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A Window Into Lookism & Why Your View Matters

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TW for Body Image Issues

When you change your clothes, take a shower, or otherwise do things in the nude in a private space, and that space has a publicly-facing window (i.e. a hole in your wall where the only thing separating your bare flesh from the outside world is clear glass), do you close the blinds or draw the curtain?

If you don’t for whatever reason, this isn’t for you. Also, I hope you don’t get arrested, since exhibitionism is genearally frowned upon in the eyes (or should it be the mouth) of the law in most places.

If you do obscure the world’s view of your body, why do you do so?

If you’ve never thought about it, this might be for you. If your answer is something along the lines of “peeping Toms” or “creepers,” then this is definitely for you. You assume that someone who hopes to do so might catch a glimpse of your flesh.

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Some people don’t expose their bodies for general consumption not because they fear others’ arousal in response to our exposed flesh, but because they fear something else. They fear the viewer(s) may become disgusted.

There are certain body types that are demonized and stigmatized in society. Bodies that are hardly, if ever, depicted as delicious, enticing, inviting, and/or beautiful. Bodies that are hardly represented in the visual media that we consume. Bodies, in the rare instances that they are depicted, as portrayed as ugly, smelly, disgusting, awkward, horrible, even monstrous. Any individual’s personal feelings on the attractiveness of those body types doesn’t invalidate how the majority (or perceived majority) of society doesn’t feel that way — and isn’t exactly shy about letting people with those body types know how gross they are.

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Disgust and arousal aren’t mutually exclusive, either. If a woman’s body is outside society’s widely-accepted norms and yet found be attractive by a man looking at her, he might take his disgust at being attracted to her and project it onto her. That sort of resentment is, at best, distasteful, as when men refuse to be seen in public with certain types of women with whom they have sex. At worst, it can be a dangerous thing.

Women who can, most of the time, safely assume that their bodies will be considered desirable rather than disgusting lead different lives from those for whom such is not the case. Much of what is described by Men’s Rights Activists as “female privilege,” like paid-for dates, free drinks, and other preferential treatment, would more accurately be called “ways in which certain types of women are treated favorably by men.” Both men and conventionally attractive women often fall into the trap of assuming that conventionally attractive women’s experiences apply to all women, effectively erasing the lived reality of women who aren’t conventionally attractive.

It can be very difficult for conventionally attractive women to acknowledge that they have looks-based privilege. Part of this is the social training that makes women feel that they must deny any compliments they receive. As difficult as it can be to do so, being sensitive and cognizant of these differences is key to ensuring better and more accurate communication and understanding. In already-fraught conversations about gender, sexism, and harassment, avoiding the assumption that what applies to conventionally attractive women applies to all women is key in ensuring that women who aren’t conventionally attractive aren’t further devalued

In a world where calling a woman unattractive is considered an expected, if not quite valid, rebuttal to her ideas, it’s accurate to acknowledge lookism. In a world where all women, hot or not, are subjected to misogyny, it’s critical in ensuring that we see problems in an intersectional, rather than reductive, fashion.

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21 Comments

  1. Male and Female look at each other with an evolutionary biological perspective, ie prospective mate, transient parent, carer, or holder of knowledge. I think Heina’s point is that we should see the “holder of knowledge” first or at least above those unconscious urges we have to mate. Male meets male as prospective competitor, enemy or holder of knowledge (excluding same sexual preference), this brings about different behaviour which can equally obfuscate.

  2. I don’t know if conventionally attractive women really have it better than women who are not conventionally attractive. Conventionally attractive women don’t get free drinks and paid-for dates for nothing. Generally they’re expected to give out sex, like all women are expected to give out sex if a man gives up his valuable time and energy into being around a woman. Yes, women’s opinions and existences are often devalued if they are conventionally unattractive, but they are devalued if they are conventionally attractive as well. If she’s in any position of power she must have slept with someone to get it, she just got by on looks, etc. The point is that the only thing women can bring to the table in our society is physical attractiveness to males. If I’m a woman, I don’t care if I get free drinks. That doesn’t make up for not being seen as an equal. Of course, I’m not conventionally attractive and won’t be getting any of these paid-for dates, but I wouldn’t want one anyway.

