I once read that it is very hard to tell if a team is purposely throwing a game and trying to lose. If you know they are doing it though, it becomes extremely obvious.
There is this thing we do in society that completely escaped my recognition until someone pointed it out to me. Now that I have been shown, I see it everywhere. I am not sure what the root cause of it is. Maybe you can enlighten me:
What is our fascination with women’s appearances?
My most recent example of this attention to the female form was at a lecture about local history. Many dates and historical figures were presented. The lecturer only referenced one woman who had made a significant impact on our town. He made a note of her being unattractive. She was highly accomplished but remembered as not being physically pleasing.
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A few years ago Nancy Pelosi and Sarah Palin were in the news quite a bit. People tended to love one and hate the other. It was surprising to read and hear comments about the physical appearances of each. Adult men and women hurled insults for which middle-school students would have received a reprimand.
Are these comments made because we personally feel offended that someone was made a certain way? Would we like and approve of them more if they had a different nose, eyes or body shape? Does that lend credibility to their thoughts and ideas? If they choose to do something different with their appearance does that present us with a discussion topic?
When women had so few career options in which to shine did they rely more heavily on their dress and appearance for compliments and a feeling of competence? Was this an area in which women were allowed to excel and thus we have been conditioned to decide if they have?
Now that I have been enlightened to this topic I can’t believe how pervasive these talks are. We discuss a women who looks good. We discuss a woman who looks bad. We like this haircut, but not that one, this dress, but not that plastic surgery.
Why don’t we do this as often for men? Do they dress so similar that it is hard to distinguish them? When they lose or gain weight it doesn’t seem to draw the same interest as a woman’s losses or gains. Why is that? They don’t seem to have the same fondness for changing hairstyles so that limits some commentary. Have we just not been conditioned to not discuss men’s appearances?
Is it something deeper than this? Is it about power and control? If women express unpopular opinions or stand up to someone, are they bullied back into “their place” by cutting remarks about their faces or bodies? What is worse in this situation – to be dismissed because you aren’t attractive enough, or because you are too attractive?
I am not suggesting in any way that this judgment is limited to men. All of us play a role. We must. How else do you explain all of the beautiful female television news anchors? Women have to be beautiful to read the news. What would happen if we had to watch a women who wasn’t conventionally pretty tell us about the day’s events? Would it make us angry or offended? Would we turn the channel? Something bad must happen because only the beautiful women are chosen for this role. I wonder how they feel about that. Do they have to get insurance on their faces?
How do you feel when you hear comments made about a women’s appearance? Do you agree or disagree? “She looks good in that suit.” “I love her new haircut!” What if we asked, “What makes you say that?” Another possibility could be, “How about him?”
I have just been in the noticing stage for a while now. I notice the comments, like I did at this recent lecture, where I should mention the next slide was of a guy I wouldn’t have written home about. I notice and I ask myself these questions, and I have no answers.
I was thinking that since we have a female candidate for president I could make hearing comments about her appearance a drinking game, but I am concerned for my liver.
Mary Carey lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, two sons and two dogs. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and @maryhelenecarey on Twitter.