

Fritz said...

""I'm told most women dress more to impress other women than for men."

I think that's a pretty little lie they tell each other and themselves so they won't feel that they are betraying "the sisterhood" by admitting they like attracting male sexual attention using their looks."

Then they're wasting a lot of money, because when it comes to what men want, less is generally better.

Carl said...

If it's really true that men subject us to a constant and exhausting and sometimes humiliating scrutiny.

It's not. You do that to yourselves. The women that appear in pr0n, at monster truck rallies, in kill flicks, i.e. where you have a primarily male audience, are generally overweight, with big tits and ass, wide easy smiles, and not especially symmetric. It's the women that appear in Cosmo and rom-coms, with huge female audience, that conform to the skinny plucked-eyebrow perfect skin stereotype.

We would need to become more expressive of our desire for beauty in our male partners.

Wouldn't work. We wouldn't care. We would know quite well that isn't your main criterion, and (not) react accordingly. To things that are your main criteria -- success, wealth, social status, energy, humor -- we are complete slaves, and pursue just as helplessly and desperately as you pursue beauty.

Women have the power to rebalance things

In principle, sure. You could stop judging each other so fiercely. But in pratice, no. You're as imprisoned by your drives as we are. You're no more capable of stopping your competition with each other than we are of stopping ourselves from turning into drooling cretins in the presence of cleavage.

The best you could do is just chill out a little. We're all naked apes, with powerful animal drives that sometimes make us into buffoons. So? Learn to see the humor in this. Defend yourself when it's important, the way a man tries to not look at delicious cleavage when it's on his ex-wife's divorce lawyer, and luxuriate in your depravity when it isn't, the way a man happily surrenders to his base nature when his naked wife steps out of the shower.

Moose said...

"I'm fabulous because I have a vagina!"

Mark Trade said...

The pressure for women to be beautiful comes 90% from other women. Imagine one woman in a room with one man and no other women--what pressure does she have to be beautiful? Almost none. It's only when there's other women she has to compete with that the pressure becomes enormous.

Stephen A. Meigs said...

I think that's a pretty little lie they tell each other and themselves so they won't feel that they are betraying "the sisterhood" by admitting they like attracting male sexual attention using their looks."

It's important here, I believe, to see how cattiness applies. People, like Althouse just a few comments ago, talk about cattiness or catty girls, but really I'm guessing mostly they are talking about girls who wish to start off relationships with cattiness, until this gives them sufficient comfort to wake up comfortable girl. Cattiness has a kind of inertia to it. Once a girl goes catty (testing her love by making sure she can hate), it takes an impractical period of nunnery before she is capable of simultaneously feeling mercy toward one person and love toward someone else. She could want to please a wife of her lover for the sake of her lover—because she loves him enough to respect him and to want him to remain on good terms with his wife. Or she could get off on one of his mistresses from the thought that he needs her. But none of that would be the same thing as her really wanting her lover to be kind and merciful to the other females around her on account of how she feels towards the other females around him. Her feelings stem from love of her lover rather than from any merciful feelings toward the other females involved with him. If a girl started really catty, it accordingly just isn't going to be as easy to be a part of the sisterhood pack. Cats are solitary animals, mostly. Moreover, cats mostly don't like being controlled, and so if a girl started as a cat, then once she settles into being a girl she probably is going to prefer being all smiley and indifferent as to whether her lover is loving her with kind emotions, which might be especially annoying to other females. Girls need to be loved, and so if a girl is so willing to please and unwilling to be controlled that she doesn't care much about the male having the sort of feelings girls need, she might be annoying to other girls, even if her lover would emotionally love her anyway. I haven't quite decided what I would do if I ever faced such a situation. Roar? Accept all the smiles? Some alternative that has not occurred to me? More thought required. Anyway, majorly trying to please a lover while being rather indifferent to the female pack is a more catty kind of thing.

I felt really tortured the week before last trying to figure out exactly how much cattiness is a good thing. Ideally, at least now, love should be a broad thing. Many people, even below average people, are worthy of love and more certainly of not being hated. Too much cattiness might encourage too much hate for the lesser people. If nastiness could be eliminated, cattiness would be a pointless emotion. But even if nastiness is easily defined, it's an unjustified assumption to assume that it can be permanently eliminated. And cattiness is a very clean thing useful for keeping nastiness at bay—cats are mostly just cleaner than dogs. In females good at cattiness or who feel the need for it, starting off cat and then transitioning to comfortable female human mostly feels to me the most beautiful balance between niceness and cleanliness. But I've just started thinking about the matter with much care, so I'm not sure.

Mark Trade said...

Woah, Ann, all this time I thought when women show appreciation for the beauty of other women it's because they appreciate the beauty of other women. I still have that conceit. Pretty women clearly tend to enjoy each other more than they enjoy less attractive women.

I see it all the time but I'm reminded specifically of a time when I worked third shift, and most people on our shift were dreary slobs, and there was only one woman whom I would have called pretty. Then a new girl was hired and the pretty girl confided in me, "it's nice to have another pretty girl."