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The Allure of the Beautiful Woman Who Doesn’t Know She’s Beautiful

You’ve probably heard this song:

You’re insecure,
Don’t know what for
You’re turning heads when you walk through the door
Don’t need make-up
To cover up
Being the way that you are is enough

Everyone else in the room can see it,
Everyone else but you

Baby you light up my world like nobody else
The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed
But when you smile at the ground it ain’t hard to tell
You don’t know
You don’t know you’re beautiful
If only you saw what I can see,
You’d understand why I want you so desperately
Right now I’m looking at you and I can’t believe
You don’t know
You don’t know you’re beautiful
That’s what makes you beautiful

This is “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction and it exemplifies some common attitudes about women and beauty. While this song makes it a lot more explicit than you’ll see it elsewhere (that’s why I bolded that part), this trope comes up all the time in film, television, literature, and music (is there a TVTropes page for this? There should be). Something about beautiful women who don’t realize how beautiful they are seems to appeal to many men. But why?

I think there are a few things potentially going on here:

First, being unaware of one’s beauty could be a marker for “innocence,” “purity,” or “virginity.”

A woman who doesn’t realize she’s beautiful is a woman who’s not experienced enough in love and sex to have been told otherwise. She doesn’t understand her own sex appeal. She doesn’t yet realize that her beauty can be used to control, manipulate, and ensnare men (remember, this is one of the dominant cultural narratives we have about what women’s beauty is “for”).

Of course, some inexperienced women are aware of their beauty and some experienced women are not. However, I think that insecurity is often read as innocence by many people when it comes to women and beauty (unless of course, the woman is not considered beautiful by conventional standards).

Second, for a woman, being unaware of your beauty means that you are not confident, cocky, or narcissistic.

Men and women face different pressures when it comes to communicating and performing confidence. Women must be humble and self-effacing (“Oh, me? I’m nothing special.”) while men must be confident and sure of themselves. Neither gets that good of a deal, really: while women have to perform a sort of humility that will inevitably feel fake to many, men have to perform a sort of confidence that they don’t always feel, either.

None of this means that there’s no such thing as “too humble” for a woman or “too cocky” for a man. There are. But the social costs of them differ from the social costs of being too cocky as a woman or too humble as a man. Women who are “too” confident (which often means women with a reasonable, healthy level of confidence) are disliked much more than men who are “too” confident (which is more likely to mean men who are truly unpleasantly full of themselves). Men who are “too” humble or insecure (which often means men with a reasonable, healthy level of humility or insecurity) are disliked much more than women who are “too” humble or insecure (which is more likely to mean women who are truly extremely insecure).

With beauty specifically, women end up in a weird double bind. Women must be beautiful, but they must not be confident. So they must play up their beauty while denying having done so and while claiming outwardly that they’re not actually beautiful. The subject of One Direction’s infamous song may very well know how beautiful she is, but she gives off a good enough impression of not knowing that she’s managed to attract the singer anyway.

Third, being painfully insecure makes you a damsel for the guy to ride in and save.

A woman who doesn’t realize how beautiful she is isn’t just an innocent and non-threatening partner; she’s also a project. She’s “broken” and needs to be “fixed” by making her “finally see” how beautiful she truly is.

I think many people, not just men, conceptualize relationships as a sort of mutual repair job. They think that their love will “make” their partner recover from a mental illness, stop drinking and partying so much, stop chasing others, realize they want marriage and kids after all, get a job, become more sexually open-minded, convert to the proper religion, recover from past trauma, or any number of other improvements. Although the repair job isn’t always mutual, it often is: people also want to depend on their partner to fix their faults for them in turn.

It would take another post to explain everything that I think is wrong with this approach to relationships, but I’ll just leave it at this: it’s codependent. It presumes that your partner needs you to fix them, and it abdicates responsibility for fixing yourself.

