Beauty, Obsession, Men, and Women

Is women’s obsession with beauty because of an intense desire to be attractive to men? And if so, is it a men’s issue?


Mark D. White wrote a post today that gives an honest look at a guy struggling to understand a woman’s relationship to beauty, and how he, as a guy, should talk to her about it. Compliment her looks? Her intelligence? But why—when the woman he was dating was so smart, successful, creative—why did she seem to place such value in being complimented on her looks above all?

Commenter Trev, below, actually helped me articulate my argument, and that is this: Women are not honest about how important being attractive to the opposite sex is. And that causes a breakdown in communication between men and women. And that’s why it’s worth discussing.

I cannot comment about what men think. I don’t even want to over-generalize and pretend to know what all women think. But this topic is a source of much fascination to me (not to mention angst), and so I would like to tell you my worldview. In fact, my observations come from what can only be described as an obsession.

Women would rather be dead than seen as not beautiful.

Sometimes I talk to my girlfriends about aging. After a while, I noticed a pattern—without any hesitation, they all said, “Oh, no, I don’t want to get old. No, thanks, I’d rather be dead.” So then I started asking the question farther and wider, and I got pretty much a unanimous verdict. Women would rather die early than get old enough so they weren’t beautiful any more. Even women who didn’t necessary believe that for themselves fully understand the sentiment.

I am not being critical of men here, not in the least. It is not wrong to want beauty in one’s life—however you define that, wherever you find it. But if men are wondering why it’s difficult to get the conversation around beauty right when talking to women—this is how I see it.

The other example of “death before beauty” is eating disorders. The experience I have found is that almost every woman who has an eating disorder has it because she has an unnatural fear of being seen as unattractive by the opposite sex. That would be about an estimated 65 percent of the female population. In fact, some studies show the mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old. The suicide rate of that age group with anorexia is 32 times the norm. The conclusion I draw is that women are so worried about being seen as unattractive by men that they can’t eat—even if it ultimately causes irreparable harm.

Brains may be important, but beauty is seen as the cost of entry.

Tom Matlack wrote what I thought was a very thoughtful piece a while back: “Women We Love for the Wrong Reasons.”

His point was that men loved women for much more than beauty: “Yes, good men love women. But we love women in all their complexity, for the things they do, for their intelligence, their wit, their athleticism, their creativity, their power, their force of personality.”

And yet, when this was cross-posted on Jezebel, Tom got lambasted for implying earlier in his post that women, as one commenter said “must be both beautiful AND smart. I mean, what if you’re ordinary looking and smart?” Many responded with a fair amount of vitrol, but some with humor: “Oh, need we be hot also? That takes a lot of time away from my intellectual activities. Plus, a lot of hot-making activities are pretty boring. Can’t it be enough that I’m clean?”

The anger from so many women was the implication that beauty was somehow a cost of entry to even be noticed. And in Mark’s piece, he reinforces that sentiment, “Like I said, a difficult line to walk, especially for men who respect and admire women for their brains and their beauty.”

Beauty gives women privileges they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Yesterday, one of our commenters on this post said, “If Tiger had have taken a golf club to his wife because she cheated would you be describing him as ‘super smart and beautiful?’ No, that would make him a criminal.”

I happen to agree.

Men rarely use the world “beautiful,” except when talking about women.

This was one of those things I noticed decades ago and kept looking for an example to disprove my theory. The only seeming exception was when men were talking about a “beautiful” play in sports.

But all the things that I, as a woman, think are beautiful—art, far-off galaxies, kindness, a street performance, a complex mathematical equation that makes me go “ah”, a thunderstorm, poetry, a strategic business plan, a hurricane lamp made from a coffee can with holes punched in it—none of those has ever brought about the word “beautiful” from a guys, certainly not with the awe-filled tone of voice that I hear when they talk about a beautiful woman.

Personally, as a woman, that puts enormous pressure on me—to be constantly worried that I am the only source of beauty other than the woman next to me who is (without a doubt) more beautiful than I am.

I am not being critical of men here, not in the least. It is not wrong to want beauty in one’s life—however you define that, wherever you find it. But if men are wondering why it’s difficult to get the conversation around beauty right when talking to women—this is how I see it. And maybe the way to have the conversation be so less charged with peril is for all of us to simply expand our vocabulary about what beautiful really is.


Read Mark D. White’s article “Beauty or Brains: Which is More Important to Emphasize?” here.

More by Lisa Hickey

Forgiveness is Macho

Why I’m Social Media Promiscuous

About Lisa Hickey

Lisa Hickey is CEO of Good Men Media Inc. and publisher of the Good Men Project. "I like to create things that capture the imagination of the general public and become part of the popular culture for years to come." Connect with her on Twitter.


  1. As a naturally pretty girl, I don’t care about my own physical beauty at all. It’s a part of who I am, sure, but I don’t play it up. It just is what it is. I don’t wear makeup for this reason. But more importantly, I am so tired of this superficial society. I can’t stand how boring and uninterested most people are. I would like to meet people who challenge the status quo, who want to live on a more involved level. I have had one boyfriend in my whole life (I’m 30 now) because I’ve never met a man who impressed me with his character. And frankly if I never do, then I won’t spend my life pining for it. I am going to develop myself as much as possible, challenge myself as much as possible and be a person with integrity. And if people notice my beauty more than my character, I will just keep walking.

  2. Sad that I came to this discussion so late!
    Ok, this is a very complex topic… I would say… Have you ever read the novel “La dame aux camélias” written by Alexandre Dumás (the son). There is an Opera about it, which is called “La Traviatta” by Giuseppe Verdi…. And if you watched the movie “Pretty Woman”… Ok, there is some connection… “Pretty Woman”, female beauty…
    Ok, I strongly recommend anyone go reading Dumás’ novel, strongly go attend or at least watch in DVD “La Traviatta”. I don’t recommend much watching the movie “Pretty Woman” but it is ok, go ahead, do it… it will help also.
    Female beauty is a trap, nature’s trap to make male pay attention to women. (remember Greek mythology how mermaids were a menace to sailors? female beauty, a trap! a sweet trap!)
    But as soon as your eyes are put into a woman, you should step to next level, shut your eyes down and immediately turn your heart on and start looking with your heart instead of with your heart.
    In “La dame aux camélias”, (rather) in “La Traviatta”, main character, Alfredo falls in love with an extremely beautiful woman, Violetta… Violetta, a high class prostitute (Traviatta=”lost woman”). She is the most beautiful woman in Paris… A coveted woman…. Coveted because of her physical beauty… She knows no love but admiration from the richest and more powerful men in Paris.
    Alfredo looks at her, firstly with his eyes, immediately with his heart. He recognizes the beauty inside Violetta’s heart. He is the one because he, among many wealthy and successful admirers, he is the only one to notice such a hidden beauty… Violetta’s hearth
    I will no rob you from the joy of reading the novel or attending the opera.
    I will tel you this, at a climatic moment, Violetta is old and extremely sick, her physical beauty has washed away due to years and illness… Alfredo loves her more than ever in spite she is not even the shadow of beauty she once was… He would gladly give his life for her… A love that knows not limit…
    It seems to me, passion fades and gives place to compassion. Alfredo has gone this way, from passionate love to compassionate love, this later a higher level of love.
    The moment is extremely moving
    Im a man and I tell you this, in spite of being a man, I shed some tears, because the moment is so moving, tension is never ending and you can feel how every character is feeling. Just don’t tell anybody I shed some tears…

  3. You will never convince me that men are truly interested in a having dialogue about beauty with women. That is the equivalent of treading on a field of active landmines while strapped with plastic explosives. The truth is, most women are not classically beautiful and most men know this. Men and women work AROUND this fact, as they have been doing for millions of years. Somehow it all works out. The best that a woman can do is learn to examine her attributes objectively and WORK IT, BABY!

  4. I liked the article overall and found it very interesting, I don’t want to come across as nitpicky, but the way you talked about eating disorders struck me as oversimplified and (innocently) misunderstood and I had to say something. It bothers me when people think silly girls wanting to look hot for men is the cause of eating disorders. It’s very very complex and from personal experience, I would say that the cause stems more from self hatred and the desire for control that in fact has nothing to do with looking attractive for the opposite sex. (And many many other factors for sure) Just want to help people understand a little better.

  5. Let me point out that even being beautiful…you can still be obsessed by it.

    I’m fairly beautiful…to myself and others. And I catch myself alot gazing in mirrors admiring myself. But it’s not a loving gaze…it’s more like a power trip. Like a “I feel so insecure, but I’m so beautiful that no one will notice” look. I’m sort of addicted to it. But I like the feeling of power I get from it…but it’s not a healthy powerful feeling but more like…because I’m beautiful I feel safer…(people are generally alot nicer and more intimidated of me on my ‘hot’-ter days)

    Whenever I’m in a dumpy slum days where I’m less hot though….I feel awful. disgusting…gross. And if people aren’t in awe like they were the other days…I try harder and harder to look pretty the next day.

    It’s a vicious, ugly cycle. I wish I wasn’t so scared of being ugly. I wish I could be butt ugly and still love myself.

    • This seems to be a pretty common theme among my super-attractive female friends. The more beautiful she is, the more insecure and afraid of being ugly she is. Why? Because most of the validation a really attractive woman has gotten in her life revolves around her beauty. The more beautiful she is, the more times she’s heard “You’re so beautiful” as opposed to any other good qualities she may have or more substantial things she may have achieved. Being physically beautiful is “enough,” it seems, to open all sorts of doors, but if that beauty were to suddenly go away, the perception (often correct) is that those doors would be slammed shut.

      This is one reason I don’t envy my friends who are more beautiful than I am, even though being a woman who isn’t the most beautiful has its own price to pay.

  6. HidingFromtheDinosaurs says:

    As a man, I don’t believe I have used the word beautiful in describing another human being in the past ten years. Compared to Ship Rock silhouetted against the desert stars or a bronze by Rodin or the few off a mountain top it just doesn’t seem right, somehow. That’s not to say I don’t find the other people beautiful, it’s just a very different feeling and it doesn’t feel right lumping it together under the same word. I don’t know, maybe I’m just crazy.

    As far as weight concerns go, especially with anorexia, I don’t believe men are providing the impetus for that one. I and all of my heterosexual male friends find women of a healthy weight far more attractive and I’ve never heard a man express appreciation of an anorexic figure. I think the problem there comes from the increasing use of computer graphics in creating the images which serve as our standards of beauty. The standard being unachievable is nothing new, but it now looks much more convincingly possible than it ever did before (everyone excepts a statue or a painting as an idealization, but most people view these images as simple photographs without thinking of the degree to which they’ve usually been doctored), and I think that gives a lot of people the idea that if they just worked a little harder at it they could look like the people in that movie or that ad.

  7. I don’t think it’s really men that put the pressure on weight, I have always thought women are the ones that add that pressure on to each other. When I was a size 12 men were telling me how sexy I was and my girlfriends were asking if I had tried SlimQuick.

  8. Men are visual, more so than women, when it comes to mating. It is one of the psycho-biological imperatives of being male — gay or straight or betwixt and between. The challenge for men is to move past the imperative and move into the realm of conscious choice. Desire, of course, knows no reason, and we will be attracted to those we are attracted to whether or no it seems fair to the world at large.

