“Beauty”

Issues
If you want people to read your blog, you have to have issues, preferably personal issues that masquerade as concerned citizenship. And you need to complain about how certain people are mean and/or stupid and are messing up the world. And say things that make people mad. And tell everyone how think. Sort of like what I’m passive-aggressively doing right now. This is especially effective if you’re young, white, and rich, and maybe a little paranoid.

We make a conscious effort not to do that on here too much, and we’ve sworn off politics – our blog is doomed! But by golly if this one didn’t just burn my biscuits…

Beauty
In parts of Africa fat women are sexy. In Japan, it’s slender men. But in the West? We like ‘em fake. We might think this is normal and no big deal. Call me paranoid, but I think living with stuff like this really messes us up. From CampaignforRealBeauty.ca:

And, of course, we can always ask questions about emotional manipulation, reverse psychology, and why a company that makes beauty products would care to fund something called “Campaign for Real Beauty”:

I’m convinced that the media to which we expose ourselves affects us deeply. But bigger questions remain, like “Where does a person’s worth and value really come from?” And, “How do we decide what is ultimately, truly beautiful?”

7 thoughts on ““Beauty”

  1. WOW!

    this is really significant! i’ve said for years that the american emphasis on beauty and athleticism has more deeply wounded the self esteem of generations of young people than any other single issue.

    where do you find this stuff?

    peace

  2. we put our own videos on youtube, and it was on their ‘most viewed today’ list or something. Jessica says CNN had it up for a bit as well.

    There are websites out there by the guys whose job it is to manipulate the photos, with before and after pictures. They also show what and how they edited which parts, etc. The editing in this particular video doesn’t actually seem that drastic compared to some stuff on those kinds of sites. It a safe assumption that any billboard or magazine ad featuring models has been manipulated.

  3. One of the first things that crossed my mind after seeing the Dove ad last month was “Boy, are they going to increase their sales.” But a second thought was, “Well, why not? At least they’re talking about the Emperor’s New Clothes, even if they’re one of the tailors.”

    I figure that the Dove ad, while manipulative, is far less harmful than other ads.

    Oh, and I like the “big” questions at the end. Care to shed your mask and posit your conclusions?

  4. What? I have to actually put out? But I’ll want to hear your take on all this.

    And “conclusions” is such a strong term…

    I’d base a person’s ultimate value in the “nature of their origins.” Differing beliefs regarding the nature of our origins will thus dictate differing degrees of value. To me this makes more sense than concepts like “self-validation,” where I attribute value to myself by assuming that the value and meaning of personal existence is inherent and unconditional; I am, therefore I have inherent worth.

    For the second question, oy, I wasn’t expecting to have to answer that. Speaking descriptively – “How do we decide what is truly beautiful?” re: people – I’d say most of us don’t. The basics are chosen for us by the time we start primary school. As adults we typically passively relinquish the power to deliberately condition the particulars by soaking our daily lives in whatever the entertainment/commercial media produces for the purpose of getting our money. Current result: millions of men genuinely wish their mate was, technically speaking, unnatural/extra-human. The most “beautiful” people are the the most surgically and digitally altered people.

    But, “How should we decide what is truly beautiful?” I’ll make a distinction here between a ‘reasoned ideal of true beauty’ and ‘actually experiencing that ideal.’ With a particular ideal in mind – say, specific criteria by which we identify ‘true beauty’ – we can move toward actually experiencing that ideal as beautiful (experiencing a ‘natural,’ embodied attraction to it). The alternative being that we are more naturally attracted to the ideal our environment produces in us than to the ideal we’ve worked out.

    Recognizing the conditioning influences playing on us – and doing something about them – is one important move in deliberately growing toward truly experiencing as beautiful whatever our ideal is. How we decide what that ideal should be… that’s a bigger, tougher question. I’ll let you answer it. ;)

  5. Sorry to leave this for so long — I just started a new job that requires a long commute, so my time’s been precious. And I still need to be brief so that I can spend time with my beautiful bride.

    First, I think we have to make sure we’re talking about the same thing. From what I gather, when you say “beauty” here I think you’re really talking about “sexual attractiveness”. Not that the two don’t belong together, but the latter is a part of the former. The two aren’t synonymous. I’ll focus on the physical, since greater minds have considered the topic of beauty and written books that I haven’t read (Plato’s the obvious one, but I hear Von Balthasar’s worth a read).

    Do we choose our ideals of human beauty? Nature or nurture? Are we “born that way”? I probably side more with the nurture view. To that end, we can choose (once we’re older, like you said, but before we’re adults) the environment that informs our understandings. I might be reading you wrongly (please correct me if I am), but I think I give people more agency in their own formation. Not to exclude cultural conditioning for this (because it’s real and powerful), but most people *want* to conform. And that point seems to be a part of human nature, which is why I prefer to hold the two in tension (spoken like a true academic).

    Your comment about the “reasoned” and the “actual” is one of the more insightful conclusions of pomo thought — the idea precedes the experience (not that I know much about pomo thought). If our idea of physical beauty doesn’t include a unibrow, then we will have difficulty recognising folks with a unibrow as attractive. And so, we can change our ideas, whether freely or through coersion.

    But should we change them? If one’s ideas are severely harmful to others, if they damage or negate human relationships, if they lead to a shallow and unhappy life, then, yes, we should. How do we decide on the ideal? Fortunately, I get to worm my way out of this one, too. There a manifold ways of establishing “personal definitions” of physical beauty that don’t lead to exploiting others.