I have known many, many sweet and generous guys who have fallen into this trap with women, particularly women who were insecure, from difficult family situations, and/or suffering from mental illnesses. Although the concept of saving “damsels in distress” is certainly a patriarchal concept, that doesn’t mean that all (or even most) of the men who do it are somehow bad people. That’s just how they’ve learned to “do” relationships.

I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with helping a partner improve themselves somehow, but this has to be 1) mutually acknowledged and agreed upon by both people, 2) free of any emotional manipulation or pressure, and 3) the icing on the cake of a relationship that’s premised on something other than that–shared interests, mutual respect, great sex, similar visions for life and the future, or whatever else matters to you and sustains a relationship. If your entire relationship is based on trying to fix someone, one of two things will probably happen: 1) you’ll succeed in fixing them and realize that the only thing keeping you together was the repair job; or 2) you’ll fail at fixing them and become extremely frustrated because you premised your entire sense of self-worth as a partner on your ability to fix someone else’s problems–problems that are deep-seeded, complex, tenacious, and probably in need of attention from a mental health professional.

The type of attraction that’s going on in this One Direction song is, therefore, unlikely to lead to any healthy and mutually satisfying relationship. Most likely, the girl in the song will finally see what everyone else sees and will lose her appeal to the singer because she’ll no longer be innocent, humble, and in need of help. Relationships like this also have a huge potential for abuse, because the person doing the fixing can say, “You’re never going to find anyone who loves you like I do” or “Nobody but me could ever be attracted to you.” In fact, these are things that abusers often say. A slightly less abusive but still extremely manipulative possibility is that the person doing the fixing implies, directly or indirectly, that the person being fixed can’t do it on their own.

The qualities we admire and find attractive in people do not, in fact, appeal to us simply because of our own immutable “natural” tendencies with which we are endowed by genes or early childhood experiences, although these probably play a role. If you spend your life hearing from every possible source that confident women are unattractive while confident men are attractive, that’s probably what you’re going to think unless you challenge your own beliefs. But there’s nothing inherently attractive about women who don’t know they’re beautiful (however you define “beautiful”), and there’s nothing inherently attractive about women who do know they’re beautiful.

What you find attractive says more about you than it does about the person you find attractive, because it’s an indicator of your own values and beliefs about people and how they ought to be. Should people be confident and unapologetic about who they are and what they like about themselves?

I think so.

Comments

  1. says

    Yes, this is why I despise that song. “Your lack of self-esteem makes you sexually alluring to me” is something a creepy person would say.

    • says

      Trading song lyrics the sentiment reminds me of a Big Black song, Precious Thing, which satirises love songs… Has more than an air of abusive relationship about it and this bit encapsulates it for me, a valued object that is not allowed to rise above the owner.

      You are my precious thing
      You are my precious thing, thing of speed and beauty
      You are my precious thing, long as you remain beneath me

      Steve Albini does a great job of sounding unhinged while singing this. I can imagine his character as being like many an overwrought MRA I’ve come across online.

  2. tso says

    I’ve bitched to myself about that song enough times and yet I didn’t know it was One Direction.. a point in my favor i suppose?

    Reminds me of the cliche of removing the glasses / letting the hair down. There’s something bizarrely unsettling about how unreal it is.

  3. says

    I’ve never heard that song. I don’t know what a “One Direction” or a “Ne-Yo” is. I’m not a hipster, I’m just OLD. But yeah, those lyrics are seriously screwed up.

    Plus, I’ve DONE those sorts of relationship. They were often based on my own lack of self-esteem: find someone who has low self-esteem and she’ll be so happy to have me that she’ll ignore MY issues. Doesn’t end well for anyone.

    • CaitieCat says

      What He Said. What’s a One Direction? Is that a kind of street?

      Sometimes I think not having cable and not listening to radio means I am missing out on things, but if this is the quality of what I’m missing, then it hasn’t gotten any better since the crap that was on when I did have cable and listen to the radio, and I’m probably enjoying my books and surfing better than I would those things.