    I suspect that the unfair advantage beauty gives to both men and women is universal. We can rage at a lack of justice in it, insist that it is merely the product of western materialism being forced on other cultures, but literature and oral traditions from around the world repeat again and again the desirability of a beautiful spouse or lover. And have how beauty and desire can beget love.

    The search for beauty, the desire to be with one someone beautiful, is an ancient one and we had best accept that it is a part of what makes us human, dogma be damned.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      I agree — except — it seems unfair somehow. Like all other unfair advantages are called to task and people actively make changes to try to erase those. But with beauty it seems like “oh well, if you’re not beautiful you lose”. I’m a little harsh maybe, but not much. It’s a big reason why I think older people are marginalized, and so it has everything to do with agesim also.

      • Dear Ms. Hicks,
        I am generally impatient with complaints about what is and is not “fair.” We may wish matters of all kinds were more fair. However, in my experience and observations, too, fair is a concept that applies mostly to board games and sports, but not as much or as often to life.
        In the real world, we are all contending regularly with a range of advantages and disadvantages, too, that have nothing at all to do with what is or is not “fair.”
        Physical beauty, like money, is in some ways an advantage, regardless of how one comes to possess this advantage.
        However, when it comes to what is regarded as physical “beauty,” we ought to realistically consider the role that marketing plays — whether it is professional marketing or merely social interactions and the influence of our own self esteem and self confidence: how we and those we know market us and others we know — in shaping views of who is or is not physically “beautiful.”
        Without any doubt, the experience of being deeply loved and valued helps everyone to feel more beautiful. An abiding sense of being valuable and lovable, a sense of being beautiful, can also influence a person’s physical manifestation of beauty.
        I am also aware that many women feel valuable and worthy only because of successful conformity to an arbitrary standard of physical beauty. Conversely, other people feel unlovable and unworthy — and can also be regarded by those around them as such — if they do not conform to that arbitrary standard of physical beauty. Too often, people are regarded as being less than, in fact, they are because they do not compare favorably to the arbitrary standard of physical beauty.
        However, feelings of self loathing and worthlessness — or, similarly, the experience of being hated or ostracized by a group — can also negate the advantages of physical beauty.
        Women’s historic (and perhaps enduring) role of pleasing — in various ways – men, who are traditionally more powerful than women, is surely related to the overemphasis that both women and men place on women’s physical appearance.
        At the same time, women who are generally regarded as sexually attractive are often also regarded as less intelligent than women who are viewed as less physically attractive.
        My views on physical beauty may be a little unusual because of the decades I spent in the performing arts, as a ballet dancer. That experience — from a tender age — exerted a tremendous pressure to conform to an artificial and arbitrary physical aesthetic.
        However, I hold no resentment whatsoever towards the demands the ballet aesthetic placed on me in my earlier years. Instead, I continue to find that aesthetic to be very beautiful in many varied, complicated ways that are physical and much more, too.
        In part, however, the experience of being measured continually to the ballet aesthetic gave me a strong sense of how, in fact, malleable the human body is.
        By contrast, I have observed how young teenage girls often develop a fairly static, even a rigid perception of themselves as either beautiful or not, when, in reality, their bodies can and likely will continue to change, even change dramatically, throughout their lives.

  9. “Men rarely use the world “beautiful,” except when talking about women.”

    Do you have empirical–as opposed to merely anecdotal–data to back up this contention? Perhaps I’m an outlier, but I use (or think) the word “beautiful” in connection with a whole host of sensory phenomena, including but not limited to the sensation of a beautiful woman knocking on my sense door .

  10. Anon-Young Female says:

    I did not have time to read through all of the comments above, so I apologise in advance if this was already addressed. I am shocked at the simplicity that you use when discussing eating disorders, “The experience I have found is that almost every woman who has an eating disorder has it because she has an unnatural fear of being seen as unattractive by the opposite sex.” This idea dismisses the seriousness and complexity of what an eating disorder is. In fact, in my experience although there may be common stories, rarely are any two sufferer’s experiences and root causes for the disorder the same. In the context of the post I find it particularly alarming as it is misleading for many men who are in relationships with woman who suffer from disorders and may feel disempowered and frustrated by not being able to be a supportive/loving enough partner to dispel that myth. I am no expert in this field outside of my own experiences and truth be told I am having a hard time verbalising exactly why this sentence jumped out at me the way it did, however I felt it important to mention.

  11. Peter Houlihan says:

    Thats a fantastic article, thank you for sharing.

    Also, its always nice to see a gender article from either side that doesn’t go down the road of “the other gender never has it this bad.” I think if more feminists and masculinists were able to write like this we’d find out how much we have in common

    Heh 🙂 firefox is trying to correct masculinist as a spelling mistake, but not feminist, clearly mozilla are misandric.

    I’m going to try and keep track of how much I use the term “beautiful.” I use it a bit, mostly for visual artwork or landscapes. I tend to use other adjectives for code or formulas or films. I suspect the reluctance could come from the idea that “beautiful” is a very emotional word. Possibly women are more permitted to admit to being moved by art and such other things that “real men” never go near?

    Just thinking about it, I have heard beautiful used *alot* by men to describe boats, which are traditionally considered female in western european culture (though not Slavic for some reason). Other uses I can think of are:
    -The grain in wood
    -Flavour of wine
    -Physical skill (such as driving or the sports techniques you mentioned)

    Maybe its a different set of cultural values for men as well? Men being more likely to comment on the beauty of things they’re interested in. Working from the assumption I made above that men are reluctant to express emotion in front of other men, I think expressions of beauty are limited to “safe” areas that other men are also likely to feel emotional about. I also have a feeling men are more likely to make such observations in the company of a few other men, rather than women.

    Thanks again for the article 🙂 Got me thinking.

  12. Feels Like the Ugly Duckling says:

    I spend 90% of my time thinking about how unattractive I feel. Another 5% of that is thinking about how wonderful it must feel to be one of the beautiful people. The remaining 5% I’m asleep. I have never felt beautiful or attractive, although I have been told that I am. I lack confidence terribly but have learned to fake it quite well. I truly feel that if I looked in the mirror and saw a beautiful face, I would be confident. However, I am intelligent and successful in my own right; I would throw all of that away to feel beautiful. My relationships have always suffered because no matter how much my current boyfriend would tell me how beautiful he finds me, I would find ways to negate it. I think Antonymous Male’s comment about men being too discriminate and not discriminate enough is very insightful and correct. I’ve often wondered why men “cheat down” and have seen many men see a woman from behind only and at a distance and immediately deduce that she’s “f***ing hot”, whereas a woman would never say that (or rarely) about someone they couldn’t get a close analytical look at. I also agree with many of the posters here that women are far, far more critical of women’s looks than men are. I think men would give a much broader range of women that fall into the attractive curve than women would. I frequently think that other women are far better looking than me. It is exhausting and depressing, but I cannot seem to stop doing it.

    • It all begins with self-love. And for this to happen, you have to change your thinking, your beliefs about yourself and your negative self-image. Even if you were beautiful, it is not going to last. And then what? What does last is brains, knowledge, curiosity, character, achievements, the love you give to others, real friendships. Be authentic, know thyself, as the wise Socrates said. We are such a shallow society, rarely bothering to look beyond appearances. You will find that the less you fixate on yourself and look outwards, the happier you will be.

    • Thank you for your honesty, Erika!
      I hope you will find a way to allow the praise you receive from then men who find you beautiful to sink into where you really live. Even just reading what you wrote, I am already convinced you are beautiful.
      I also agree with your observation that women are often more critical of other women’s appearance than men are. The painful hypercriticism with which women view themselves and other women seems to me to a symptom of some kind of arrested psychological development, in which young teenage girls have their closest relationships with their girlfriends, rather than w/ boys.
      By contrast, it does seem to me that in the great big world outside of middle school, many men view a broad range of women as attractive and desirable.

    • Meant to post this here, not below:
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Thank you for your honesty!
      I hope you will find a way to allow the praise you receive from then men who find you beautiful to sink into where you really live. Even just reading what you wrote, I am already convinced you are beautiful.
      I also agree with your observation that women are often more critical of other women’s appearance than men are. The painful hypercriticism with which women view themselves and other women seems to me to a symptom of some kind of arrested psychological development, in which young teenage girls have their closest relationships with their girlfriends, rather than w/ boys.
      By contrast, it does seem to me that in the great big world outside of middle school, many men view a broad range of women as attractive and desirable.

  13. “Women would rather be dead than seen as not beautiful.”

    I’m a man and I would rather be dead than poor.

    You think I’m exaggerating and trying to relate to you, etc, but this is the truth for me.

    Death doesn’t scare me at all, but being poor is terrifying. Fortunately there are ways to die that are cost-effective and free, hahaha.

    And no, I’m not suicidal as I have a great life.

  14. Anonymous Male says:

    I wonder if anyone else has noticed a paradox that comes up a lot when discussion women’s beauty and men’s reaction to it. I don’t think Lisa’s piece says anything like this, but it seems to come up a lot when talking about women trying to look good for men. The paradox goes like this:

    On the one hand, men are super particular about the kind of women they are attracted to. We men have totally unrealistic expectations about how average women should look, and we hold to this standard even in the face of evidence to the contrary. We are brainwashed to be only interested in women found on magazine covers, on runways, and in porn movies. Virtually all women fall far short of our exacting standards.

    On the other hand, we men are ravenous, indiscriminate sexual opportunists. We will hook up with anything with an average of 2.01 legs. We are easily distracted by almost any woman who walks by, and we frequently “cheat down,” i.e., cheat on our partners with people who are less attractive or generally have less to offer than our current partners. In fact, I would guess in most cases men who step out on their relationships don’t leave for someone younger and more attractive, but more likely a “lateral” move or worse. (Tiger Woods, bless his heart, seems like a great example of this. Elin was simply not gorgeous enough, so he cheated on her with more attractive women? Sorry, I don’t see that, no offense to those charming young ladies.) You can’t trust us to be alone with any woman even remotely attractive because we will be easily tempted.

    So, we are too discriminate and not discriminate enough. We have high standards and are total opportunists.

    If these are both true, how do we navigate all this?

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      That is a great point, Anonymous Male! (am I allowed to call you that?). I totally agree that’s a problem. We will write a post about that — or maybe even just use your comment as a conversation starter. thanks!

  15. I find this article sad and sexist. Yet once more it’s not women’s problem to take responsibility for themselves, but men’s duty to change and be what women want.

    The correct answer to this problem is not to offload it onto men, it’s for women to accept their own need to be perceived as beautiful and stop belittling each other for caring about finding love and partnership. Humans are human; we all notice beauty and we all need love. Making the best of your chances in the mating game is common sense. It’s the profound insecurity attached to that process by women which is the issue here, and ultimately, insecurity can only be the problem of the people who experience it. Women are not insecure about their value to men, they are insecure about their value as compared to other women. Yes, women are unspeakably vicious in competition over beauty and the status it confers, and that likely contributes to the insecurity they feel. But men cannot put an end to a conflict they are not involved in, any more than Helen of Troy could put an end to the war that was started over her. It is for you, ladies, to grow a little yourselves, and see your viciousness for what it is.

