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Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Question about Standards and Double Standards

So one subject I find very interesting is people's perception of themselves and others and how that relates to their expectations about partners. Now I am a straight woman so I have seen this largely from that perspective. One of the things that I have found very interesting is the way that the media-promoted standards of beauty affect real life relationships. Now alarmists like to claim that media images cause impossible high standards that harm women, etc. But in my experience very few people are dumb enough to swallow any media construct hook-line-and-sinker, and the response to photoshopped models is  actually much more nuanced. Generally I have found that men fall into two general categories in this regard: the ones who cannot get away from the images and actually do have trouble dealing with the fact that many real-life women don't look like that and those who realize where reality ends and fantasy begins. Of the first type there seem to be two general sub-types. The first are the ones that seem to believe the old idea that women don't care at all what men look like. These are the ones that act as if they are owed beautiful girlfriends/wives and get hostile when women tell them no. They are often the ones that make negative unsolicited comments to women (and often women who are for more attractive than they are) about their looks. They also fly into a rage if anyone ever mentions their own (often considerable) physical shortcomings. 

I had a coworker of this type. We worked in a mostly female workplace and he repeatedly made comments to all the women there about how their appearance was lacking (this was a group of women aged 19-31, not one wearing above a size 6, and all of them falling in at least the 'pretty' category). He himself was obese. He had moved to town (and taken the job) so that he could stalk and verbally harass (though in his mind he was courting her) a woman he claimed was his ex (she was actually just some girl who made the mistake of being nice to him, they had never actually dated). When she finally had enough of him (I think she had been trying to let him down easy) and told him to get out of her life forever, he sulked for days and called her every bad word in the book (in front of his female coworkers). He (while he was still supposedly trying to get back with his ex and after) also hit on and was rejected by every woman in our group and all the others in our workplace, responding to each rejection with insults and entitled anger (i.e how dare these stuck up bitches refuse to date me!?) Basically this guy felt that he was entitled to a hot babe and could see no connection whatsoever between his own appearance and behavior and the fact that he was a virgin at age 23. 

The other type of picky guy is the one that puts a lot of effort into his own looks. I knew a few of these in college. They were generally dedicated body builders and a bit on the metrosexual side in their grooming habits. They wanted to date only really hot women and put a lot of effort into looking good enough to attract one. Personally I never had a problem with this type of guy. They put a lot of time and effort into their appearance and wanted a partner who did the same. Fair enough. They also acknowledged that women have standards too and that women are just as fond of physical beauty as men are (Do you really think stars like Brad Pitt would be so famous otherwise?). Their only real problem is that they often seemed to have very superficial relationships because they were more worried about what other guys thought about their girlfriends than their own preferences. I had a casual friendship with one of these guys and he once told me that he was really upset because his current girlfriend, who he seemed to really like, was not swooning for him the way he imagined she should, despite the fact that he had "lowered his standards to date her" (she was not hot in the conventional sense) and was getting a lot of ribbing from his male friends for dating her. He failed to see how insulted his girlfriend would probably be if she was aware of his attitude or the fact that all his relationships were based on impressing other men and not what made him happy.   

Most men (at least the ones I've met) with a maturity level above that of a 12 year old seem to have come to the realization that the images they see in the media are 1) doctored and 2) depictions of women who, even without the photoshopping, are just really hot and will probably not date them. These men seem better able to relate to women in general and to sustain relationships. They also seem to be more realistic both about themselves and about their partners. They are more likely to actually look for someone they can relate to (both sexually and emotionally) rather than a trophy to enhance their status in the eyes of other men. It's not that these guys have no standards, its just that they are realistic, mature people and have decided to live in the real world (and not blame women for the fact that their every fantastic expectation isn't being met). I seems to me that many of these guys end up with fairly attractive women (often women more attractive then they are) simply because they treat them like people and not accessories/juvenile fantasy fulfillment objects.   

What do you think? How do others feel attractiveness in men and women works? How do cultural standards interact with personal preference and reality in people's relationships?

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