  4. says

    Ditto on that One Direction song, and ditto on that equally asinine Ne-Yo song. Who writes this stuff — boy-bands who have yet to experience actual relationships for themselves? Even Justin Bieber sounds more mature than these clowns! That’s all I have to add to this thread.

  5. says

    Relationships like this also have a huge potential for abuse, because the person doing the fixing can say, “You’re never going to find anyone who loves you like I do” or “Nobody but me could ever be attracted to you.”

    WOW I had a really hard time explaining why I find that song creepy and not just asinine and…yup. This is exactly why.

  6. Christopher Stephens says

    So this article is eerily accurate. I’m … PRETTY sure that I’ve managed to purge almost all of this nonsense from my thinking (my current partners, like my wife, are about the most justifiably confident and self-assured women I’ve ever met).

    But I’m finding that there’s still a little bit left over, a voice in my head that says, “Oh, that woman is well-aware of how interesting and attractive she is; I can go ahead and write off any chance of her taking any interest in me.” It’s exactly my own “unmanly” lack of confidence that causes me to think that a less-outwardly-confident woman might actually be interested in me, as stupid as that is.

    • says

      I think Christopher brought up an important part of it. Yes, it’s a pretty common trope, the woman who really is (conventionally) beautiful but isn’t showing it off or aware of the potential of dressing up a bit better. And therefor needing that white knight to show up and ‘fix’ her, to show her that beauty. (Perhaps because if she gets that confidence from a man, specifically her boyfriend/fiance/husband then it’s fine, because it’s tied to him?)

      In contrast the women who are shown to be beautiful are shown as vain and shallow and manipulative and “bitchy”. When they know they’re highly attractive they’re using it as a weapon (because it’s one of few weapons available to them?) and are aware of their position in the social hierarchy and aiming higher. So they’re the ones latching on to the “best” guys.

      Which means, as Christopher is bringing up, the ‘beautiful but unaware’ type is going to be a combination of the highly attractive that all the guys want while still being accessible. Because a guy doesn’t have to be rich, or a sport star, or anything like that to ‘get’ the most gorgeous gal, he just has to help her figure out she’s really beautiful.

      So I think often the trope is playing in to that kind of fantasy. About how any guy could ‘get’ a really beautiful woman of his own. As well, I think, of putting up some kind of role model for girls that they can get rescued by the nice guy.

  7. says

    Um…never heard this song and I’m not lying. But anyway. My husband says the most beautiful thing about any woman is confidence. It just seemed relevant to pass this on.

  8. says

    So what if you don’t know you’re beautiful, or think you’re probably not, or just never thought about it, but you’re still hella confident for other reasons? Do you not exist? (I’m used to not existing.)

  9. katykay2010 says

    Much more than like this post, LOVE it, sharing widely. So totally agree with “Should people be confident and unapologetic about who they are and what they like about themselves? I think so.” Hit it !!!! Thanks

    • Subtract Hominem says

      I’m with you, katykay2010. I was sitting here doing the mental equivalent of shouting “YES! THIS! THIS RIGHT HERE!!” at least every other paragraph.

  10. Sili says

    If you haven’t heard this song, you’re lying:

    Figuratively, of course, but literally, no. It’s not the sorta thing they play on BBC Radio 3.

    I do know of One Direction, though. I just don’t think I’ve ever heard them. (I must have heard Take That, NSYNC and New Kids On The Block, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you the name of anything they’ve done.)

    • says

      They did that drivel at the OLYMPICS?! That’s gotta be one of the LEAST appropriate places for that song. Trust me, female Olympians know how beautiful they are — they get reminded of it every day by the media, their sponsors, their fans, and whoever wants their faces on a cereal box or other product. They’re the LAST women who need a boy-band to educate them about themselves.

  11. thetalkingstove says

    It’s quite depressing that this crap is getting fed to millions of girls.

    It’s the double whammy that gets me – to be beautiful to One Direction, you have to both be very attractive (presumably conventionally) and not display any confidence as a result of that trait.