    • Yeah I agree. Women competing with women… for sure
      First we should begin by not calling kids cute, pretty, beautiful, etc., instead we use words ‘kind’, ‘hard worker’, ‘good job’, ‘loyal friend’, ‘quick learner’ , things like that. Then kids won’t get the idea in their head and instead focus on what matters.

  16. AnonMidwestGirl says:

    Don’t blame men for women’s desire to be beautiful, and their insecurities because of it. Other women have done far more damage to my self esteem. Now, almost 30, I have no close girlfriends unless my sister (and a couple of her friends who I’m friendly with, but not close) and my mother count. Haven’t since high school, my best friends are and always have been guys. I have female acquaintances, but no one I’d call close. I can actually have meaningful conversations with my guy friends – the girlfriends I have had in the past, it all ended up being gossip. Women are FAR more critical of each other and their looks than men are – I have read numerous times that women will go to more trouble to “dress up” for each other than for a man, and I really think that’s true. A lot of men don’t care for too much makeup. Women are the ones wearing orange lipstick because it’s “on trend” for the season. Men don’t care if your shoes are by Jimmy Choo or if they’re imitation faux leather pumps from Target. If your jeans cost $200 or $30. If you scrubbed and painted your own toenails or if you went to a salon spa and paid someone $60 to do it for you. Women do it for each other. The thing that makes people the most attractive? Confidence. You can tell when someone is truly comfortable in their own skin. It’s in the way they speak, the way they move, and yes, the way they look. They just feel “right” like they’re not trying to be something they’re not, by wearing clothing that doesn’t suit them, or having a “forced” personality that isn’t who they truly are – you can see it in their face. The best thing you can do for yourself is learn to love yourself the way you are. There’s nothing wrong with always trying to be better, but once you can appreciate the little things about yourself, it’s amazing how your view of the world changes.

  17. “The experience I have found is that almost every woman who has an eating disorder has it because she has an unnatural fear of being seen as unattractive by the opposite sex.”

    I have to strongly disagree with this statement. As someone who is now recovered from an eating disorder and does a lot of research and writing on this issue as well as conversing with others who are currently going through an E.D. or who have recovered like myself, rarely is the reason for one’s eating disorders simply to become ‘more attractive to men’.

    An eating disorder is a manifestation of a deeper inner issue (or issues) that go much deeper than “I want to be seen as beautiful when walking down the street”. It can be a response to abuse or another form of trauma, or a way to express self-hatred that is also rooted in deeper issues than “I hate my thighs”. People (and I say ‘people’ because both women AND men struggles with EDs) turn to eating disorders for the same reasons they turn to drugs or alcohol or any other form of addiction – it is a way of coping that ends up becoming a deadly trap that is very difficult (though not impossible) to get out of.

    I do really appreciate this article – but I couldn’t help but comment on the paragraph about eating disorders as I felt it was an unfair representation of what they truly are.

  18. Anonymous Female says:

    One place this obsession begins is in the peer dynamics of adolescent girls. A lot of teen girls are terrified of being labeled “stuck up” or something similar. If you show that you are too confident or accepting of your appearance, others may try to tear you down or shun you. You will be branded as the one who thinks she’s better than other people. It’s easier to fit in if other girls hear you insult a few things about your own appearance, so they know that you’re one of them. But don’t go too far, or you’ll be too depressing.

    And, when you hear other girls who are clearly attractive who feel bad about their appearance, you think, “wow, if she isn’t good-looking enough, then what hope do I have?” Being self-critical is one of those things that fashionable teens make fashionable.

  19. The perception of beauty is a moral test for us men, What a
    “Man” finds to be beautiful is usually a reflection of his heart interiority.
    I for one have seen that what fades with time is just usually the illusion that the flesh
    Is what can constitute real love between two and women are imature persons who are both at arms defeat and arms poised against each other.

  20. Is it men who make women obsess about their appearance? Is it other women who make us feel bad? Interesting question, but not the whole story anyway. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt: no one can make you feel ugly without your consent.

  21. I’ve noticed that men use the word “beautiful” rather arbitrarily when it comes to women. A”beautiful” play in sports is pretty objective – any spectator would likely agree with what the man saw. However, when it comes to women “beautiful” can be really subjective and also men most often say it to prove to other guys that they are heterosexual. A “beautiful” woman (as defined by Proctor and Gamble, Vogue or Playboy) is a useless entity if she wants nothing to do with the man admiring her, he’ll suddenly find a litany of insults to describe her then. Rich men want model-worthy looks to prove their success – the woman has to match the sports car, the penthouse, whatever, kind of like a pedigree or designer dog. Is it healthy to aspire to be that object?

  22. I’m not sure it’s a question of being accepted – I think it has more to do with not being invisible – at any age. We live in a crowded world – and the only way not to feel like just one more ant is to be seen by other people. And it’s a fact that so-called beautiful people are ‘seen’ more than those with less attractive faces. However, a smile can make a big difference in this regard. My 91 year-old mother (still wishing she was better looking) makes it a game to smile at people in the street and see how many people smile back. Not a bad game, at that.

  23. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t care about how they look, so I have to say that the comments that say “I don’t get it” don’t really seem to jive with me. Yes, to speak of anorexia and the preference of dying over aging may be extreme examples, but this is a very real and life-long issue for a lot of women. Myself, I’m confident, independent, and self-sufficient (even self-employed), and I have always enjoyed nice compliments about my looks, so I don’t think there’s really an issue there, even though I look at my late 30’s emerging lines on my face with disdain. And I’ve never gone a day since adolescence that I haven’t worried about my weight (which is average)- wanting to be better, always wanting to lose weight – and if there is some way I can save my daughter from that misery I would give anything – anything!!! I do what I can to promote a positive self image, all of the right things, but I can’t save her from society and how we put perfect women on a pedestal. It’s really a sad state if you ask me.

  24. i really love this article

  25. Christina says:

    The things I do out of vanity:

    -I use moisturizer.
    -I use eye cream.
    -I use acne medication.
    -I occasionally wear high heels.
    -I shave my armpits.
    -I don’t wear a bathing suit to the beach because I have scar tissue on my bottom and upper thigh area.
    -I don’t tuck my hair behind my ears because I have one physically deformed, surgically constructed ear.
    -I stopped smiling in photos. I have a wide, flat nose that stretches with my face when I smile.

    I always thought I didn’t care about what other people thought about me. But I realized if that were true, I’d be doing the exact opposite of everything on that list.

    For the past few years, the pursuance of physical beauty is an aspect of my life that I’ve been seriously re-evaluating. And after a lot of thought, I realized I have a fear of not being accepted. Of being shunned. Of being marginalized.

    Along with that fear, I also felt frustration in failing to maintain a “beauty regimen” and hopelessness in knowing how futile the whole effort was.

    Which is why I’m setting a new goal for myself. To shed every insecurity I have about my body.

    I’ve begun by reminding myself to smile in my pictures (with teeth!). I signed up for swimming lessons, meaning I’m in a bathing suit more often. And overall, I focus on being healthy rather looking “beautiful.” I hope that along the way, I’ll achieve clarity about what’s important in my life.

    • Uh, depends on WHY you do the things you do, really.

      1) Dry skin is painful, and less healthy. If this has almost no impact on why you use moisturizer, but instead because “youthful” skin is considered more beautiful, then yeah, you are doing it for the wrong reason. I have seen old women with tons of wrinkles, yet their skin still do not look dry, and that still looks beautiful. The wrinkles are not bad, mistreated skin is.
      2) See 1. Laugh wrinkles are especially attractive at the eyes.
      3) See 1. Acne is definitely painful! At least for me.
      4) High heels have their advantages and disadvantages, and it IS possible to wear them just for the fun of the different height – the same way you can walk around in plateu shoes or stilts – rather than because “oh noes must look purrty and byootiful to teh menz”
      5) I shave/trim my armpits too, and it has nothing to do with beauty, only function. Having more hair at an easily sweaty area requires more maintenance than less hair, as well as that I personally sweat more without good reason when I have more hair there. Oddly enough for me rather than aiding cooling having hair against the skin there induces more sweat than hot skin. Not that appropriate sweating is bad – I like working up a sweat, it is a good sign that your body has worked so hard it has to start resorting to its cooling systems.
      6) Scars are hot, shows you’ve lived and had some life experience. (Hot? Err, I mean… *coughhackcough* 😉 ) Seriously though, scars are cool. Someone who has gone through life without any scars whatsoever seem more walled in, and it is good you stopped letting it prevent you from wearing whatever is comfortable.
      7) See 6. You might as well adorn the ear or ears, rather than covering one up. It is a lot more comfortable.
      8) Smiles can be replaced with awesome expressions instead. Like a playful, confident “You wish you were even just half as awesome as me”. You do not have to smile in photos – in fact because of the way some people have their facial muscles attach conventional smiles do not come as naturally to them. But to avoid smiling out of vanity rather than because it feeling artificial is sad indeed, good thing you quit!

      The point of the lengthy above is that you do not need to stop doing the things you do, just focus on the WHY and stop doing the items that are not useful. It is very pleasing that you have begun to make your life even better, out of a “yay, the more people that are doing better the better the society” kind of reason. 🙂

      • wellokaythen says:

        I would add that our society has a really weird views of wrinkles or lines in the skin. We treat them like they’re medical problems, even calling them “damaged skin,” as if that’s something that has to be corrected. Aging may come with medical problems, but aging is not a medical problem in itself. Gray hair isn’t damaged hair that needs medical intervention, so why should wrinkles? These wrinkle things are so bad that instead of showcasing them we inject poison into our faces in order to paralyze our muscles. That is some twisted, effed-up view of aging.

        In fact, I suspect that medical science, if it hasn’t already, is going to discover that wrinkles actually have some kind of biological function.

  26. The assumption that girnot rewls have eating disorders due to fears about receiving male attention is bollocks. If you look at anorexia , it is a disease which feeds off perfectionism and warped internalised ideas about control in one’s life. Often a sufferer uses starvation as a way to punish themselves for not meeting exacting standards or to demonstrate enormous self- discipline. These have nothing to do being no longer ogled at , it is to do with using physicals means to adress or alleviate psychological conflict.

  27. (I’ll make mistakes it’s not my first language)

    We live in a patriarcal one, so it sounds natural that it’s a woman that have to wear a specific make up and specific clothes.

    In a matriarcal one like Fulani’s, men are expected to take good care of their looks for the annual dance where women will choose them as husband. They more think of their looks, than women themselves. In Touareg’s, even though muslims tried to islamize them, their ancient matriarcal ways are still there, it’s men who wear the veil.

    Again, that’s society that makes you feel like wearing certain type of clothes and make up.

    • I disagree.
      global ‘modern’ clothing is based on european clothing, and if one looks at feminists would call euro patriarchial history it was men who first wore 1. short dresses(their dresses rose so high thecodpiece was invented) 2. hosiery (tights, stockings and suspenders, leggings) originated in asia 3. high heels also from asia (the heel traps around the stirrup, allowing warriors to ride and kill better)

      Tuareg men and women wear face covering to protect against sandwinds, as they cross the sahara

      • No. You summed up different make up and clothes, but the exterior idea of what i said is, men in a matriarcal society make beauty a more important matter, as for women in a patriarchal one. Full stop.

