July 22, 2015

Why Looks Matter, Though I Wish They Didn't

In a recent post I referenced a woman who had shamed a man who didn't find her attractive because she was fat. Very contentious stuff. And I've been thinking about it a lot since.

Attraction is important. We are not just brains - we are brains walking around in bodies with faces attached. Our bodies and faces are as much a part of who were are as our minds. And our brains have a tremendous influence on our bodies and faces. Think about it. What do you eat? How much do you exercise? How much makeup do you wear? What clothes do you choose? How do you do your hair? Do you have tattoos/piercings/weird feather type things sticking out from odd places? 

All of these decisions come from your brain, and will change your appearance accordingly.

But it works the other way, too. We are all born with a particular body - a body that can be altered to an extent, but not entirely. How tall or short we are, how conventionally attractive our features, our genetic predisposition to being thin or fat, any disabilities or illnesses, will all dramatically affect our personalities.

My last boyfriend.

We are a combination of mind and body. And when we meet other people, we are attracted to their particular combination of mind and body, or we are not. 

I don't really understand the science of attraction. I know that I can find classically good looking men remarkably uninteresting, and can be devastatingly attracted to men who would be more suited to the cover of Horse and Hound magazine than Men's Health. But I also know that I can have a visceral repulsion towards a man who may be perfectly pleasant in personality, but whose appearance triggers something negative in me. It may have nothing whatsover to do with traditional notions of beauty, but rather his appearance doesn't resonate with me for reasons I can't articulate.

Of course, attraction is fluid. We can find someone unattractive on first meeting, get to know them, and decide they're not so bad after all. I remember thinking a friend's husband was the least attractive man in the universe until I became friends with him, and realised he was nice looking after all. As I said, brains and body are inextricably connected.

But what to do when you're dating? And is judging people on their looks something we should feel bad about? Lana and I discussed these issues the other day. Would love to hear your thoughts.


  1. I completely agree that looks are part of the total package that is a person and to pretend they don't matter is disingenuous.

    But I don't agree with what the woman in question was shaming him for. If he had just said that he was sorry, but he wasn't attracted to her, I doubt very much that she would have written or published that response. But he didn't. He went into enormous, exhaustive detail about how she was fabulous in every way but her size. He dwelt in prurient detail on how, although he adored her, he was physically repulsed by her to the extent that he wouldn't be able to get it up if it came to going to bed with her. He basically told her that she physically made him sick - AFTER GOING OUT WITH HER. That, to my mind, and I believe to hers, is what the issue was. If you aren't attracted to someone, if their 'type' is one that you just can't imagine ever being attracted to sexually, or if their size is a deal-breaker for you, that's fine, that's your prerogative. But don't, in that case, take them out, give them a great time and THEN tell them that they are just too fugly to contemplate. That's passive-agressive at best and cruel at worst.

    I mostly agree on the privacy issue. Two wrongs don't make a right and publishing private correspondence is bad in principle, no matter how much I sympathise with her reasons. But I do think that what he did was actively a wrong, for all those reasons said above. He could have not gone out with her in the first place, and - stretching my compassion and credulity - if he did so in order to try to overcome his prejudice and then found he couldn't, he could have just said that, I'm sorry, it's not working out for me. Or, if he felt explanation was needed, because he so obviously had a great time, he could have said that he liked her but he wasn't physically attracted to her. He didn't need to lay it on with a trowel which all but blamed her for being as she was and not being what he wanted - WHEN HE KNEW THAT BEFORE HE DATED HER.

    Attraction is a curious and complicated thing. But I find one always improves one's own attractiveness when one avoids acting like a cruel, entitled jerk.

  2. Oh, and btw, I think that women who go on about men's attractiveness or otherwise in public are just as bad as men who comment on women's appearance using the word 'that'. It's repulsive in both genders. Preference is one thing, using it to shame others in public and to dehumanise people (as if 'short men' are somehow all the same, for instance) is appalling. Simple manners forbid it - and by manners, I mean a fundamental concern for the comfort and dignity of others.

  3. I hear you. And I agree that he didn't need to go into detail. But I have gone out with guys whose looks I didn't like, to give them a go, to see if I could overcome that. And so I don't think it's stretching compassion or credulity to think this guy did that too. Otherwise what do you think he did - went out with her just to shame her afterwards??? I think that is highly, highly unlikely. And yes, he gave way too much info but I think he was just being honest. Again, I've given guys explanations for why I didn't want to see them again (never about looks!) and they didn't like it, but at the time I thought I was doing the right thing.
    Dating is HARD and people fuck up but I didn't read it as him being a jerk. I really didn't. I think he just handled an awkward situation very badly.

  4. I really should have watched the whole video before commenting! I don't think you have a responsibility to date people you don't find attractive. Although I'm not sure that internet profiles are the best way to tell, as manner and presence make a difference to people's looks, I find. Which I suppose in one way undercuts my objection to the dipshit mentioned above. Maybe he really thought he might be attracted to her, then found he wasn't. He still could have extracted himself with more grace and care for her feelings.