    • I’d never say that they have it better, but they definitely have it different, and it’s important that we remember that. I find that too many conversations about the experience of being a woman assume that the things that are done for attractive women by straight men are emblematic of the female experience in general.

      • I agree that they have different experiences, and these experiences are often used by MRA types as representative of female experience in general. I guess what I disagree with is that paid-for dates and things like that are a privilege. Men commonly use these things as excuses to rape or harass someone they’ve spent money on, enough that it’s not so much a privilege, as a trap they set. But I agree that many people do need to understand that women aren’t all treated the same or have the same experiences, whether due to race, class, weight, religion, conventional attractiveness, or whatever else.

        • As a woman who lacks in conventional attractiveness, I get all the rape threats and harassment without the free meals and drinks beforehand. x_x

          In all seriousness, I see your point. Misogyny and male entitlement extends to conventionally attractive women for sure. Free stuff doesn’t excuse or eliminate that. There is, however, privilege to being conventionally attractive. I only brought up free stuff as an off-hand example. The privilege associated with being conventionally attractive is hard to quantify.

  3. It’s worth considering that being deemed a conventionally attractive woman is transient, at best. Most men stay men and retain that experience; women over a certain age cease to be considered attractive and disregarding women’s opinions and knowledge because they are old and “used-up” is incredibly common. Also, very few women are considered attractive universally, so it’s hard for some to acknowledge that they have attractiveness privilege, when there are many people willing to remind them (daily) that they don’t measure up in some (or many) ways.

      • Probably. I love the post by the way. The MRA idea of “female privilege” erases most women (and is irritating anyway) and many non-MRA types are reductive with the idea of women. Still, the female attractiveness experience is different to, say, male privilege because it can (and inevitably will) be taken away, it is bestowed by the viewer and variable, and it often comes with the price of being treated as less intelligent (although, of course, not always). In no way arguing with what you have said, only thinking a bit on the reasons why, as you observed, it’s often difficult for women who have attractiveness privilege to acknowledge or even realize it.

    • Definitely noticed this, often in the people that I normally like and agree with. Often it is in reaction to the ‘conventional attractiveness’ which is fair enough but often the sentiment goes “Real women have curves/ real women have labia like this…etc,” which seems a bit silly as there are many different types of bodies and we shouldn’t put down one body type in order to elevate another.

  4. The part that the Men’s Right Advocates seem to miss about ‘female privilege’ is that women almost never get to set the rules of what is and what is not privilege. If the MRA people didn’t give every sign of being misogynist pigs to start with, phrasing gender debates in terms of rights exclusive to one sex or the other is a pretty big tell. If the principle concern of MRA advocates was ensuring that men had equal maternity leave benefits so they could raise the kid in the early years, I would be sympathetic but that sort of issue does not seem to register with them as a need, much less a right.

    This fixation with body image is definitely unhealthy but it isn’t just men who are culprits here. The way women talk about other women’s bodies is sometimes rather worse.

  5. *Pre-post edit*
    In writing this, my initial assumption that you were rejecting the idea that female privilege (rolled into ‘other preferential treatment’) exists by pointing to an MRA version of what female privilege (free drinks, paid for dates) is and it’s absurdity. In retrospect, I’m wondering if you’re rejecting the MRA version of female privilege (free drinks for sex! woo! what a deal!) without rejecting female privilege itself. Could someone clarify?
    */Pre-post edit*

    [quote]Much of what is described by Men’s Rights Activists as “female privilege,” like paid-for dates, free drinks, and other preferential treatment, would more accurately be called “ways in which certain types of women are treated favorably by men.” Both men and conventionally attractive women often fall into the trap of assuming that conventionally attractive women’s experiences apply to all women, effectively erasing the lived reality of women who aren’t conventionally attractive.[/quote]

    Could not this same argument be applied to male privilege: that those pointing out male privilege often assume the preferential treatment experienced by wealthy/powerful/attractive men apply to all men, ‘effectively erasing the lived reality of men’ who are not these things? Higher incarceration, murder, suicide and poverty rates for males would seem to support this. The number of male CEOs is no more part of the lived experience of the average man than all the ‘free drinks’ or what not conventionally attractive women receive is to the lived experience of the average woman*. In other words, what is it that makes those who say ‘I do not have white privilege, because I was born far poorer than the average (insert minority)’ different from ‘I do not have female privilege, because I am not conventionally attractive’.