        Hosery has never been feminine anyway; only in a patriarcal society like European one.Same for high heels, short dresses. Never feminine, only in the mouth of a man, living in a patriarcal society.
        The thing is if women take so much importance in codes of feminity, summed up by men, it is because it is a patriarchal one..
        If in a matriarchal society women says ‘ a man is beautiful with white eye balls, and a certain tone of skin, men will find anything in nature, to achieve it ; this is a concrete example of my ethny, the Fulanis.

        PS : And for Tuaregs, when they travel they, obviously, protect themselves…..
        In the city, they’re the one wearing the veil. It’s just like that.
        What you call ‘modern’ clothes just doesn’t exist, it is EUROPEAN clothes industrialized everywhere in the world.

  28. Lisa, thanks for this thoughtful piece. Being married for a second time, I have seen two sides of this “beauty question”. My first wife had an intellectual argument with the pressure to be beautiful as a woman, but she spent a lot of time thinking about and worrying about her looks. I think that she felt some sort of betrayal to her feminist impulses every time she stood before the mirror making sure her dress looked ok and that her makeup was applied properly. And she held “beauty queens” in utter disdain. My current wife loves to be beautiful – likes beautiful things – and does not mind that men think she’s beautiful. She worries about aging well and holding onto her beauty as she ages. But I don’t think this is just a woman’s issue. I know a lot of guys who worry as much about their looks as do women. The attention to beauty – and the pressure to be attractive – moves along a continuum that both men and women find themselves on. And as with everything in life, it’s how we manage our position on that continuum that really matters. There are beautiful people, there are attractive people, there are not-so-attractive people, and there are some who are simply not attractive at all. My question, though, it this: Don’t you think that beauty and attraction has more than a physical dimension? Don’t you know people, women and men, who would never win a beauty contest, but who are very attractive to be around? Ultimately, that is what matters – at least for me.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Roger, thanks for your very thoughtful, and, dare I say it — beautiful — response. I love the point of difference in your two wives. And yes — I without a doubt agree that beauty and attractiveness go beyond the physical. But why then don’t we ever talk about it that way? Do you really think that if a really not so physically attractive woman walked into a roomful of people, and wowed them with her sense of humor and intelligence — do you think that a single person would say “Wow, she was beautiful!”. “Yeah, attractive as hell!” “Sexxxxxy.” Maybe I’m hanging out in the wrong rooms, but I just don’t ever see that happen.

      And that was part of my point — I think we need to change the vocabulary around how we talk about beauty.

      • I hear you, Lisa, but why would a woman choose “beautiful” over “sexy” or even “attractive”? There are not a lot of truly beautiful people – but there are a lot of attractive people and a lot of sexy people. There are some beautiful people who aren’t all that attractive to me. And there are sexy people, who aren’t classically beautiful. And ultimately, though it is horribly cliche to say it, “beauty does rest in the eye of the beholder.” Oh, and by the way, I’m one of those guys who uses the word beautiful a lot – and not just as an adjective for women. When someone does a good job on something, my one word response is: beautiful. When a see a sunset, it’s: beautiful. When I solve a problem it’s: beautiful. So, I guess this whole conversation about beauty has me a little puzzled to begin with.

        • The average woman looks are “average.” There’s no getting around the fact that relatively few women (or men) can be described as truly “beautiful” in the eyes of most people. However, Roger makes an excellent point in noting that one’s appearance can be described as sexy, cute, attractive or other positive adjectives. In my opinion, there are way more sexy women than beautiful ones. Personally, I prefer sexy and attractive over beautiful but not especially sexy.

          • h ttp://

            Time reports on how “women are getting more beautiful”.

            • Over generations, the scientists argue, this has led to women becoming steadily more aesthetically pleasing, a “beauty race” that is still on.”

              Lets examine this beauty ideal for women introduced by the ‘new women'(another name for feminists back then) of the late19th century. which first sparked into life with the flappers of the 1920s, and then has held sway since the 1970s.
              what are the current characteristics of a beautiful woman – lean legs, small bum, narrow hips, prominent jaw, prominent cheekbones, eyebrows shaped and defined to appear prominent.
              (Ive not seen studies verifying that if men really have longer eyelashes than women)
              These are the features of this beauty ideal which in that study men and women find more beautiful.
              So why is it that so few women have these features and so many men do. why do women have to starve themselves to get lean legs, small bums, narrow hips. why do they have to paint on the appearance of prominent cheekbones, and shape their eyebrows to appear more prominent.
              If men have been selecting for these features then most women would have these features – they do not.

              The study also, does not take into account the radical change in what a beautiful woman is supposed to look like.
              In the previous cultures around the world ive looked at, i see repeated themes in the literature and art, of soft features being venerated in women, not the harder features of a man. The only major high culture apart from ours that appears to have preferred masculine femininity as THE femininity appears to be the Romans. look at the face of the goddess of beauty venus.

              Google the most famous gibson girl ‘Camille Clifford thefullwiki’
              to see what the general beauty ideal around the world was previously. for another example, look at disney’s 1937 drawings of ‘snow white’ (and all of her implied virtuousness). Now compare the gibson girl and snow white to the current beauty queens like jerry hall, cindy crawford, kate moss.
              Whats happened is over the last 100yrs, the markers of masculinity have been absorbed into het femininity
              (in ethnicities where the female has prominent jaws and/or cheekbones and/or eyebrow ridges. The men have even more prominent jaws, cheekbones, ridges).

              In my 20s i simply could not see what the ancient greeks were talking about when they said men were more beautiful than women. but now i see it clearly now that im 36 and out of the ‘breeding season’. Now that the machinery, that wiring is switched off. That drugs men attracted to women, to make them believe women are the most beautiful beings in all of creation. The machinery that makes young men giddy-drunk upon looking at the image of a woman – whats the betting that the indian peacock thinks the peahen is more beautiful, for the same reasons. Now the machinery is off, and i understand the reasons for the indifference to women i observed in middle-aged men when i was a young man. I see clearly what the ancient greeks were talking about.

              Compare a man and woman of similar appearance, i believe the man’s face to be more beautiful – as it is more defined. (if beauty is defined as having prominent features. if beauty is defined as having soft features, then women are more beautiful)
              and if the man is wearing the train of his masculinity – his beard, then his beauty increases.
              Now the difference in beauty between men and women isnt as great as the peacock and the peahen. Sometimes i think it is greater than the difference between the lioness and the lion with his mane, other times i think the difference is lesser than that

              Far from being ‘aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors.‘, I believe Men are the ‘beauty’ of this species as with other species, where the male is visibly different to the female.
              And as with indian peacock and the peahen, it is only a weak to moderate attractor of females.

  29. “And maybe the way to have the conversation be so less charged with peril is for all of us to simply expand our vocabulary about what beautiful really is.”

    I relate to your angst. In fact, the “less charged with peril” part of the above sentence was the imperative behind my naming my company Fat Happy Island. It’s where my friends and I are all going to move, once we give up our fantasy of being card-carrying beauties all our life. LOL!
    No more shaving our legs, no more drill sargents barking at us to go faster in Spin classes, no more excruciating bikini waxes, no more denying ourselves dessert, no more nasty, tight Spanx garments, or ankle-breaking high heels. And definitely no more competing or objectifying ourselves and each other.

    Thanks for the topic, Lisa and even more so for leading with your vulnerability while writing this article. To expand vocabulary about what beautiful really is…..
    Your willingness to expose your raw fears around this charged subject strikes me as a beautiful thing. Your pioneering activism that seeks to foster understanding between the genders on this site is a thing of beauty, as well. Brava!!!

    • I guess I don’t understand. Maybe it’s because I live amongst a bunch of fairly radical, sex-positive hippies. I don’t know. A good number of the women I spend time with don’t shave their legs (or their underarms), don’t spend time in Spin classes (they do love their yoga though), don’t deny themselves dessert (although some are vegan or only eat raw food), don’t wear Spanx (heck, bras are pretty optional), and don’t wear high heels. I don’t notice much competition between us either. Maybe that’s because we’re generally polyamorous and/or we’re an incestuous group of people who have all ended up sleeping with each other regardless of gender at some point or another.
      Maybe I’m not getting the point of this article or this conversation because I already live on Fat Happy Island. I don’t spend much time worrying about mainstream culture because I made my choice to live my life according to my values regardless of what the mainstream thinks or does.

      • Hi Jeni, it sounds like you are very well-balanced about these things, but your personal experience may not be the same as that of many,or most, other women. Most women aren’t radical sex positive polyamorous hippies — most of us lead fairly conventional lives worrying about fairly conventional things. Maybe your way of life would be the solution or maybe not; it could be you are just unusually centered.

        • I am not certain my way of life is the solution either. I think aspects of it might be. Five years ago I was a suburban, stay-at-home mother leading a very conventional life. A lot has changed for me since my divorce. I’ve had to question a lot of aspects of my life. The truth is, every time I ask my heart what it wants, the further away from convention I go. At first, I struggled with it considerably, now I realize I am happier I have ever been. I seek to free myself from the prisons I make for myself as much as possible because, for me, that’s where happiness lies.

          I am sex-positive and polyamorous but I am not a hippie. My radicalism is only limited to certain topics.

          I guess I view the serious questioning of ourselves as closer to the answer than anything else. I mean, why do we shave our legs if we don’t really want to do so? What’s going to happen if we don’t? What will happen if we don’t wear Spanx? What will happen if we stop going to Spin classes we don’t enjoy?

          Maybe we’ll feel more comfortable in our bodies and with ourselves. Maybe we’ll spend more time loving ourselves. I suspect that most of the men around us will respond to that and be even more attracted to us than they were before. I could be wrong though…I’ve been wrong before.

          • Hi Jeni-
            Thanks for finding yourself in a Fat Happy Island frame of mind these days. Woo hoo! 🙂

            The answer to your provocative questions about “what would happen if she didn’t shave her legs?”, etc. will depend not just on every woman, but on where she is, timeline-wise, in her life. Right? Lisa, I believe, is trying to get AT those very questions by posting this article for us to explore just that.

            For example, if a woman just lost her husband because he postured like a cool hippie dude who couldn’t care less if she shaved her legs, but then ran off with a model, the wife might reactively swing out in the opposite direction of “not shaving her legs” for awhile.
            That seems natural and obvious enough, I think. No one would question her.

            Give her a little time, and she might get past what a jerk and hypocrite he was, and then her pendulum might come to rest in the middleground more. Then it might sound like “I actually LIKE the feel of smooth legs on myself. Think I’ll keep shaving and stop capitulating to what men in my life want so I can hear my own desires more clearly”. Or any number of other responses.

            Throw in her age, the beliefs she carries over from her ethnic background, her education or lack of it…and you get quite the kaleidoscopic effect in terms of varied responses to, “What if stops shaving her legs?”

            That’s my contribution here…..that we throw in the “where is this person AT in their life right now that has her—–(fill in the blank)”
            Thanks for asking some questions that help further this dialogue, Jeni!

            • Lisa Hickey says:

              I agree, Lilli, and thanks for jumping in. You bring up a good point — maybe if we had more discussions of beauty as we age — discussions without fear, inviting men into the conversation — that we as women would feel more relaxed about it.