    Couldn’t they sing about how being an awesome person makes a woman (well, a person) beautiful regardless of looks?
    Silly question, I guess.

  12. Hunt says

    I think perhaps you’re reading way too much into a boy band song aimed at teenage girls. Almost everything you say in this post is quite relevant to a relationship between a young man and women age 25, and almost none of it is relevant to a boy and girl age 15, and I have a feeling the target demographic is probably the lower age range. For every negative connotation you mention for the older age range, I can think of a positive interpretation for the younger age range, when both boy and girl are just beginning to become aware of their nascent sexuality.

    This is really a cautionary example of overthinking some things in pop culture.

    • CaitieCat says

      Let’s see. I’ve got “reading too much into it”, “it really is relevant”, an availability heuristic, and “overthinking”.

      Along with the free space, I’m pretty sure that’s bingo in one comment. Nicely done!

      • Hunt says

        The only part of your comment I can decipher is the “availability heuristic” thing (with the help of Wikipedia).

        Well, I think that kind of cuts both ways, don’t you?

        • CaitieCat says

          Your comment was trite, banal, and full of the usual bullshit trotted out by apologists Every. Fucking. Time. someone makes a post with feminist principles.

          Based on that banal triteness, it got all the intellectual attention it deserved: a banal, trite response, albeit with humour, because we have to laugh or cry at the inevitable boring identical comebacks to every feminist post ever, and laughing’s more fun.

          That you had to look up “availability heuristic” just makes it that much funnier. Which is good, because banality and cliche aren’t, in themselves, very entertaining.

          • Hunt says

            It’s not even a matter of whether it’s constructive to critique “feminist principles.” You seem to think that even invoking feminist principles makes a post beyond reproach. That makes you a true believer and pretty much impossible to converse with. So consider yourself ignored.

          • CaitieCat says

            Good gods on bicycles, but your reasoning is kacked.

            Dude, I will happily engage with non-bullshit, but I’m not teaching your Feminism 101 course for you. Why don’t you go and look up the terms I outlined in my first comment, discover how trite and bullshit they are, and how they’ve been answered AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN, in this very blog, among other places, and then, if you still think you’ve got a non-trite point to make, come back and make it.

            Until then, it’s the same old defenses of the same old kyriarchal crap. It doesn’t deserve careful intellectual rebuttal, because it’s just STUPIDITY.

            As to ignoring me, I will enjoy the further schooling you’ll get from others on it. Of course, you won’t recognize it as schooling, because you’re too busy sucking ideas out the bunghole of the kyriarchy to notice.

            May the gods that don’t exist bless and keep you – far away from anyone trying to have an intelligent conversation about feminism.

    • says

      Hunt, in order to show that I’m “overthinking” it, you need to show that my interpretation is false. It doesn’t matter what age range is listening to the song. When do you think people learn about dating and relationships? Do you think children are magically immune to the messages found in pop culture and only start hearing them after their 18th birthday?

      If you don’t think concepts like virginity matter to teenage boys, then you haven’t heard teenage boys talking about who they want to have sex with. If you don’t think teenage boys are threatened by confident girls and go for the ones who are insecure and meek, again, you haven’t heard teenage boys talking about who they want to have sex with. Kids and teens aren’t some special category of person that exists outside of the cultural norms followed by adults.

      • Hunt says

        Let’s get back to the “availability heuristic” that CaitieCat so helpfully mentioned. You mention that being shy or innocent of the wiles of sexual seduction “could be” a marker for purity or virginity. This seems like an assumption, as is the interpretation that “want you” means they want to sexually penetrate her. Teenage sexual attraction is often more about just togetherness or intimacy not in that way. (At the same time, of course, I’m not so naive to think teenagers are all a bunch of celibates.) I don’t need to prove your interpretation is “wrong” to show that you’re assuming the worst about the song and therefore the worst about boys. Sure, the boys may be singing about the attractiveness of a non-sexually aggressive girl, something that I can certainly sympathize with. Personally, I dislike sexual aggressiveness in both men and women, having been the target of several aggressive women and witnessing the actions of sexually aggressive men. There’s no law against expressing that in a song. At the end of the day though, I can’t make anyone prefer one thing over another. There are certainly boys and men who prefer confident girls/women. If you can show me something that indicates men and boys tend to prefer weak-willed, innocent women, that might be the start for a claim.

