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.
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.