    *I am not, in any way, suggesting these things – or male and female privilege in general, are in any way comparable or similar in scope or scale.

  6. It’s important to note that lookism applies to women’s views of men, also. You do not see male models with fat bellies, recessed chins etc. Mountains of data support that notion that attractive people, male and female, receive preferential treatment and also a “halo effect” wherein a talent or skill they have is even further amplified by their looks (as compared to a lesser attractive person of equal or greater talent). Men judge other men on their looks (either subconsciously or consciously) and will exclude ugly men from their social groups, job opportunities etc. Women can also judge men harshly on their looks. Often, a women might judge sexual flirting or advances from an ugly or unattractive man as “creepy”, and the same behavior from an attractive man as “bold” or “confident.” Lookism can get the most attention if both genders find common ground in the debate.

    • I was with you until this part:

      women might judge sexual flirting or advances from an ugly or unattractive man as “creepy”, and the same behavior from an attractive man as “bold” or “confident.”

      Unwanted attention is unwanted attention no matter the reason why it’s unwanted. No one is obligated to be attracted to anyone.

        • People have the right to consent or not consent to sexual activity based on any reasons (looks, their moods, any old whim, whatever they want) or no reason at all. I hardly think it’s lookism to say no or not be open to someone whose looks you find unappealing.

          • I completely agree and am not arguing otherwise. I appear to be misrepresenting my point. I think what I failed to say properly is that an unattractive male will go through life, and from time to time may try to emulate the behavior of an attractive male and receive a completely different result. For instance, he may attempt to flirt (or even harmlessly mingle) and be met with the immediate brush off. Even accepting the non-consent or non-interest, he will walk away and hear girls giggling and overhear whispers of words like “creepy” or “eww”. If it’s at work or some type of public place, he may even be *pointed out to management as a potential nusiance (despite doing exactly the same thing as a more attractive man). All because he might be too short, too fat, facially unaesthetic etc – it’s powerful imprinting on his psyche and can lead to very negative body image. My point being that men can receive very harsh judgments and rejections from women. (*And yes, such behavior SHOULD be identified and pointed out to management if a clear sign of disinterest or non-approval is put up and the person persists with the advance anyway, or if the behavior is just outright inappropriate for the time and place). Hopefully I’m more clear in my point now.

      • The question is how (and when) ppl communicate the fact that they are not attracted to somebody.

        Within certain circles it is almost obligatory for men to immediately signal disgust if an overweight women appears somewhere in media (see e.g. the Ashley Madison picture). Mainstream wisdom has it that women are less likely to trash mens appearance in the same way, especially without being asked for an opinion.

        Although it is not that hard to find counterexamples.
        Actually one of the most off-putting aspects of online feminism today is the joy that some feminists find in insulting men of the “opposing side” on the grounds of sexual attractiveness. It is something that is very rarely acknowledged or called out (with the notable exception of some smart ppl from skepchicks :) http://skepchick.org/2015/10/how-feminists-can-do-more-to-fight-toxic-masculinity/)

        I more and more get the impression that at the core of all the feminists/MRA-wars are the different experiences of heterosexual men and women at the lower end of the conventionally-perceived attractiveness scale.

        While not conventionally attractive women still have to deal with attention, but a lot of unpleasant attention from the “wrong” kind of people, the problem of not conventionally attractive men is getting no attention at all up to severe social isolation.
        The old rule “Treat others how you want to be treated” certainly does not work here.
        Most arguments seem to boil down to which of those two experiences is more painful.

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