        To be honest, when I first heard this song my initial reaction was “how quaint,” since it does express a “trope,” but one that has faded almost to the point of death these days. It’s actually an unusual sentiment for a pop song, which are usually, if directed from male to female, more obsessed with the liveliness or exciting aspects of a woman or girl. More often they celebrate the outgoing personality type, the “unattainable.” This song really strikes me as something of an anachronism.

    • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

      …so, your reasoning is that this song is aimed at teenagers, and therefore, since its target audience is in the process of adjusting to and forming their feelings and views on sexuality and relationships, with less perspective, less developed judgment, and less of a filter for which advice and modeling to follow, its problematic message is less worrisome?

      Is this what happens when rainwater leaks inside your head?

      • CaitieCat says

        Ahh. Now that’s the way to end the day. Ghost in the Shell:SAC, Cowboy Bebop, and a bloody good zinger for a chaser. Brav’, Azkyroth. Braviss. :)

      • Hunt says

        I’m saying the rules and conditions are different. You don’t need to do much more than flip through a teen magazine to understand that.

        But even for adults, is it really that shocking to express the opinion that you find modesty or even detachment from the vanity of our society to be attractive and alluring? I mean, the inverse connotation here is that everyone should, at all times, know exactly what the “market value” of their sexual attractiveness is. This actually verges on the type of thing the PUA “movement” espouses. Are you sure you can’t relate to finding a person innocent of that attractive?

        • throwaway, extra beefy super queasy says

          I’m saying the rules and conditions are different. You don’t need to do much more than flip through a teen magazine to understand that.

          You’re saying stupid things. Do you presume to think that ‘teen magazines’ are made by teenagers themselves?

          But even for adults, is it really that shocking to express the opinion that you find modesty or even detachment from the vanity of our society to be attractive and alluring?

          Interpretation negated by the lines “you’re insecure/don’t know what for/you’re turning heads when you walk through the door” still placing prime importance upon other people’s reaction to someone else’s exterior, rather than how someone feels about themselves. The important judgments still come from outside their self.

          I mean, the inverse connotation here is that everyone should, at all times, know exactly what the “market value” of their sexual attractiveness is.

          No, the inverse connotation is that people should feel independently secure in their attractiveness without relying on society to determine that value for them. About having the self-worth of someone who is beautiful regardless of their exterior.

    • says

      Yes, because everyone knows that the first thing you should become aware of regarding sexuality is that the ideal woman should be both beautiful and insecure. That way she’s both easy on the eyes and ready to be dominated.

      Jackass.

  13. sathyalacey says

    Agreed. This song is pretty fucking creepy.

    I haven’t paid super-close attention to the lyrics, so I’m glad you quoted the bit about makeup. It reminds me of the whole general obliviousness of people who say “hey, you look great without makeup” to women who are, in fact, wearing makeup – not realizing that fashion trends have distorted and warped our beauty ideals.

    On a somewhat lighter note, Colbert did a funny take-down of the song last year – but he does take a moment to note the shitty message behind it. (Skip to 1:50 if you don’t want the intro)

    http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/418915/september-07-2012/the-2012-people-s-party-congress-of-charlotte—youth-vote

  14. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    I heard a song on the radio yesterday in which a man described a woman as “his treasure”. *barf*

  15. CaitieCat says

    • Hunt says

      That’s not what overthinking means. I’m not saying all of this applies to this post (or any of it, maybe I was wrong to mention it), but overthinking means you’ve found meanings, significance or connotations that either the subject doesn’t warrant or doesn’t warrant to the extent being discussed. It often happens after a topic has already been discussed, but for one reason or another the discussion hasn’t been terminated before it moves into a period of diminishing returns that just eats up time and resources without yielding any useful product.

