Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Beauty Issue

My husband and his friend both assume that another friend of theirs is quite a hit among the ladies. Apparently high school and college were good times for X. “Can you imagine that they used to call him the 'Devastator'."

The irony is that neither my husband, nor his friend, bothered to ask actual women, including their own wives, what they think of X. The man in question is nice enough looking, but I haven’t spent much time thinking about him. The truth is that all above-average looking people are simple abstractions to me, unless they’ve written, said or done something that particularly piques my interest.

I don’t relate too well to the (outward) absence of obvious flaws in other people—like being too nice or too beautiful. No doubt this stems from an instinct to preserve dignity. One wonders if the unnaturally beautiful or virtuous might be applying their own (higher) standards to us: aka “could use an extra hour of treadmill every day,” or “needs to use more age-defying facial moisturizer” or “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.”

Even worse, if I suspect that an above-average good-looking person spends a lot of time improving or maintaining their physical appearance. Extreme self-discipline also makes me uncomfortable—seems too much like a self-mortification fetish. I, myself, last tried a diet in 2005—the South B(i)tch ™, which is exactly how carb-deprivation made me feel. Every time I’ve made an effort to diet or exercise more, I’ve lost the same five pounds, which immediately come back--since I haven’t been willing to make a Permanent Lifestyle Change. I do love walking and hiking, for the pleasure of these activities, not because they are connected in my mind with Self-Improvement. The irony is that all these men who spend hours buffing up in the gym would probably get more female attention if they did something like join a cooking class or book club or learn to dance.

On the self-improvement note, I recently received an email inviting me to a book signing by a former high school classmate who has written a book of lists to help people cope with those life-changing events—buying a new house, getting married, having children, getting divorced, dealing with death, and even the impossibly improbable like the World Trade Center Bombing on 9-11. I thought about this. I make lists too. This gives me a convenient sense of accomplishment, while enabling me to further procrastinate from the tedious things I mostly don’t want to do. I put things in neat stacks or star emails in my in-box. My rationale is that if something is important enough, somebody will remind me to do it and it will then pop back to the top of the list, and eventually I’ll take care of it.

Are women less judgmental about physical appearances than men? I thought about men who would not fall into the category of Somebody Whom Other People Consider Exceptionally Attractive that I would find interesting, like Salman Rushdie, for instance. I loved The Enchantress of Florence. What sort of woman, I wonder does a sensitive, deep writer-type like Salman Rushdie find attractive? Wife number four, Padma, model, celebrity chef. She's beautiful and she can cook, what went wrong there? Apparently, she wasn’t supportive enough of his career. What could the source of the “connection” he feels with most recent girlfriend, Pia Glenn be? Oh wait, that didn’t work out either…because he couldn’t get over Padma. He may write like an angel, but he appears to have the emotional maturity of a 16 year-old…

The interesting thing about getting older is that, for most people, it’s a great equalizer. Apparently X has been going to pick up his children at their school, and noticed that the high school girls in their plaid mini-skirts and knee socks still look cute, but they don’t give him a second look. However, he feels that his appearance is quite appreciated by these girls’ mothers. Sorry “Devastator” you’re cougar bait now.

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