As you may have noticed before, I’m a big proponent of ditching the American beauty ideal. I wish it were as simple as crumpling that ideal and tossing it in the trash, but I know better. The Ideal isn’t just something that exists “out there” in the media and in our beauty industry. It’s not something that we’re only reminded of when we open a magazine or turn on the television. It’s ingrained in who we are as a culture now, and it’s ingrained into each of us.
Attraction isn’t simple. While online dating sites can open up new opportunities in some ways, I think it reinforces some of these ingrained ideas because we sit at a screen while we measure each other up. I believe that it’s a useful medium to look at when talking about how our culture operates when it comes to beauty, so this post is written in that context.
So… What Ideal?
Take age, for example. I recently read “The Case for an Older Woman” by OkTrends, a blog by OkCupid that explores online dating habits based on data generated by their users. A quote that really stuck out for me:
…A man, as he gets older, searches for relatively younger and younger women. Meanwhile his upper acceptable limit hovers only a token amount above his own age.
This isn’t all that surprising, is it? I assume we’re all familiar with the paradigm of the middle-aged man chasing the younger woman. The fact that surprised me isn’t that this pattern exists, but that it exists for much younger men, as well. A man in his mid-twenties also demonstrates this habit by choosing women at least a few years younger than he is. As a 28-year-old woman, I’m nearing a veritable black hole of age acceptability for men. Older men want women in their mid-twenties. Younger men want women in their early twenties.
Why am I talking about age when I started out focused on beauty? Because I think this is a good example of what I mean by ingrained cultural norms.
Only the Lonely
Let’s turn to another OkTrends post, “Your Looks and Your Inbox,” which explores the correlation between beauty and how often one receives messages from other online daters. According to data analyzed by OkCupid, mens’ actual messaging habits reflect the same desires they have for youth with regard to beauty. Money quote:
When it comes down to actually choosing targets, men choose the modelesque… Site-wide, two-thirds of male messages go to the best-looking third of women. So basically, guys are fighting each other 2-for-1 for the absolute best-rated females, while plenty of potentially charming, even cute, girls go unwritten.
We not-so-modelsque women hardly stand a chance against those odds. Not only are men most attracted to the modelesque, they believe they deserve a modelesque woman, and they will duke it out to get her. Beauty is so highly valued by men that they ignore 66% of women they feel aren’t desireable enough.
Any other ladies out there feeling a confusing mixture of vindication and depression right about now? We’re not just working against our own tendencies to put ourselves down. We’re also working against how men think we should look. I don’t just blame men for this, but these things are so intricately linked. Would I spend so much time automatically checking out my fat and cringing when I see a photo of myself if I felt like men would look at the photo and think I was beautiful? I work every day to unearth the things that make me feel good about how I look. But in the end: How can I feel desireable and beautiful when men aren’t interested?
I’m no victim, and I think it’s important for each of us not blame one particular aspect of ourselves when we consider issues of attraction. I know that I’m not single because I’m fat. I know, however, that because I’m fat I don’t fit into what’s typically considered beautiful. I also know that I haven’t come into contact with many straight men where I live who appreciate my unique beauty.
I’m curious to know what this struggle is like for you. My experience is obviously grounded in the fact that I’m a straight woman, and that I’m reminded on a daily basis of how I don’t measure-up to the standard set before me. But I know that we all face cultural expectations.
So tell me: Do you feel pretty?