            • Thank you Lili Bee for your response. I think I am starting to understand what you and Lisa are trying to say.
              The thing is, the women in my life have done more damage to me than the men ever did. We can say that this occurred because we live in a patriarchal society. Fine. That does not change the fact that women cause each other far more grief than men do in this society. Until we, as women, stop doing that to each other, nothing will change. Telling the men in our lives that it sucks, etc. isn’t all that helpful. My experience is that when women start blaming the men for this kind of thing it is because they don’t want to own up to the things they do to each other to keep everyone as miserable as they are.
              And, for the record, I left my marriage. I was the one who lied in my marriage. Yes, he made some asshole moves over the 17 years we were in a relationship. So did I. But the truth is, we married young and ended up wanting very different things. Life is rarely as black-and-white as the example you mentioned. I don’t care what anyone says, once you’ve been in a relationship long enough it doesn’t matter who leaves who or who is the ‘guilty’ party. Both of the people in the relationship contributed towards its demise.

              • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Jeni…..BTW, the situation I presented was purposely simplified in the interest of brevity. Not a big fan on the “mile-long” comments 🙂 But in any event, it’s not that any of these situations are black and white; not your divorce or the reasons for it, not the hypothetical woman in the example I gave, nor her reactions., not the abuses at the hands of the women in your life…
                I think we both agree that life is fairly complex to say the least. I love Lisa’s idea of having the beauty conversation be an open conversation for everyone (male & female) to join into, and it’s probably wise for all of us to stay out of the blame game in order to get anywhere. Again, thanks for your thoughts, here….

            • Oh, and I consider this one of my theme songs…of course, my kids get embarrassed when I sing it in the car.

  30. “Personally, as a woman, that puts enormous pressure on me—to be constantly worried that I am the only source of beauty other than the woman next to me who is (without a doubt) more beautiful than I am.”

    Yeah, I’m with you there. The pressure is huge. Most media images use the female form more then they use the male form. Billions upon billoins of photoshopped images come to us regularly. I don’t think most guys understand all the messages women get about their worth being tied to their looks. From Cosmo, to cosmetic commericals, to male entertainment. And your husband or boyfriend can love you, but if his head turns for the 21 year old girl walking by, those messages society send us about female worth are only reinforced. The key is getting men and women to value women for more then just beauty, not just intellectually give it lipservice. Really practice what we preech.

    I’ll just make a quick comment on frustration men might feel about making positive comments to their mate that get shot down. I can only say for me that positve comments from my guy are really really important. Even if I don’t always feel the way he telling me I am. But don’t just say something to your partner because you think that’s what she wants to hear. If you are going to pay her a compliment, you got to make it really sincere. So that she stops and notices the sincerity in it. And don’t make her fish for her own compliments. Give them to her freely. They won’t cost you any money. Just like there are things women should do that make men feel respected in their masculinity, the same is true for women.

  31. I’m perplexed by your views given your self-confessed obsession with the area. I’m now a 35 yr old woman, however I was a teenager when I first became aware of the lush girliness that goes on behind closed doors when girls are hanging out together, going to spas, simply dressing up to have dinner together at a girlfriends house. Wanting to be beautiful (however each of us view it) is generally an intrinsic part of being a woman but I wholeheartedly disagree with it being related to attracting the male gaze. One only needs to read Geraldine Brooks’ amazing book based on her own experiences in Muslim countries, ‘Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women’ (which I highly recommend to EVERYONE!) to understand that women dress for each other just as much – if not more – than they do for men. One of my favourite examples in the book is the author attending a women only sporting event so they therefore didn’t wear their burqas – and were all dressed up to the nines in mini skirts, heels etc for the function that evening. I lived with a woman who worked in a pottery studio. She often didn’t see anyone throughout her days in the studio, however she’d always apply lipstick in the morning before trudging out to the backyard studio to work her passion. She said it made her feel ‘ready for the day’ as it made her feel good about herself and therefore her outlook and her day in general. This again has nothing to do with males, but her own view of what was beautiful – for herself. There are countless examples of this, and I myself am no exception.
    I also fail to identify with the paragraph on death-before-age. Particularly the ‘research’ aspects of it. many of my friends as well as myself have often discussed being older and how much wiser we’d be, how wonderful it would be to be a grandmother. To wear crazy vintage clothes and wild hats and put pink rinses in our hair. To witness the world as it hurtles from one major tranformation to the next. To be part of a slower world where work is no longer filling your days and having the time to really delve into community work. It truly is a wonder to imagine. I adore seeing an elderly couple holding hands and always aspire to be that little old lady still lovingly holding her partner’s hand. And so do many of my friends. Your ‘research’ made me shudder and glad that’s not my friend base, sorry!
    The other point I wished to bring up is men not using the word ‘beautiful’. I found this odd as I know a number of men who have used the term in many contexts. I have also just finished watching a wonderful documentary series on the physics of the universe called ‘Wonders of the Universe’ – where the male professor consistently uses the word beautiful to describe almost everything he discusses! So I really do fail to see that this article is based on any real ‘research’ other than a very narrow base of robotic women that are exposed to too much mainstream print and tv media!

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      I am truly glad that my experience is not that of everyone’s. Especially the number of comments about how people are looking forward to aging — that is wonderful. And beautiful. Thanks for sharing your stories.

    • Yeah, I don’t get the whole “girl bonding over dressing up and going to spas” thing either. It’s just not something I can relate to. I don’t enjoy doing any of that, and like I said in my post above, it does seem to affect my ability to attract men. I feel like as much as men say they don’t “get” women’s obsessions with that stuff, there’s a comfort zone there for them. A woman who doesn’t do these things is somehow less feminine and more “one of the guys”. Which is a shame because I have more actual things in common with my male friends, things that we like to do together, than many of them have with their wives/girlfriends/etc.

      I do know plenty of men who use “beautiful” in other contexts. I tend to like artsy types of men who are comfortable using those terms.

  32. Anonymous Male says:

    I’m guessing there are a lot of men like me who are regularly bewildered and frustrated by hearing women we love, women we think are beautiful, constantly put themselves down or express constant insecurity about their looks. It can be a very frustrating disconnect between what a man sees about her looks and what she sees about her looks. It sometimes feels futile, because the reassurance seems to fall on deaf ears, as if the listener has already decided and just won’t hear it. It’s disheartening to repeat a message in all kinds of ways and just not have the woman you love believe you.

    It’s like talking to someone who sees a mirage. How can that person not see what I see?

    (It reminds me of that wrinkle cream you can buy to fight the tiny wrinkles you can’t even see. Umm, if you can’t see any, than what exactly are you chasing?)

    If there is this big patriarchal system running society, this is one of those ways that it actually makes men’s lives more difficult, not easier. Exhausting men with demands for reassurance about one’s looks is not all that great for men, really. This is a man’s issue, not just in terms of caring about the lives of people we love, but also, frankly, it’s in men’s own self-interest to find a way to reduce these insecurities. Even if you can’t muster much sympathy, in my experience women who aremore secure in their attractiveness are more present, and sexually more confident, which is to men’s benefit as well as women’s.

    How do we do that when no one listens? I’d love to hear some ideas.


      Great response! 🙂

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Thanks for recognizing the problem and actually wanting to create change.

      I do believe there is something in the idea of talking about “attractiveness” but removing the vocabulary of physical beauty from that.

      For example, I dated a guy once and part of our ritual was doing crossword puzzles together. And then having wild sex right afterwards. And — it sounds kind of humorous, but — what better way to let me know that it was my *mind* he found attractive and sexy.

      Or — not being afraid to love under any circumstance. Not being afraid that the word “love” is going to have some hidden agenda that implies commitment. Not just in sexual relationships, in any relationships.

      Or — like I said in the post –getting the conversation around “beautiful” to be around things other than women. Beautiful being things you both love. Beautiful being things you experience together. Getting beauty to mean things outside of her.

      What all of those things have in common is trying to change the vocabulary as people connect and interact with each other. I’m not about to change the entire way that the media portrays women (and, quite frankly, men, although god knows we’re trying.) But one by one, interaction by interaction — yeah, we can do that.

      Conversations like this, no matter how angry people get, no matter how much people disagree — are a starting point to understanding the viewpoints that aren’t your own.

      And we’re here to keep talking.


      • great response Lisa

      • understanding says:

        I’m beautiful inside and out, and I have my own personal commitment to vanity and intellect. This is a personal choice I am not ashamed of. I can’t help but feel that any angry commentors feel all shook up because it strikes something in one’s issues with their selves. I think those anger issues should be addressed because they are a threat to health and block good things to happen for one self in may areas. I think my beauty just gets better with age as well.

    • Well, I’ll throw in a perspective from the other side of the coin: I’m a woman with healthy self esteem. I’m not classically beautiful, not ugly either. I could invest a whole lot of time and energy worrying about “enhancing” my image, and if/when I do that I can look pretty good. But it’s just not a priority for me. I also never minded the idea of getting older, don’t have a problem being attracted to older guys, etc.

      And hey, guess what? I’m 49 and still single. Having a life partner is really important to me, but I’ve not found one (and no, I don’t care if the guy is rich, or tall, or looks like Brad Pitt. I do have standards, but they’re more related to character and intelligence and empathy and substantial stuff that I do have to offer in return). I’m not socially awkward. I have a wonderful circle of *friends*, many of them male. They’re all married to women who are a lot more physically attractive than I am. I’m their best buddy or their sister, not romantic relationship material. And I know quite a few other lovely women my age who are in the same boat.

      So what am I supposed to conclude from this, except that women are absolutely correct to be so insecure about their looks? At the end of the day, no matter how many other good qualities a woman has, most guys are going to pick whoever’s the most attractive. And a woman who doesn’t invest a whole lot in clothes, makeup, hair styling and all the other goodies to make herself more attractive simply isn’t going to get noticed, even by guys who purport to like women without all those things (what they generally really mean is that they like women who don’t look like they’ve invested a lot in those things).

      None of this has made me say I’d rather be dead than get old, or that I’m going to suddenly change my ways and become obsessed with beauty. It’s a bit late for that, and I’d never be able to do it convincingly even if I wanted to. But in the past 10 years or so I’ve certainly come to understand, in a way that I didn’t before, why so many women feel that way.

      I realize this probably isn’t that helpful as as far as advising you what you (men) can do about it. Maybe just look a little more closely at the women you hadn’t noticed before, I don’t know. I find that most of the men I end up finding the most attractive are not the first ones I noticed or found attractive. They tend to be the ones who are more secure with themselves and aren’t so worried about impressing everyone else. As long as insecurity is rewarded with attention and being secure with oneself is ignored, it kinda creates a catch 22 doesn’t it?