  5. I was pondering this very thing the other day. Yes my husband is a good looking man. But there were plenty of good looking guys running around at Uni when we met. What was it about him that so attracted me. And what were the odds that he was attracted back? What chemical thing happens in our brains to attract us to one person over another. I find it endlessly fascinating to think about

  6. It's an issue that cuts close for me, so it's hard for me to be charitable. I would have wanted to set fire to him if he'd done it to me - after I set fire to myself.

  7. NOOO! You can't allow anyone to make you feel bad about yourself. You just can't. It shouldn't matter what they think. I know it does, I get it, but there will ALWAYS be people attracted to us and people not attracted to us. We've ALL been rejected for different reasons. And it's their issue, not ours. Which I suppose is what I was trying to say in the vid.

  8. Kerri, looks DO matter. Something has to attract us in the first place, to want to pursue a relationship further. Fwiw, I find women of all colours and shapes endlessly fascinating, BUT in the end its the personality that overcomes that initial physical attraction.
    Btw, your last boyfriend is hot. Does he have a sister ? :-D

  9. I'm really overweight at the moment so I wouldn't even put myself out there. In fact I haven't done so for many many years because of my weight. I realise that it IS possible for someone to look past that, but they'd have to get to know me first and I'm not in a situation where I do meet people and that may happen etc.

    I think there needs to be a physical attraction though friends have told me it's not always immediate. And I like that most of us don't require perfection (though we may have had dreams of that in our early 20s!). I can't imagine being attracted to a really overweight man, so I can't expect anyone to be attracted to me. It's a cold hard (and very sad) fact.

  10. It's such an interesting point, Deborah, that there is so much talk about how women are judged harshly for being overweight, but I think men cop just as much judgement. I think it would be very hard for a really overweight man to find a partner (unless there are compensating factors like money/power/status).
    And the singles scene sucks. Even if you're not overweight. SUCKS!!! Sending love x

  11. LOL. Yes, but she's a bit overweight. Do you mind?

  12. Deborah, I can really understand you not wanting to put yourself out there. It's a hard cold world, sometimes. But I am really distressed by the idea that you can't find yourself attractive. There are people who would find you attractive without having to 'look past' your weight. I sincerely hope that you can become one of them, because you deserve to feel good about yourself, whatever your size.

  13. You're such a sweetheart. These days, I would probably want to set fire to him first, but there definitely were days when I would have wanted to do myself first - and the memories and scars are still there. I agree, we need to own our own self-image and do our darnedest not to let others get to us. But that's easier when the people around us have at least a shred of compassion and imagination and avoid wanton cruelty. Which he apparently doesn't. I don't care if he was being 'honest', I still think he was being an insensitive dick and she is well shot of him.

  14. Curious - cause you know - I am actually writing ALL about this at the moment.

    I think attraction is a curious thing that waves and wanes according to time. It is also heavily dependent on the fads and fashions of the day and what is considered attractive, and what we are normalised to think is attractive.

    Having dated many (sigh) attractive men and divorced a man who literally has women throwing themselves at him - I ask you this - why bother? Does the constructs of a face and sinew of a body really define who the person is? Does the face and physique define temper or kindness or their values? Does even gender define the connection of the soul? Should attractiveness and attraction require the same scorn as the ancient art of phrenology (ancient art of measuring the skull to define how intelligent a person is)?

    I have been deceived SO many time. My eyes (in concert with my appetite for media consumption) are my greatest enemies because they have led me down the path to heartbreak.

    I recently broke up with a man (yes, he had is flaws) but it was a break up not borne of us not being able to get along or me hating his ways - but because I wanted to spend more time with myself and my thoughts (Am writing - need space. I really do pity anyone who lives with me when I am writing cause I go off to a la la Land that no one else can reach).

    But he was not the best looking man; I found him incredibly attractive. If we let define that a measure of attractiveness as a measure of our loveability - them we let down so many wonderful people so full of love to share.

    My rambling thoughts. Sorry. Will go back to my writing hidey hole.


  15. I'm not ashamed to admit that back in the day I was stupidly hung up on looks, a shame most of the guys I went for were hot arseholes. Finally I found a hot nice guy and married him. But what I find attractive someone else might not so I do think beauty is in the eye of the beerholder - I mean beholder!

  16. Just to give a slightly different perspective, I thought I'd comment on this post, even though I'm, er, a man. (Sorry.)

    I'm afraid looks make a difference this way round too. Not just in how attractive a man is to women, although obviously there is that, but also how seriously people (of both sexes) treat what you say, how helpful strangers are to you in places like airports and stores when you have a problem, how much instinctive trust people have in you, and a million other things too tedious to mention.

    This was made very clear to me when I was growing up since my brother, who is only a year younger than I am, was created like a statue of a Greek god, and I was more like a toby jug. I still get on great with my brother, and I have tried not to waste my life feeling bitter or resentful about my appearance. After all, nobody can help how they look, and that works both ways.

    I do sometimes wonder, though, if my path through life might have been a little easier if I'd looked a bit different. (Of course, I could have looked even worse and then my path would have been like mountain climbing.)


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