Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tall, Dark and Handsome. Size 0 Supermodel. Hot? Meh. Not So Much.

I’m not what you’d call a fan of Jessica Simpson. I think her music is garbage. I think that the reality show she did with Nick Lachey was an embarrassing pile of excrement. I think she’s a curse on the Cowboys. And her acting — Lord, I’ve seen porn stars take better stage direction. So, I was kind of surprised to find how defensive I was on her behalf recently when everyone from Fox News to Perez Hilton blasted her for having gained a few pounds. For calling her a moo cow and worse. It made me bristle at these sideline spectators for criticizing a woman who, while clearly not a rocket scientist or an Oscar contender, is an objectively beautiful woman. Even with a bit more meat on them bones. Even if she were to add a whole lot more meat on them bones.

Why on earth is Simpson’s size news? Who cares? Does her public identification with beauty entitle society to dog on her for gaining weight? Even when it’s so much more forgiving of an actress like, say, Kate Winslet, whose primary worth is in her thespian skills and not her Good-God-She’s-Gorgeous-ness? Apparently, Simpson’s “lost” a bit of what made her famous in the first place. And unfortunately for her, hotness is a quality that we, as a generally non-hot society, revile publicly and covet secretly. Which is perhaps why her having “lost”* some of it gives us fodder and permission to revel in collective Schadenfreude. And to be disappointed by it. It’s that incongruous duality, plus, perhaps, an extension of self — of projecting our own wants onto an individual— that causes commentators to grab onto nonsense like her increasing, leather pants-clad assage and call it current events. Why they excoriate her so viciously. So gleefully.

I don’t know. It may just be that people are shit.

But all of this made me think of physical beauty. And its more interesting cousin, physical attraction. What makes a person beautiful? What makes a person desirable? Can these qualities be measured? Be plotted on a graph and scientifically determined? Pick up a book, and chances are that the heroine will be pretty at the very least, described as beautiful or striking or some synonym to that effect. Its hero, more often than not, will be tall, dark and handsome. The hot guy that the cute heroine will fall for. Why? Well — because. I mean, let’s be real. Physical beauty is currency. It’s power. It’s a doorway to opportunities otherwise foreclosed. It’s forgiveness amplified. Leniency commodified. It sells. It attracts. This is America. That’s how it works.

But it’s also incredibly boring. To me, at least. And because this is my blog, I get to talk about what I think is attractive. And I’ll tell you, it has nothing to do with how one’s features line up on the face. Or how chiseled one’s abs are. Frankly, I couldn’t care less. What I do care about — what I notice right away — is how a person’s smile will light up a room, how it will change the air instantly. It’s what drew me to my husband in the first place, what made him absolutely arresting even though he’s short and fat and has terrible taste in clothes. I notice the way a person moves, the confidence and purpose and economy of her steps. I notice the merriment in one’s eyes, the friendliness of a wink, the warmth of a look. I gravitate immensely and immediately toward a hearty laugh, one that conveys in all of its magnanimousness how much a person delights in the funny. And if someone can make me laugh, that right there is 95% — the embodiment of intelligence and mental quickness and cleverness and the ability to pinpoint the absurd. It’s the intrinsic nature of a person that I find so appealing, one’s generosity of spirit and heart, his or her empathy and kindness. Her talent and ambition and ability and drive, his easygoingness and affection and desire to be a better human being. It’s all of these things that make the outside completely irrelevant. And completely beautiful. Take some of these qualities away, and I’ll never find that person attractive.

So, to Jessica Simpson, who I still think is a not-so-great singer or actor or shoe designer or comedian, who I will likely mock in the future for the idiot things that you say and do, take heart that you are nonetheless a beautiful woman, not because of what you look like, but because of the kind things you do, the caring words you utter, the empathy you show for others. No matter how much weight you gain.

* I put “lost” in quotes because I reject wholesale that a woman larger than a size 00 can’t be beautiful or hot or gorgeous or anything else. And I don’t agree that a woman who is a size 00 is disgusting or necessarily skeletal or worthy of contempt, either. She may just be small. An elf, say.


Serena said...

Christine: Fantastic post. I was appalled by the commentary on Simpson and I too don't much like her acting, singing, or influence on the Cowboys!

Why are we still beholden to outer beauty in this society? Don't we have much better things to praise like intelligence, empathy, caring, and companionship? Not to mention laughter...we need more of that in today's world.

Hurrah for your post!

Christine Son said...

Thanks, Serena! Isn't it ridiculous how much we emphasize the outside? And I don't know if you're like me, but sometimes I find myself fixating on nonsense like my looks, too. Strange that I'm enormously critical of myself, but really forgiving of others. I think it's easy to focus on the outside and the initial impression. Much easier than taking the time to form an intelligent opinion. Unfortunate, indeed...

JamesKnapp said...

I agree with this completely, and I especially have a pet peeve about the uniformly attractive hero and heroine that always pop up in every book, television show and movie, and that trend leans a lot more heavily on women. It's like the producers talk themselves into the fact that Karen, the DA, might plausibly also be only 25 and capable of fashion modeling on the side. Is this necessary?

As far as Jessica Simpson herself goes, I think envy does play a large part. People who throw those kinds of mean-spirited comments around do covet people like her, either because they want them or they want to be like them. Since they know that neither will likely ever happen, they take satisfaction any time they can beat them up or drag them down. It's sad. I don't have much use for Jessica Simpson as a singer or actress but as you said; she's a beautiful woman.

I'm totally with you on the smile thing, too.

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