  33. “Women would rather be dead than seen as not beautiful”? Huh??? Speak for yourself and your obviously-shallow friends, but leave me (and most other women I know that are worth spending any time with) out of it please. So many women are obsessed with beauty because they’ve allowed themselves to be objectified and now equate their worth with their ability to acquire material wealth, instead of real wealth in the form of a healthy self-esteem and emotional maturity, not harmfully dependent on others. Possessing intelligence “gives women privileges they wouldn’t otherwise have” too, like, you know, gaining access to astrophysicists’ labs, or a chance at becoming a champion on Jeopardy! But I guess I’m supposed to prefer the privilege of being able to wield a golf club in anger? Sorry, this article doesn’t help with encouraging healthy debate, it just serves to further polarize those of us who don’t fit the stereotypes that dictate what attractive women are supposed feel, think and be motivated by.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      For the record, the reasons these conversations came up is because I want to live to be 110 years old, and I’m quite joyous in my desire to live that long. But I noticed in conversations about increasing lifespans that I couldn’t find a single female taker to agree to come along for the ride. And no one came out and said it overtly — not at first — which is why part of my premise here is that women aren’t being completely honest. Even when assured that people who live that long usually stay quite active til the end, even when I said well, what if you were healthy well past 100 — almost everyone did the math and said they wouldn’t want to be old for “that long”. Well, guess what, once your past 70 or 80, the option is to be old or be dead. And the reason women didn’t want to be that old is because they felt they would be marginalized. And a good part of that marginalization would be based on their looks.

      These are people who are thoughtful, intelligent, who may or may not be considered traditionally attractive. And so I was truly horrified that *any* women would feel that way. How many women is enough to make it a problem? 10% 20% 50%?

      Bravo for you for not feeling that way. I am with you. And I’m all for healthy self-esteem and emotional maturity — I’ve spent a lifetime trying to get there. But I believe it’s harder to get there *if we don’t acknowledge it’s a problem.*

      If you would like to write an article that *does* encourage healthy debate, please do so — submissions are open on this site.

      • Thanks for acknowledging my rant (and thanks for the invitation to submit – unfortunately I’m not sure I’m capable of writing an article on this subject, at least not right now – aside from the obvious negative representations in the media, I don’t know really know any women on the other side of my perspective to make it balanced). But thanks.

      • At 80, everybody is marginalized. Men and women. Generally, they are no longer working and even their grandchildren are pretty much grown. So what do you do? You date 80 year old men. (I hear seniors really get around by the way). You go have coffee with your girlfriends. You visit with the great-grandkids. You garden. You bake. You read books. You join the band at the senior center. Heavens! Was this whole article about women afraid that when they’re 80 the only people who will be interested in fucking them are other 80 year olds? Really?? This is the problem we’re supposed to acknowledge?
        The stock market is doing wild and crazy things. Our government can’t balance the budget without threatening the entire world’s economy first. Unemployment is above 9%. Teachers are being laid off (thus impacting the education of our children)…and you want me to be concerned about the concerns women have about their sex lives 20, 30, and 40 years into the future. We’re not even asking women who are currently 80 years old how they feel about their lives and their beauty we’re gonna have a “healthy debate” about the projected worries of women about their beauty and sexual prospects 30-40 years from now. You have got to be fucking kidding me!
        I’m sorry but this is not a problem worthy of debate. Why? Because the women who make it to 80 and above will be able to handle the situation just like every other 80 year old woman I’ve ever met (whose mind is intact, that is).

        • I would agree about life at 80. At 80 there will still be men who would like to be with you. The real question is whether they are the men you want to be with. I’m guessing there are 80-year old women mourning the “loss” of their youthful looks, but I suspect generally people in their 80’s have other priorities.

  34. “Women would rather be dead than seen as not beautiful.
    Sometimes I talk to my girlfriends about aging. After a while, I noticed a pattern—without any hesitation, they all said, “Oh, no, I don’t want to get old. No, thanks, I’d rather be dead.” So then I started asking the question farther and wider, and I got pretty much a unanimous verdict. Women would rather die early than get old enough so they weren’t beautiful any more. Even women who didn’t necessary believe that for themselves fully understand the sentiment.”

    I’m sorry, but where on earth did this idea come from and who were the women you asked? I know a lot of women who are quite happy being alive, and who are not beautiful and who know they are not beautiful, and I know attractive women who look forward to aging and being mothers and grandmothers and losing their tight skin and curves and escaping body expectations. I personally do not see death as a big deal, but I’d rather age with my husband and raise children and grandchildren together, all the while becoming less attractive with age, than die early and miss out on all that but still look young and pretty.

  35. This is a very interesting article. I’ve run into some issues in this area. I’m an attractive woman in my 30s. I can admit this. I work at being attractive. I grew up feeling like an ugly duckling and thought that all my wishes would come true if I was pretty (ha!!). I look in the mirror and see a beautiful woman. A lot of men look at me that way too. Part of that definitely comes from finally knowing who I am and being comfortable with myself, and loving the company I keep when I’m all alone. At the same time, I’ve always had high standards when it came to my intelligence, but that was always the case whether I felt I was pretty or not. Basically, I agree with the statement, “…beauty is seen as the cost of entry,” even though I see it as unfair. I believe that goes for men as well. Especially now adays, when women are financially self-sufficient and the stigma of being an older single woman is not really there anymore (compared to 30-plus years ago). Today, women pursue men they are attracted to physically. That’s been my first requirement when seeking a date. My current boyfriend is very attractive physically, at least to me. That’s how I noticed him. He finds me very attractive and loves to tell me so in a variety of ways. This is my issue… I’m very glad he finds me attractive. Love it, in fact. But he so rarely tells me about the intangibles that he finds attractive too. To me, physical attractiveness alone is only good for a romp in the bed. But the attractiveness needs to run deeper. And while I do love the flattery, I need more because otherwise it all seems so superficial. My looks are what I present to the world, whether I know people or not. Who I am is so much more and after awhile, I’d love to hear about the other things that a man finds attractive about me. My laugh? My stubbornness? My …. whatever. There could be so many things that I haven’t even thought of. And vice versa. I love so much about him. The looks were what drew me to him, but what made me decide to stay are so much more than what he looks like. Anyway… the thing is, I decided before I even met my boyfriend that I was attractive. I was and am happy with my looks, with or without his flattery. What I need is for him to tell me he loves for all my quirks and idosyncracies that only he gets to know about intimately. Looks won’t last.

    • Henry Vandenburgh says:

      Not to argue, but if I’d let great beauty be my main standard, I’d have been stuck with some truly horrible women. “Face” people, as they used to say, really are superficial most of the time, and materialistic. I think great beauty is pretty much a role that one can manufacture, and we all know the reason people adopt it. I’ve probably been with two knockout women in my life, but they were not very aware of this. Most of the people I’ve been with have been attractive, and I think I am.

  36. I’d like for someone to ask men, “What makes you feel beautiful?”

    Get ready to not have any answers. And if that doesn’t break your heart into a million tiny pieces; then you need a heart transplant.

    I’m 43. I’ve been married twice and am in a long-term relationship now. And the first time I ever felt beautiful was about a month ago. I mean I felt, for the first time ever, that I – me – was sexy and desirable and lustfully pursued because of it. And I’m not a guy who has ever been without a date when he wanted one.

    I wonder about asking this question of women, too. How many of them use the powders and potions and yet feel no more beautiful when they are done? When the men in their lives say, “My God, you are beautiful!” how many of them stop and actually let themselves feel it?

    I’m guessing almost none. And if THAT doesn’t break your heart; then you damn well need a transplant.

    I don’t think it’s a man or woman issue. It’s a cultural issue that we only think we are good enough if we are the best, and there is always someone who is more…something. I’ve always told my sons that I love them, but I’ve recently begun telling them they are beautiful, too. Because you know what? If you can look at a four year old boy squatting over a bug and watching him cry in exultant glee at its struggles and not think it’s beautiful…then you don’t have a heart to transplant.

  37. Ah, that word — beautiful.

    I am one of those young women that hangs out with far more men than women. They often forget that I’m there, or at least that I am a female person, so I get to hear them say things like “oh that girl is so BEAUTIFUL, look at her body, tits, arse, hair, etc.” and then tack on, as an afterthought, “oh right and she is also smart and accomplished.”

    On top of that, look at discussions online. When it’s evident that a poster with whom another poster disagrees is female, you often see, “well, you’re fat/ugly” presented as if it were a trump card.

  38. I found this piece to be uplifting and well-written. The idea that an honest dialogue has not yet taken place because one side (though possibly both) has remained dishonest (possibly with themselves?) is an extremely positive idea: it suggests that open dialogue and genuine sharing of experiences can be a solution to stress people (and society) put upon themselves.

    I only wish that the other writers at the Good Men Project would take note.

    Often when the shoe is on the other foot, and the topic is something that men are unlikely to be honest with themselves about, the suggested solution is NOT moving towards a more open and honest dialogue, but rather slinging shame at men. For proof of this please see every piece written ever by either Hugo Schwyzer or Amanda Marcotte.

  39. Interesting article Lisa, but I’m a bit concerned about your comments on Anorexia.

    The causes of eating disorderes are immensely complex and disputed, and attributing it to “an unnatural fear of being seen as unattractive by the opposite sex” is inaccurate and a dangerous misreading of the real problems.

    Anorexia is undoubtely tied up with self-loathing and is in many ways similar to self-harming behaviour like cutting and hair pulling.

    Laurie Penny wrote well about it in the Guardian a few weeks ago.

    The real problem is not “size zero”. The real problem is that we live in a neurotic, miserable society with a deeply disturbed attitude to food, nurture and consumption, a society which teaches children, and particularly girls, that their growing bodies and normal desires are unacceptable and must be starved away.

  40. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    Too much stereotypical “beauty” looks engineered and manipulative. Healthy looks sexy and accessible. I don’t think all men fall for this.

  41. The Wet One says:

    This one hits close to home. Notwithstanding the fact that I am with my own teenage wet dream, some days she cries to me that she feels ugly. This cuts me to the bone, because she is so farking gorgeous is hurts.

    Why can’t our lives be better than they are? Not perfect, but better? Sigh…

    • She probably knows how much you (and other men) value her for her looks, and fears she can’t live up to those standards, especially as she ages. Being beautiful is a double edged sword for that reason.

      • The Wet One says:

        Not that this helps at all, but “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!”

        Whimper, whimper…. Ok, I feel a bit better.


      • See Jill – this is exactly where you lose the confidence of some of your audience. There is acknowledgement that external pressures impact all of us. There is acknowledgement that the type of expectations may be different (not all agree exactly), and that they are very difficult to maintain. And then someone states that tears have been shed over this internal turmoil and you immediately externalize the blame for the turmoil outside the individual. It does not work that way. We are not helpless sponges. We own our individual unrealistic expectations just as much, if not more so, than the external powers that be. We have a brain and we dare to use it to inject full-fledged reality into our self-perception. The weakness of us women is that we internalize far too much. The weakness of men is that they externalize far too much.

        • I am only making a factual observation that beautiful women are often insecure because they fear not being beautiful enough or they fear losing their beauty. I’m not saying it’s “right” to feel that what. You are confusing an explanation with an excuse. Of course we all have a personal responsibility to work on being strong enough internally not to cave into our own neurotic pressures but how many of us really manage to do that consistently?

  42. Regarding seeking approval from Jezebele says:

    “Many women are deeply afraid of ending up ugly, old, alone and surrounded by cats. We know that to avoid that, staying attractive to men is everything.”

    Yeah but why are you framing this as something that doesn’t effects men and disproportionately affects women when In reality, women impose more standards on men with their hypergamy?

    I getting very tired of gynocentric feminism, women are not the be all and end all and the center of the universe.

