Pop quiz: Distinguish the men from the boys. Mouseover each picture for clues.
(Bonus Hint: “pablum face”)
A recent poll on TMB* asking, “Ladies – do you prefer a Clean-cut or Rugged man?” is split down the middle. I’m beginning to suspect that the equivalent poll to an audience of Chinese women would produce pretty different results. (Seems the poll forgot to consider McManhood.)
It’s no secret that what we find attractive has a ton to do with the families and cultures in which we are raised. My language tutor in Tanzania laughed out loud at the idea that white men prefer skinny women over fat women; he could hardly believe it. In the comments on this post we got into stereotypical differences between Chinese and Western perspectives re: what makes an attractive man. It’s a topic that came up occasionally with friends in Taiwan, too. One used the Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean as anecdotes, saying that in Taiwan Orlando Bloom was the runaway heart-throb in LOTR, partly because Aragorn was too dirty. But he wasn’t so well received in Pirates with the little bit of scruffyness he’d tried to get going.
Recent personal anecdote: On Sundays in Taiwan I wore jeans and don’t shave because it was our day off. One weekday a young woman who normally only saw us on Sundays walked into the school and saw me in my teacher clothes (shirt and tie), “Oh, today you are so handsome! Not like Sunday.” (Yes, they really can be that straightforward in Chinese cultures; the foreigner blog world has all kinds of stuff on Chinese ‘compliments.’ It doesn’t offend us – it’s actually really funny – and it’s not as shocking as it was when we first got here. And of course the kids say stuff all the time.) But anyway – rugged is out; metro is in.
All this reminded me of a conversation I had a couple years ago with a guest lecturer from Hong Kong, and this perhaps touches on the historical legacy of ethnocentricity (“Middle Kingdom” = center/zenith of civilization) and xenophobia (foreigners = barbarians). During the mid-class break I asked him what he’d say to North Americans who wanted to live in China. He looked at me – and my beard and long hair – and said, “Well, it really helps if you try to look Chinese as much as possible.” Not what I was expecting. I suspect it was his polite, indirect way of saying, “If you go to China without a makeover, you’ll be a hippie freak show.”
Of course these are just anecdotes and stereotypes, but I still think they reflect significant differences in how beauty is defined in our cultures. The anecdotes are just instances where we bump into these differences.
*If you’re not married, at work, and/or not a fan of explicit sexual discussion, you might not want to click this.