      Often caused by over-funding.

  16. says

    On facebook, I see a lot of women posting about the sorts of examples mothers should set for their daughters. How women are constantly critiquing themselves and they pass that on to their daughters. But this song is the perfect example of why it’s not just on us as women to boost the next generation’s self esteem. As long as society tells us that you must be conventionally beautiful and humble, anyone who isn’t both is treated as though she needs to be taken down a peg and put in her place. What good is that confidence you instill in your (theoretical or real) daughter if having that confidence sets her up for verbal abuse?

    Not to say that mothers (or fathers, or whomever) should perpetuate the same tired expectations on young girls, only that I’m frustrated that women face these challenges and then are subsequently berated if they haven’t been able to overcome the societal pressure to be constantly self effacing.

  17. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    But they’re just looking for a Candy Girl with The Right Stuff, who won’t say Bye Bye Bye because [They] Want It That Way.

    Uhh… 98 Degrees!

    • Scr... Archivist says

      UnknownEric @21,

      Those are some good examples, and you make it look as easy as A, B, C. You make a convincing case, so now I’m a Believer. Or at least a Súbe a mi Motora. Either way, I Think I Love You.

      By the way, the group 98 Degrees might not fit the pattern since they formed themselves, but I only found that out Because of You.

  18. John Horstman says

    I don’t recognize that song, though perhaps I have heard it. It’s fucking creepy either way. I think you hit all the main points as to why.

  19. debbaasseerr says

    Thank you CaiteCat, for the thorough gutting of oblivious anti-feminist drone number 23,489,572,389. When you have to see it happen over and over and over again, you really start to appreciate when people manage to combine a sort of experienced efficiency in dismembering tired garbage, with nice humorous touches like:

    As to ignoring me, I will enjoy the further schooling you’ll get from others on it. Of course, you won’t recognize it as schooling, because you’re too busy sucking ideas out the bunghole of the kyriarchy to notice.

    Funny and true and sad all at the same time.

    • CaitieCat says

      *bows*

      Sometimes, teacher’s gotta teach.

      And sometimes, it’s better to reach for the metaphorical* paddle.

      For Great Justice! AwaAAAAYYYYYY!

      * In no way do I condone use of actual paddles on anyone not literally asking for it. As in, “Please hit me with that paddle, no I’m serious, my safeword is “defenestration”, let’s GO.” Metaphorical paddles, however, well, they’re fer schoolin’.

  20. smrnda says

    *Are my posts getting stuck in moderation?* I’m using a different computer than usual but I thought I made one earlier..

    I think the tired trope of saving someone from their problems and insecurities through getting into a relationship with them needs to die. It’s just as bad when the idea is the opposite where a relationship with a woman saves a guy from the curse of low self-esteem.

    The other thing is that, even when people say ‘this is just crappy pop music for teens don’t take it seriously’ is that if you shove crappy pop music with bad ideas in people’s heads all the time, it has an effect even when people openly admit it’s a bad place to get information on how relationships work.

      • smrnda says

        I think one time I got the ‘posting as imposter’ warning, which might have had something to do with it…

        This post was better and to the point than anything else I think I might have written though.

  21. EmmyRae says

    I’m glad someone linked to the Colbert piece! That bit is 100% of my experience listening to the song.

    There is a old country song She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful and it’s the same thing (and btw, Hunt, directed at an older audience). Here’s a highlight:

    She don’t know she’s beautiful
    Though time and time I’ve told her
    She don’t know she’s beautiful (never crossed her mind)
    She don’t know she’s beautiful (no she’s not that kind)

    Okay, first – I’m sick of the idea that because some guy (even my partner) thinks I look good, then I should believe it. Sometimes I don’t like the way I look, even if you like it!

