Mik from Australia responds to our commenter Anonymous Male on why there is a seeming paradox when it comes to men and women and beauty.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Here at The Good Men Project, we’ve had an ongoing series on “Women’s Obsession with Beauty,” with the goal of discovering some truths about how both men and women really feel about beauty. On one of those posts, a commenter who goes by the name of Anonymous Male asked about an apparent paradox. You can read his whole comment here, but in a nutshell:
On the one hand, men are portrayed as ravenous sexual beings who sleep with anything that moves. On the other, they have totally unrealistic expectations about beauty, wanting only the ‘hot babe’. Paradox?
We asked for responses, and Mik from Australia wrote the following post.
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The Beauty Paradox
For as long as women have been viewed by patriarchal societies as possessions, their worth and value have been intrinsically linked to the beauty aesthetic of the era they live in. Ergo, being considered “beautiful” becomes a measure against a fashionable cultural standard that adds to, or subtracts from, the perceived value of the object— i.e. the female in question.
What you may be intuiting—and perhaps, instinctively reacting to—is that some men aspire to “owning” a beautiful woman as another way of competing with and gaining a sense of superiority over other men. A culturally and appropriately “beautiful” woman is presumed to bring caché to a man’s status. She is a “thing,” a toy, a trump card, a piece of bullion.
Women have struggled for centuries against being treated as things or objects and by gosh darn it is a battle! Male privilege is so culturally indoctrinated that many believe this behaviour is biological. (Ask Hugo Schwyzer and he will tell you emphatically, it’s not! It’s cultural).
The dichotomy is that no one female can meet the exacting beauty standard that is set by the cultural norms of its time! The standard is––and always has been––set just beyond the limit of achievability. If the standard were actually reachable, then there would be the claim of ‘Perfection’ and given that most people resist the idea that actual perfection can exist, the beauty standard remains always slightly out of reach.
For women, buying (literally!) into the beauty standard means trying very hard to match them selves to it. The cost is often much higher than the financial investment, of course. The way we see it is, that if we (I’m generalizing here), hope to achieve the kind of hetero romantic/sexual relationship that meets a whole slew of emotional and psychological capacities, then meeting the beauty standard ostensibly gives us the edge for male attention.
Men instinctively know this about the beauty standard even if they’re barely aware it exists. Many women rail against meeting the standard (it can do our heads in quite frankly!). Some deliberately opt out. Men are capable of understanding that despite any prescribed, but unachievable beauty standard, women will always be exactly what they are in that moment. Women may be smart, easy-going, outright bitches, tall, short, thin, fat, cuddly, sweet, nasty, entertaining, charming, snide, flirty… in other words, fascinating and intriguing in all their human complexity.
At which point, for men, it’s probably more like, “To hell with that standard for now… I’m curious about THIS female!” This is because a whole lot of other attraction factors come into play that can belie our culturally constructed notions of what is considered beautiful.
When women aren’t viewed as possessions with an intrinsic value based on the shape they are and the skin they wear, then a culturally imposed, impossible-to-meet, standard of beauty is no longer necessary. Beauty would go deeper than skin, to layers of human attraction and interest that are as unique as the individuals engaged in the relationship.
I hope for a time when women can stop competing to meet elusive beauty standards and men will stop competing to possess women that aspire to meeting these standards.
Accepting people as they are in the moment, is the key.
No measures or standards are required (although good personal hygiene helps), just simple acceptance. A woman is every bit a human being as a man. Repeat that daily and attempt to understand what it means in practice.
A man can be certainly attracted. So can a woman. Learn to recognise when she’s not attracted to you and move on with grace and good humour (not at her expense though). If she is attracted, then be geniuine, kind and always, always ASK first—about everything!
Accept that there are facets to people which aren’t tied to culturally imposed standards. Do not seek to own or possess the “most” beautiful of skin and shape: seek instead, a far greater kind of potential beauty, the person within! Learn to see past the overall façade and base attraction for a woman on her character, temperament, her personhood, and her good features (many women do have a physical feature that she does actually like. You can ask her what it is when you’ve built up trust enough to do so).
Show empathy. Demonstrate restraint and good manners. Collect your trophies on the sporting field not from among females! Treat women as they wish to be treated; and if they don’t know how they wish to be treated, go with respect, empathy, equality, humility and compassion.
Like women as friends first and foremost and let go of assuming you must “conquer” them sexually. Relationship must always be mutual and reciprocal.
Allow women to pursue pleasure for its own sake – even sexually if they wish, but without shaming them or imposing that awful Madonna/whore standard on them.
Let women be what they want to be. Inspire their intellect, their creativity, and their joie de vivre. Let women express passions but don’t play coy or manipulate them.
Don’t tell those god awful whiny hapless man-jokes about women! Show restraint with the silly blonde jokes (Note: Regardless of whether a woman is a brunette or a blonde, she is still a human being and one “type” is not more sexually valuable than the other. Get over that whole Blonde thing! It’s crass and you’re better than that! She’s way better than that!).
Help women to love their own bodies and to accept themselves as inherently beautiful because they’re human. Many women can have great difficulty believing a man who tells them they’re beautiful. [I know because I’m one of them!] But they must hear it…often, to help them learn that it is a truth of their personhood and character, not a buy in to beauty culture. Encourage the women you like and love to be healthy and strong, physically, emotionally and mentally.
Learn that your masculinity is not something that requires you to act in certain culturally imposed ways. You do not need to fear being emasculated by women, or your sensitivities, your fears, your romantic side, or your love of heavy thighs and larger than average bottoms! You have every right to express your sexuality your way with the caveat that you must not harm another person through it.
Accept that women will always, always distrust a man before she trusts him. This lack of trust can last long into a relationship. We are so alert to being played, abused, violated, used, and possessed that it can take a long, long, long time for some women to “let go” and trust that you are being genuine and that you really do care (and that you are capable of managing your own life and home for that matter!). We have a lot to learn too, about letting go of our own culturally imposed standards for men. So work with us and beside us on this journey.
It’s about respecting people: not because of their gender, their appearance or their status, but because we’re all in this together and we need each other more than we care to admit.
Here’s the post that prompted the original conversation: Beauty, Obsession, Men, and Women
Here is our entire section: Women’s Obsession with Beauty
Photo: schinagl / flickr