Friday, December 08, 2006

Men, women, looks and pressure

I am not a particularly good observer of social trends, and especially not of social pressure, so tell me if I am way off base here:

I keep hearing about women feeling the pressure to look good, and the society applying this pressure. I don't feel it that much myself (I mean, it's nice to look good but I don't feel like other people expect me to apply effort to it, except maybe my mother), and I am quite sure that most people do not expect all women to dress up, wear heels, wear makeup and elaborately style their hair all the time. And yet the fact that there is a significant number of women who feel like all of the above is expected of them probably means that there is a also significant number of people who expect them to do so.

Anyway - I don't feel much pressure in this regard, partly because I hang out in the more relaxed circles, partly because I don't watch TV and partly due to being rather thick-skinned. On the other hand I notice the pressure applied to men fairly often - so often that sometimes I wonder whether there is really more of it or whether I am just less desensitized to it than to the one aimed at women.

Regardless of the gender of the targets: I have read many articles complaining that people are expected to do unnatural things to themselves in the name of beauty, and I can see people being annoyed at that, but IMO the pressure to be naturally beautiful is a lot more infuriating. American women are expected to shave their legs (you can leave them unshaved but this is considered a "statement"), and it's a bit annoying, but not nearly as much as in Russia of my teenage years, where women were expected to have naturally hairless legs. It's really tiring to have to fake being natural all the time. Hurray for everything fake, I'd say.

And that's what I think the pressure on men is. I hang around in circles that are farily relaxed on that too - thank god - and I think the attitudes in general got more relaxed in the last ten years or so, but when I was a teenager they were quite strong, and not only in Russia. I have always wondered how guys could stand it. They were (are?) basically expected not to do anything to look good, to pretend not to care about their looks at all, and yet they surely knew (at least I hope so) that their potential sex partners will judge and select them, among other things, on the basis of their looks.

(The obvious and significant exception from the above are the muscle and weight issues, because you can always refer to health, sports and general manliness.)

I have always wondered about this socially encouraged fatalism and how rigidly it was enforced. The basic idea is that if you look good naturally, great, if not, don't even think of trying to do anything about it. The men who tried to dress nicely attracted some degree of ridicule, depending on the social environment. Makeup? Forget about it. Higher heels or thicker soles on short men made people laugh and point. And the things some men said about long (or sometimes dyed) hair on other men tended to awaken an amateur doctor Freud in me. (I should write a whole separate post on hair, beards and sexual selection.)

Guys, aren't you annoyed by all that? Or do you just shrug it off?

Not that the attitudes haven't changed. Among educated urban people - at least the ones I know - styles of clothing vary greatly, an earring on a guy is common enough not to be noticed anymore, makeup does not shock most people, even though it does make one suspect that the guy is going to a costume party, and the one and only long-haired guy who complained that long hair makes people assume he is a new-age bunny-hugger - well, I suspect that it was not as much the hair as all the new-age bunny-hugging he was and still is doing. Nevertheless, the more you get into the redneck country (either socially or geographically) the more male adornment is frowned upon.

Always wondered where that came from. If I were the kind of person who likes conspiracy theories I'd say that the naturally good-looking guys developed this kind of thing to prevent the guys who are somewhat less good-looking but could use an improvement from competing. Seems like a kind of negative-sum game, though.

I think that the other side of the coin is a pressure on women not to take men's looks into attention, or rather, since this is very obviously absurd, not to admit to paying attention to men's looks. The way some women keep insisting that looks don't matter is pretty pathetic. A classical example, of which I have unfortunately seen too many, is a woman saying that she does not mind guys being fat/short/bald as such, but such guys have less confidence and that makes them less attractive. For fuck's sake... Most women are wired to prefer normal to fat, tall to short, hairy-headed to bald, and beautiful to ugly, and this is unfortunate for the fat, the short, the bald and the ugly, but there is no great shame in admitting to the fact. OTOH, blaming your own attraction to the good-looking men on the alleged personal shortcomings of the unattractive men is, in fact, pretty ugly.

I find the whole thing rather annoying and ridiculous. Every time I see a guy sneering at another guy's long hair or facial moisturizer something inside me laughs and points and thinks "here's a loser who is really worried about another guy getting an advantage", and every time I see a woman blaming her lack of attraction to a particular kind of men's looks on these men's alleged lack of self-confidence something inside me laughs and points and says really nasty things about that woman's self-confidence. Sometimes rather loudly.

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