    And with all that said, the problem may not be with the ideals but how we choose to act on those ideals. There’s nothing wrong with noticing a chica bonita or a mimbo (“male bimbo”) on the street. It’s another thing to oogle them as they go past.

    Oh, the topics we could discuss from here. And I haven’t even mentioned Theology of the Body yet! But since I’m rambling, I’ll stop here.

    PS – Are you approaching this more sociologically while I’m coming at it from the humanities?

  6. Hey, no rush. Surely we shouldnt sacrifice time with our wives to discuss beauty! This post will be here next month/year; I dont mind long breaks between replies. This looks longer than it is cause of the quotes. Really.

    From what I gather, when you say beauty here I think youre really talking about sexual attractiveness.

    Yeah, I deleted a bit stating that in the last comment for length. The original question was deliberately more broad, but here weve narrowed it down. Though Im not reducing sexual attractiveness to only biology.

    Your comment about the reasoned and the actual

    Bad terminology on my part there. I just wanted to emphasize that explicitly acknowledging correct thoughts and becoming a certain kind of person are not the same thing. For example: I could understand that A is more truly beautiful than B and believe that I should find A more attractive. However, whether or not I actually do find A more attractive (my actual experience) is an entirely different thing. So deciding beauty, or what should be sexy, and then actually aligning our whole embodied selves with that conclusion are two different but related tasks.

    Do we choose our ideals of human beauty? Nature or nurture? Are we born that way? I probably side more with the nurture view.

    I also emphasize nurture over nature re: sexual appeal, but

    To that end, we can choose (once were older, like you said, but before were adults) the environment that informs our understandings. I might be reading you wrongly (please correct me if I am), but I think I give people more agency in their own formation.

    My current thoughts here come from lectures and subsequent discussions with the psychology dept. chair I took a course from once. I wanted to know, since my intercultural studies stuff made it obvious that nurture plays such a big role, if we could deliberately condition ourselves toward certain things (fyi: we werent talking in reference to homosexuality). To boil it down, heres what he gave from the psychological perspective:

    • the basics of what we (will) find attractive are already determined by the time were five or six years old. We have little choice in the matter.
    • We can be deliberately conditioned to find virtually anything sexually attractive (a subconscious reflex response). They demonstrated this: a bunch of guys ended up honest-to-God sexually attracted to black boots. It wasnt that hard, or that complicated.
    • Making such connections is relatively easy. Whether or not they can be broken is still up for debate. At any rate, breaking them is extremely hard.
    • Biology matters, as do our biological differences. He wouldnt say that biology flat-out determines the specifics of what someone finds attractive, but biology does more or less predispose an individual to various things. The same nurture on different people will have different effects, depending on their particular biology. Books like The Blank Slate” influence me here, too.

    So Im all for agency, I wish more people would be intentional about it, but I want to be realistic about the task. Its no easy thing to go altering (positively, through appropriate means) what we genuinely find to be sexually attractive. It takes a lot of intentionality over the long-term, I imagine. I am a big fan of choosing the environment that informs our understandings to the degree that we can. Id still want to emphasize that understanding and personal formation reaching certain propositional conclusions and becoming a certain kind of person are different but related.

    But should we change them? If ones ideas are severely harmful to others, if they damage or negate human relationships, if they lead to a shallow and unhappy life, then, yes, we should.

    I agree, but we need criteria for determining your criteria (which I think we have enough of, at least). Speaking of harmful, Jessicas right now looking at the Thin and Girl Culture stuff from laurengreenfield.com (warning: includes bikini pics).

    How do we decide on the ideal? Fortunately, I get to worm my way out of this one, too. There a manifold ways of establishing personal definitions of physical beauty that dont lead to exploiting others.

    Yeah, and I dont expect that there is or should be an ideal re: particulars (fatter, thinner, colour, hair, facial features, etc.), aside from saying that certain things should not be ideals: like body weight in unhealthy degrees, or stuff that requires non-restorative surgery. We’re getting into how and what meanings are associated with aspects of a person’s body. I think meaning can make certain physical characteristics/actions more or less attractive, and that we can in part determine how meanings are associated with our bodies and actions.

    Oh, the topics we could discuss from here. And I havent even mentioned Theology of the Body yet! But since Im rambling, Ill stop here.

    Oy. Ive had TOB mediated through two really bad avenues (Open Embrace the book, and some rather rabid Couple-to-Couple League people) and one really good one (a very gracious, well-informed, and articulate Catholic graduate student who patiently explained the theology behind NFP while letting me voice my questions/challenges that was an extended conversation over several months). So my understanding of TOB is quite partial. I did a sexuality research paper after all that, so when it comes to goodness of sexuality stuff, theres stuff Ive been chewing on for a while. Its not TOB, though, at least as it was mediated to me by her through NFP.

    PS – Are you approaching this more sociologically while Im coming at it from the humanities?

    shoot! I thought sociology was one of the humanities you know, all those academic disciplines that try to be hard sciences but arent. Our intercultural studies background plays a relativizing role re: particulars of whats considered beautiful, David Schnarchs stuff forms a model for understanding some of the dynamics of human intimacy (particularly sexual intimacy), and for more foundational stuff Im leaning on theology, history, and I guess some philosophy.

    is one of the more insightful conclusions of pomo thought the idea precedes the experience (not that I know much about pomo thought).

    ha, me neither. They effectively banned us from using the term post-modern on account of it not meaning enough. Didnt stop us from critiquing modernism, foundationalism, and “naive realism,” though.

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