    • Not sure I follow you. Do you deny that men prefer attractive women over unattractive women?

      Also, I can only speak to my own experience. Other commenters (like yourself) are welcome to add a different point of view.

      • Regarding seeking approval from Jezebele says:

        “Not sure I follow you. Do you deny that men prefer attractive women over unattractive women?”

        I’m not sure how you can be absorbed in yourself as to think that’s something that’s gendered. Both men and women prefer attractive over unattractive and women hold men to higher beauty standards that men do women from the survey I’ve seen on it, also women also hold men to other standards that men do not hold women to.

        So the feminist approach to gender relations – gender narcissism and all take and no give, is what I’m denying here.

        • Lisa Hickey says:

          We have written about about this very thing from a male perspective — The Male Body: Repulsive or Beautiful — comes to mind.

          We are welcome to any commenters writing posts about a perspective of this conversation they feel passionate about.

        • I did acknowledge that women are very competitive with each other. And of course there are standards that women impose on men, which you are free to discuss. That might add an interesting element to the discussion of these complicated issues. Instead, you are simply complaining that you are offended by the fact that beauty standards for women is the topic that’s under discussion, as though any discussion of that topic is impermissible as long as “men have it bad too.” I which case, I wonder why you are here commenting at all.

          • Regarding seeking approval from Jezebele says:

            That would be fine if the publication wasn’t saying men are bad women are good, men are adults women are powerless children etc and there weren’t a gaggle of feminist here squeaking about how its all true and women are helpless children and men should take responsibility for women’s choices and neuroses while offering nothing on return.

  43. I think girls learn very early in life that how they look is essential to who they are. How many times a day do people tell little girls “you’re pretty”? How many Disney princesses are ugly?

    I can’t just blame men for this, of course. It comes from both men and women. Women can be very competitive with each other, but I think it’s fundamentally rooted in a desire to be seen as attractive by men.

    On the other hand, I won’t let men off the hook. All the guys taking “pickup artist” seminars are not trying to learn how to “pick up” uggos. They are taking pickup artist classes with the express intent of trying to pick up hot babes, preferably “perfect 10’s.” If you read the advertisements on pickup artist websites they say things like “never date an ugly woman again.” Women know that their looks are probably the most important quality they have in attracting a man. Looks won’t keep a man around, necessarily, but without physical attraction, men will never even approach you. Women who are not genetically blessed, who are heavier, older, disabled or otherwise undesirable are totally invisible to men.

    I’ve said this before in commenting on other articles on GMP. Men often complain about women having all the power to choose in the dating and relationship world. This proves to me that less attractive women ARE invisible because the only women with the power to choose from a wide selection of men are the highly attractive, generally young women. Average or below-average looking women get very little attention, struggle to find relationships and sometimes end up dating guys who treat them badly, out of desperation.

    I was not terribly attractive in my teens/20’s. I was too tall, I was very shy, overly intellectual and gawky, and I struggled with my weight. My first boyfriend in college regularly picked on me about my weight (at the time, I was about 20 pounds overweight) and it took me months before I finally dumped him. He made me miserable but I didn’t think I could get anyone else. I felt like, “well at least he’s willing to date me, and no one else is.”

    Many women are deeply afraid of ending up ugly, old, alone and surrounded by cats. We know that to avoid that, staying attractive to men is everything.

    • I’ve always anticipated that I will end up old and alone. Women in my family tend to outlive the men by 20+ years. Things didn’t get sad for them until the last few years when they ended up in nursing homes. They spent a good many years enjoying themselves and being active in their communities. If I am lucky enough to live as long as they did I hope I have their zest for life.

      Also, when I was young I bought into the idea that I was so weird that if I didn’t take the first chance that was offered to me to get married I never would get it again. So I married at 18 and divorced at 32. You know what? My assessment might have been true. I may never again have the opportunity to get married and live a “normal” life but since then I’ve figured out that “normal” doesn’t suit me and I’m better off alone than pretending to be someone I’m not.

    • Regarding this statement:

      “Women can be very competitive with each other, but I think it’s fundamentally rooted in a desire to be seen as attractive by men.”

      Does this include married women? Or, do women stop competing with other women in attractiveness after they get married? I would think so. After all, why would married women be competing for the attention of other men?

      • Married women still want to be attractive to men, including but not limited to their spouse, just as married men still want to be attractive to women. A lot of these feelings are unconscious so it’s not like it’s a rational decision. If you think women stop worrying about their attractiveness once they “catch a man,” go read the comments to the recent articles about porn.

        • Jill – so are married women subconciously trying to attract other men? Why do they, once they get one, stop trying so hard with him? Is it like once an animal makes it kill he doesn’t need to keep rekilling, s/he re- focuses on hunting for the next one and the next one after that and so on?

          Perhaps having just one man is not good enough. Perhaps Jeni’s right, women aren’t naturally monogamous (any more than men). Perhaps they just express it differently in that they try to use their appearnance to continuoyusly atract men. Perhaps they are simply wired to try to attract as many men as possible.

          Many women would not be caught dead w/o makeup outside the house take it off when they get home to the man they ostensibly care about impressing the most with their appearance.

          BTW, this is not analogous to viewing porn as men are not trying to attract or even internact with other women by viewing porn. Not that men are all naturally monogamous either, just that the porn parallel fit here.

          • Eric,

            Check out the Coolidge effect on Wikipedia. Also, we’re built for attracting as many mates as possible. Men are built to have their sperm compete inside a woman’s body more than they are built to have them compete outside a woman’s body. This is why our body size dimorphism is less than gorillas but more than gibbons. It’s also why human males have larger testicles and penises than gorillas. Gorillas beat off competitors with sheer physicality. Human males do that to a certain extent but they also do that with the sheer quantity and quality of their sperm.

      • Well, Eric, I would say that’s because humans are not naturally monogamous. We like to pretend that we are but I don’t see a lot of proof of that.

        • True, true. Those who are naturally monogamous don’t have to put a lot of effort into not getting involved with other people when they are in committed relationship any more than a heterosexual has to try hard to be attracted to a person of the opposite sex.

    • Very well said as always, Jill.

  44. A few weeks ago, I was watching a movie where there were a couple of men who didn’t look exactly right for their environment or roles, and I realized that female actors always have to look the part of whatever they play. That pressure is enormous even in real life. I’d never be hired as a waitress, since I’ve never been into makeup and don’t have a look that says I want men to love me. I’m sure I’d like the job, and be good at it, but I’d never be considered. Another one like that is receptionist. I’m extremely polite and like almost everyone, but don’t really cotton to the way pink-collar employees are treated.

  45. Men have to deal with this issue mostly in the sense that they have to deal with women in their lives. Men can choose how much they want to contribute to the situation.
    As I have been reading posts and comments on the GMP about various issues (okay, mostly porn and sexuality), I am kind of surprised at how disempowered so many of the women are and how much we like to play the victim role. It is kind of sad to witness both in other women as well as in myself.
    I will be the first to admit that most women like to be seen and most women like to look pretty. We just do. I don’t fully understand it but I do.
    At the same time, so many of us seem to have bought into this concept that a woman’s only real value is in her physical appearance. Even though we have college degrees and careers we still only seem to value ourselves for our beauty and the kind of man (and life) we think it will purchase for us. My evidence for this is in the idea Lisa mentions in her article about preferring death over aging. It is also evident in the comments I have seen from women about the issue of porn and their fears of not measuring up to the female actresses in porn. You know, I don’t want to give my power away like that and it’s a struggle sometimes not to do so.
    Personally, I look forward to aging. From what I have seen, many women in their 50s and above have a strength, confidence, and wisdom I don’t see in younger women. I want that for myself and I know it will only come with age. At the same time, I do recognize the process to get there will involve letting go of my youth and the type of physical beauty that accompanies it. It’s not easy to do but I think it will be worth it.
    I also think a lot of men respond to more than youth and beauty in women. They are attracted to strength, intelligence, kindness, and a multitude of other qualities. From a realistic perspective, I know my boyfriend isn’t involved with me because he finds me the sexiest, most attractive woman he knows. I know this because I have eyes. There are tons of beautiful women out there. But, when he compliments me on my courage, strength, or intelligence I know he really sees and appreciates me for all I am. When he opens up to me about his feelings and his problems, I know that I have helped create an environment where he feels safe and where real love can grow. That is more valuable than perky breasts, a flat stomach, or long eyelashes.
    We cannot control the experiences or opinions of others but we can control how we view ourselves and what we value most about ourselves. I think men will and do respond to that.

    • This is your opinion, yet you are stating it like a fact that posts like this and this state of mind is disempowering to women, that “we” play the victim role, and that men have to deal with the same thing. No.

      It is a large double standard, and men rarely have to deal with the feat of being attractive enough for a women (or if they’re homosexual, for another man). It is an entirely different ballpark, and putting the two in the same category is like comparing professional ice skating in the Olympics to pick up sticks.

      It is true that it is a wonderful thing for a man to compliment a woman’s personality and what else she has to offer besides her looks, but the point isn’t whether or not the woman is a super model – it’s that HE finds her beautiful. Beautiful to HIM. We can’t disregard it like it’s not important; why would you be with someone if you didn’t find them attractive? That’s a factually important part of a relationship (unless you’re in a relationship wherein both parties want nothing to do with sex).

      The truth of the matter is that no matter how much a person values their beauty, it’s usually quite nice to receive a compliment on their appearance. It’s probably not healthy to have attention focused on that, just like it’s not healthy to have an obsession or fixation on anything.

      • What I am saying is that I find the attitudes of women mentioned in this post as well as in the various comments section to be disempowered.
        Men have other issues to deal with that women do not except in that we have to deal with men in our lives. Men don’t appear to worry as much about being physically attractive to women but they do worry about being attractive to women.
        Yes, most everybody likes to be complimented on their looks. I’m not saying they don’t. But this idea that women are better off dead than old is excessive. The fact that women say nonsense like that is proof that they have decided that only way for their lives to be fulfilling or worthwhile is if they are young and attractive. Those are their thoughts in their heads. They have to take responsibility for that.
        If a man is in a relationship with a woman he usually thinks she is attractive in some fashion. Obviously, he’s getting something out of it or he wouldn’t be there. The primary attractiveness though need not be physical. Most men I know don’t have a problem complimenting their wives and girlfriends on their beauty or attractiveness.
        Last year, I was in a relationship with (dare I say it?) an utterly beautiful, intelligent man who loved having sex with me and constantly told me how attractive I was. That was nice but I didn’t feel like he appreciated anything else about me. Oh, and when a man compliments me on my courage or strength or knowledge, I don’t view those as my “personality”. That’s character. Those are all results of choices I have made in my life. They are integral parts of what gives my life purpose. Those are values and parts of myself I want my children to see and consider emulating or at least respect.
        I don’t understand your comment about sexuality and physical attractiveness. Are you saying people only have sex with people they are physically attracted to? That may be the case for you but not for me. I am in and have been in relationships with men who I did not and do not find to be particularly physically attractive. Yet, I still love them and have sex with them. Furthermore, I have had sex with a number of the men who I did not find physically attractive. They were just there and they were, ahem, ready. My only standard in those situations is hygiene, skill level, and respect for my boundaries.
        When it comes to pure physical attractiveness, I am far more attracted to women than men. However, my relationships are predominantly with men because they have something to offer that is more than merely physically attractive. (NO, it has nothing to do with their status or income. I make more money than most of the men I am in relationship with.)

