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On attraction

A little bit of social commentary.

Consider the politics of body image. On the most basic level, our society seems obsessed with defining one particular kind of body as the ideal of beauty. In recent times, that body type, for women, has become fairly unrealistic and down right unhealthy for those who strive to mold themselves to it. Thankfully, we, as a society, are recognizing this, and there are movements to effect change to this idea, in various ways.

A number of people, myself included, reject the idea that a woman must conform to the latest Hollywood or fashion magazine flesh-fashion to be beautiful. However, it is a fact of human nature that everyone is not beautiful to everyone else. Is it shallow to prefer fashion models? It is certainly unrealistic.

Consider, though, a preference for people of "unfashionable" body type. This is almost always presented as a perversion; men who like muscular women, or rubanesque women, women who like hirsute men, or short men. Older women. Younger men. Etc. It's a "kink". It seems that any way of reasoning towards a healthier ideal of beauty (one attainable without starvation diets and surgery) is reduced to a perversion, an eccentricity.

So where does this leave us? In my experience, it seems that even the people who recognize the unhealthiness of our current beauty ideals regard a preference outside of them as a slightly twisted. Perhaps, then, we should simply transcend the physical, and focus solely on being attracted to the person inside? Most people, I think, would agree that love and relationships are forged on something deeper than the physical.

We're physical creatures, though, and outward appearance does make a difference. There has to be a basic physical attraction for anything more to develop.

Are one's physical tastes in partners an inborn thing? Or is it learned, acquired? An examination of shifts in beauty ideals in societies suggests the latter. Can they be changed once they are acquired? Perhaps not.

I wonder why it is that we have fixated on such a narrow range of acceptable beauty? Where does that come from? Is that social, learned, or is it inherent in us? Are we as a culture capable of learning to accept that people have different ranges of tastes? Or will we always need to group ourselves into the normals and the perverts?

It's possible that this catch 22 doesn't really exist; I have a knack for reducing situations to hopeless dilemmas. But it's something I've been thinking about, regardless.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 17th, 2002 01:40 pm (UTC)
I don't know... I really don't think the media depictions of beauty are representative of what the average man or woman looks for in a partner. I think the real issue is that the media and popular culture has taken on a life of it's own, and really has created it's own systems and standards that clearly *DON'T* reflect what most people think and feel.

The fashion industry is a good example -after watching Model Behaviour on BBC 4 for a few weeks, it occurred to me that the "ideal" look for a female model is actually somewhat homely by conventional standards - excessively tall, emaciated in a way that *no one* thinks is attractive, with open, blank faces - basically a walking wire hanger with a blank-canvas face, so that they can be used to best showcase clothing.

As for what people, en masse, find attractive? Well, I think a lot more men are attracted to say, lean yet buxom women like Angelina Jolie and that vulcan woman on Enterprise than those runway models. But those same men are probably also attracted to women in their lives who don't meet *many* of those standards of beauty. It's just that other than the odd Janine Garafalo film or My Big Fat Greek Wedding, stories about average looking people falling in love realistically don't make money, so we don't see it in the media. But I really, honestly believe that out there in the world, where the majority of people are, by definition, average looking, people's standards are far, far different than what they expect, consume and are told by pop culture.
Oct. 18th, 2002 11:49 am (UTC)
First, I would like to say that I really don't think as many people find "fashion" attractive.

Second, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Now, that eye both has natural tendencies (humans like symmetry, for example), and learned ones (a girl just like dear old Mom). Other things get more personal -- how many people have the same favorite colours? So I'm not sure what the point of contention is. Few people are going to agree about which paintings in the museum are beautiful.

However, your point is about physical beauty. There are different levels to that. A big part of it is that human bodies are alive, dynamic, moving things. Grace is more of a part of beauty than what haircut you have. Physical beauty is exetremely intangible -- look how the "standards" of beauty (male or female) have changed over the centuries -- hell, over the decades of the past century.

Now, as for attraction, that is not about the subject of your attention, but rather the connection between you. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then attraction is somewhere much lower down. Hence your question about us being "programmed" in a certain way, towards a certain type of person.

Some people are not naturally attracted to people who are both beautiful and friendly. Some people are attracted to people who are harmful to them. Attraction is a huge psychological playground, and most of it happens deep inside our heads. That is not to say it can't be changed, adapted, broadened, narrowed.

Maybe you lust after one particular body type, possessed by someone who couldn't have. Perhaps you are repulsed by people who remind you of another person, feared, hated, who knows? I sure as hell don't, and I don't think there are many who an truthfully tell you WHERE these attractions or repulsions come from.

The human mind is dangerous place. Which is why we like to play there. Like kids in a junkyard, eh? Sorry, I've been listening to too much Waits.
Oct. 18th, 2002 12:57 pm (UTC)
Hmm. So, it seems that the verdict is that it's my subconscious trying to find more things to be guilty about again. Pesky brain. I'll just have to go back to trying to kill it with alcohol.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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