        • I’m not sure I get the whole playing-the-victm charge. It seems to me to be another way to shut down dialog about a problem that one isn’t comfortable discussing. Not that I’m accussing you of doing that, Jeni, but I do find it a bit….odd whenever people bring that up. It’s kind of like the race card. If someone cries racism, it’s certainly easier to dismiss their charges and their concerns by accussing them of playing the race card than it is to examine the evidence and the implications that come along with it.

          I dunno….maybe that whole silly “You’re just playing the whiny victim!” charge works on some people, but it doesn’t work on me. These are legitimate concerns that some people have. The fact that they don’t affect you may be less of an indication of the complainers playing any card and more indicative of your need to develop your empathy. Just a thought.

          • Yeah, I’m a cold-hearted bitch. I’ll own that. No worries there. 🙂
            Given that I am a female who was raised to believe my only value was in my physical attractiveness and that my intelligence would only serve to help me get a better class of husband, I would say, “Sorry! I disagree!”
            Just like any other woman in her late 30s I’m looking down the road and seeing that I sure as hell won’t be getting any prettier (at least not from a conventional perspective). I’m not going to blame men for that though.
            I am aware that, from a conventional perspective, I should be using the beauty I have left to catch myself a man who will stay with me and safeguard me against all ills until the day I die. But you know what? That doesn’t seem very interesting to me. Rather than trying to find somebody else to make me feel better about myself, I am choosing to live my life fully, take on my fears, and believe that I am worthwhile regardless of whether or I’m alone or that anyone thinks I’m beautiful.
            Yeah, that’s a bad idea. It’s soooo much better to whine about it and live in fear. Oh, and those are totally the values I want to pass on to my daughter. Yep, that’s the ticket!

      • “It is a large double standard, and men rarely have to deal with the feat of being attractive enough for a women (or if they’re homosexual, for another man). ”

        How can you possibly know any of this, D? And the second part of that is just laughable – gay men don’t have to worry about physical attractiveness for other men? Honey, you need a good hard slap with the clue stick.

        I mean really, what would lead you to say something so obviously untrue? What motivates such a statment?

    • I totally agree with you, Jeni!

  46. Of course women want to be thought of as beautiful. We are all inundated with images of gorgeous women everywhere we go. We are taught that our value as women lies in the ability to make ourselves sexually attractive. We can’t blame this one on men. We are ALL being sold messages about female beauty and sexuality in the media and advertising. The APA Report on the Sexuality of Women and Girls in the Media pointed out that all this sexualization causes women and girls to objectify THEMSELVES (Caps for emphasis, not anger). Which means that we are buying into the message that the only thing that matters is our perceived hotness, and in my opinion, it’s completely understandable. We all want to think we’re immune to the millions of messages we receive from the various forms of media, but unfortunately that just isn’t true.

    • You speak it so well 🙂 Thank you.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      I’m not blaming anything on men. I’m asking that men and women talk about it together. I’m not sure that women alone can fight the battle the battle you mention — “We are ALL being sold messages about female beauty and sexuality in the media and advertising.” Men are being sold a ton of stereotypes about how they should look and act as well — and one thing we try to do here is call out those instances when they happen.

      Thank you for articulating that piece of it.

      • Hey, Lisa….sorry for making is seem as though I was criticizing you or this piece–I wasn’t at all, and I’m glad you wrote about this issue because it should definitely be discussed. I wasn’t saying that you were blaming men. I was half asleep when I wrote this, so I didn’t think my words through very carefully. I liked the article. Sorry for the misunderstanding! 🙂

    • Maybe we can blame SOME men – the ones that still rule and own the media and entertainment. Most of them are old, straight white guys, wanting to keep stereotyping women AND men for their own pleasure.

  47. Regarding seeking approval from Jezebele says:

    Who cares what they think and why would a mens publication bow and scrape before a publication that is populated by idiots and pro-domestic violence against men?
    See the Jezebele article entitled “Have youever beat-up a boyfriend cause uh we have” you can no longer see the comments but it was full of women bragging and patting each other on the back for committing domestic violence, some of it very serious. The clowns at Jezebele should be ridiculed, not put on a pedestal.

  48. men’s desire to be ‘beautiful’ is just as great as women’s nowadays…

  49. I agree that it is “also” a men’s issue. Though no one should expect to walk through life without experiencing external pressures to feel desirable to their sexual interests – beauty (women) and success (men) are the stereotypes – those same no one(s) are indeed everyone, and anything we can offer each other to lessen the burden is truffles.

    Everyone gets that desirability is much more complex and nuanced than the broad stereotypes, as we also get that this knowledge does not erase those insecurities. A simple recognition is a very good thing all around.

  50. “And maybe the way to have the conversation be so less charged with peril is for all of us to simply expand our vocabulary about what beautiful really is.”

    Exactly, Lisa–I couldn’t agree more!

  51. Men are responsible in that society is responsible. After all, beauty is a term whose definition changes from person to person.

    • GirlGlad4theGMP says:

      A few points:
      1. Women are more harsh on each other than men. If I question a man about my physical attractiveness, I get a blanket statement (you’re hot, I’d do you, etc.). If I ask a woman the same thing, I get a more detailed and often backhanded answer (you’re cute, but…, you’d be much more attractive if…). Note the change in the level of perceived attractiveness, and the caveat to latter statements. Why?
      2. Women are unbelievably harsh on themselves. I found my beauty in my upper twenties because I realized, that, no matter how beautiful a woman is inside and out, we are never happy with some (perceived) flaw. A friend, who is absolutely gorgeous, was picking on her ‘flaws’. I was bewildered that a woman who can actually stop traffic saw herself in such negative light. In the folowing weeks I noticed more and more that the women around me, who I think all have exceptionally beautiful physical attritubes of some kind, had some major critiques of themselves. So you dislike your x, y and z…but you really like your a, b, and c…celebrate that. I know I’d rather learn to love what I was given and find a partner who does as well, instead of spending copious amounts of time and money changing what formed out of the DNA of two amazing parents.
      3. On a social level, we are ALL responsible for the perceptions of attractiveness for women AND men (with all the new beauty products for men, it has never been more apparent that the stereotypes of attractiveness profoundly affect our guys too). I remember a few weeks ago reading an article on this site about men and their physical insecurities. Society works on a supply and demand level. If we demand of our advertisers that they portray healthier images of attractiveness, en masse, we will be heard. Sign a petition, write a letter, blog…take action to change a trend. When normal becomes the norm, these insecurities will not be so high.

      • 1) Because straight women, just like gay men, can be a lot more honest with you. Straight guys will not want to hurt your feelings there, and most do not even know a thing about fashion or anything else.
        2) Yes, many women are harsh on themselves. Many men are harsh on themselves but they can not even talk about that. That is a societal problem, one that is very difficult to overcome only by acknowledging it. Women’s beauty is still considered their most precious value, or only value.
        3) “On a social level, we are ALL responsible for the perceptions of attractiveness for women AND men.” – that is what the commenter said.

  52. I think that the reaction on Jezebele is all likely projection. It’s generally not men that are holding women to unreasonable standards, its generally women that are holding men, and each other to unreasonable standards, and blaming men for it.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Trev — I’m not “blaming” men for anything. I DO think a lot of it is projection on the part of women — they care too much what men think. But does that mean that men shouldn’t care at all about what is happening in that dynamic?

      It’s one of those taboo topics — from how I see it, women won’t have truthful conversations with men about this topic.

      There’s no fault. The only thing to do from here is to start the conversation and keep talking about it.

      • Well Lisa, if as per TGMP we make all female issues male issues while females make no male issues theirs and often shift responsibility for their issues onto men. Men are being treated as a lower caste that exists as a utility to a higher caste. It can’t be all take and no give.

      • Lisa – Evidently, it’s not just what men think; they care too much what other women think as well. Very interestingly, women also seem to care as much or even more about what men other than their husbands think of their appearance, as if there is a constant need to be found beautiful by men who are not yet convinced.

        I have heard from women that they are also busily competing against other women in appearance that they dress and groom for and to compete with out women – even when there aren’t any men around to compete for the attention of. What pressure!

        I’ve noticed that women will come home to their husbands (the man they are ostensibly want to impress with their appearance above all others) and take off all the make-up and designer clothes, etc. that they won’t leave the house without. If they are dressing/grooming to please a man, wouldn’t it be the opposite? Wouldn’t they care more about being beautiful at home to their husband than with other men outside the home? This suggests a need for constant affirmation of their attractiveness from men. The man at home already loves her and thinks she’s beautiful but the others may still need convincing, so she dresses up and wears make-up for them. I don’t know but I can’ see any other explanation.

        I don’t have it all figured out but it’s complex and it seems clear to me that this really is a women’s issue and I don’t think there is anything that men can do to change it.

        • Lisa Hickey says:

          This that mention Eric is very interesting — I would love to have someone do a post just about this:

          “I’ve noticed that women will come home to their husbands (the man they are ostensibly want to impress with their appearance above all others) and take off all the make-up and designer clothes, etc. that they won’t leave the house without. If they are dressing/grooming to please a man, wouldn’t it be the opposite? Wouldn’t they care more about being beautiful at home to their husband than with other men outside the home?”

          It is complex, but I believe the reason it’s so complex is because it doesn’t get talked about honestly by both sides. Do husbands care that their wives only want to look good in public but not at home? Do they think their wives look better in the designer suits and makeup? What about personality — if a woman acts one way outside the home but totally different inside.

  53. No I think they are focused on a much smaller group of men above them so competition is high among them and they have developed beauty tricks like make up and so on, to make themselves appear more desirable than they are in order to compete with other women, to be attractive to men at higher end of the attraction scale.

    There was a survey on OKCupid and some charts that demonstrate this. As you can see, the male bell curve relating to attraction based on looks, shows that men consider a large group of women to be average where as women considered only a small group of men at the higher end of the attraction scale average.

    So female obsession with using tricks and technology to make themselves appear more attractive than they are, is likely due to their hypergamy. Here is the survey and the charts.

    h tt p://

    I don’t know why TGMP is so focused on shifting responsibility for female behavior, onto men. Putting women in a box where they are constructed to be children and men in another where they are expected to be the parents of women-children is deeply sexist.

    • Being attracted to hot guys = hypergamy? What about hot women themselves, are they still “hypergamic” for the guy’s hot looks?
      Sure, everyone is hypergamic somehow. Some want people hotter than themselves, others people smarter than themselves, other more confident than themselves, some even wealthier than themselves. In the end we all end up being hypergamic somehow, even without noticing it.


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  7. […] weird/strange/illuminating thing I’ve read is that some women—in fact, many women—would rather be dead than seen as not beautiful. I was so taken aback when I read this that I talked about it with three or four of my girl-friends […]

  8. […] It’s an interesting aspect of feminist analyses of ‘women’s objectification’, that they portray women’s desperate desire to ‘keep young and beautiful’ as the result of outside pressures, of the oppressive ‘male gaze’ and of ‘patriarchy’. But […]

  9. […] – Lisa Hickey, The Good Men Project […]

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