    Second – “no she’s not that kind” – the kind that has a reasonable understanding of her level of conventional attractiveness? What if she finally believes him since “time & time I’ve told her” – does that make her “that kind”? As my grandma would say: oh for dumb.

    Great post as usual, Miri!

    • Hunt says

      Continuing from 16.3.2 above, what does it mean to say that a girl/woman who doesn’t know she’s beautiful means she has low self esteem? Well, by quick paraphrasing, it means that self esteem is based in part or full on self awareness of physical attractiveness. In the extreme form (which unfortunately isn’t all that uncommon in our society) this takes the form of self esteem based purely on vanity. Granted, in the Colbert piece he does expose a certain self contradiction here in an amusing way. However, I don’t see what’s so awful about finding the absence of vanity attractive.

      • EmmyRae says

        If that’s what he wanted to say, the lyric should be “she don’t care she’s beautiful”. It’s not. One Direction could have written a song about a woman who doesn’t care about her beauty. They didn’t.

      • EmmyRae says

        Also:

        You’re insecure,
        Don’t know what for

        Could it be any more clear that he is seeing low self esteem in her?

  22. Pen says

    One reason for women not knowing they’re beautiful which you didn’t mention and which most men seem blissfully unaware of is that at some end of the sexuality spectrum, heterosexual women don’t have much appreciation for female beauty. I’m like that, I’m just not programmed for it. It’s like being tone deaf or colour blind*. And that does create a certain innocence, or ignorance, in sexual relationships, in that I have no idea what my partners see in me. On the other hand, nobody has traditionally been more innocent in this respect than the stereotypical straight male.

    * It’s not that I find women ugly, it’s just that I would never pass a woman in the street or see her photograph in a magazine and think ‘wow!’ whereas with a man, to be quite honest, I would and have.

    • Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

      I definitely notice beautiful women, just like I noticed beautiful men or a beautiful sunset. It has nothing to do with sexual attraction. I also notice that other women often pay me compliments on my appearance. (I do the same thing.) Sometimes a guy will say something nice, but usually it’s the ladies. Maybe it’s just where I live, but if I women around here like your shoes, jewelry or hair, they just come out and say so. It’s like we’re bonding over a common interest in femme things. Total stranger in the public bathroom likes your outfit? Yeah, she’s gonna tell you about it. I’ve heard more than once at the drive through, “Here’s you order, ma’am and I love your hair.” Maybe that’s just a Kentucky thing, but even the receptionist at my kids’ dentist, who only sees me twice a year will remark on how I look when we go into the office. She will remember what my hair was like 6 months ago and if I change the color even slightly, she notices.

      Is that just a southern thing? I know the Sweet Potato Queens joke that they greet each other by saying, “Cuteshoestellyermamahi!”

      • CaitieCat says

        I do that here, too, and when my hair was bright purple, people did it to me, too. And in that case – or with someone’s shoes or outfit or makeup – complimenting them is complimenting a choice they (probably*) made, and seems to be taken generally well, is my experience. Yesterday I saw a woman getting on the bus whose hairstyle looked really nice on her, so when she met my eyes, I smiled as she walked past and said “I like your hair, it’s really pretty on you.” And she smiled and said thanks, and on we went.

        Or there’s a woman who lives somewhere near me (we get on and off the bus near one another) who rocks some amazing 40s-style outfits, with the seamed stockings and all the cool gear. It’s clear she puts a lot of thought and effort into her appearance, so when I see one I think is awesome, I say, “Oh, I really like this!” And I think it’s clear to either of these women that what I’m complimenting is their skill and judgement. I’ve given similar compliments to men who clearly make efforts on their appearance and dress: “Oh, that hat really suits your face,” or “Always love a bow tie,” y’know?

        But then, maybe my noticing how attractive so many people are doesn’t count because I’m pansexual? I dunno how this works, exactly. But I do notice them all, and there are so MANY. I have pretty wide standards for “attractive”.

        * Cf. dress codes.

        • Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

          I dyed my hair pink a month ago. People definitely comment more on it now than before.

          You have a point about those really being compliments about choices related to appearance. But, I notice other things too. Eyes, complexions, smiles, (occasionally tushies), just…how people look. I still remember working at a box office and a woman came to the window with white hair and turquoise eyes. She must have been around 70, dressed sharply and she just looked like someone an artist would dream up. She was stunning. I think I stared a little too long, because she kind of looked at me like I’d just burped the alphabet. In my defense, I couldn’t help trying to figure out if those were contacts! You can’t just side eye that kind of assessment. You have to stare with awkward intensity…apparently.

          • Pen says

            I don’t do that, I just really don’t notice it. But I know plenty of people who do, nothing wrong with that.

  23. says

    The other assumption here I have a problem with here involves the equiparation of her not knowing she is beautiful with her being insecure. The underlying assumption would seem to be that the only thing a woman could ever derive any self worth from is being seen as very beautiful.

    • Hunt says

      Ah, I see you’re quoting the lyrics. Okay, fair enough. But the same assumption is kind of being made by people criticizing the song, right?

      • piegasm says

        The people criticizing the song are saying that’s what society teaches women and girls: that they have value only insofar as they are attractive to men. The world demands women put a ton of effort into making themselves attractive to men. Don’t be an ounce overweight, don’t be caught dead outside your house without make up, don’t wear comfortable clothes lest you be considered frumpy etc.. Then you get songs like this which say “Don’t you dare think all that effort has led to you actually BEING attractive because that would make you unattractive.” Like Colbert pointed out “I’m going to tell you you’re beautiful but don’t believe me because then you’re no longer beautiful.”

        We do this to girls in so many ways. We teach them from birth that they’re supposed to be into pink, flowery, frilly things and to want to be pretty princesses and ballerinas when they grow up. Then, the older they get, the harder we work at teaching them that all that stuff we taught them they’re supposed to like because they’re girls is stupid and silly and frivolous.

        We teach girls they’re supposed to be a certain way and then we spend the rest of their lives teaching them that the way they taught them to be is bad and this song takes it a step further. Be what I want you to be just don’t ever get it in your head that you’re good enough.

      • says

        Everything piegasm said in 27.2.1 and I’ll to it that from the day a little girls starts being dressed like a little girl, the first thing people say when they meet her is how pretty she is. As she grows up, each of her accomplishments is compared to her looks: “She’s so smart for such a pretty little girl” “What’s a pretty girl like you doing playing such a rough sport” “Let me introduce you to Bob’s beautiful daughter, Annie.”

        And if she doesn’t fit conventional beauty standards, it’s: “You’d be so pretty if you’d just get your hair out of your eyes.” or “She’s got such a lovely face for a big girl.” Or “You’ll grow into your looks when you are older.”

        And then there’s the conventionally attractive woman who is accused of having achieved success because of her beauty.

        It is rare for a girl’s to be judged independently of her looks. They are constantly reminded that whatever they do and whatever they want to be, it will always be judged against her appearance. So when song comes along saying that the “right” kind of girl to be is conventionally beautiful and completely clueless about how the world judges her appearance (which should be conventionally beautiful, of course) you would have to be talking about someone in a vegetative state or raised in a self sustaining bunker without electricity nor access to other humans because that’s not possible in our society and it just puts another unrealistic standard out there for girls to fail to live up to.

        • says

          So when song comes along saying that the “right” kind of girl to be is conventionally beautiful and completely clueless about how the world judges her appearance (which should be conventionally beautiful, of course) you would have to be talking about someone in a vegetative state or raised in a self sustaining bunker without electricity nor access to other humans because that’s not possible in our society and it just puts another unrealistic standard out there for girls to fail to live up to.

          I have known such a woman and it never occurred to me that it might be as profoundly odd to have such a self perception as you make it out to be. I’m still not quite sure that I believe it as I think that I have seen plenty of anecdotal evidence that many women often obsess about fatal “flaws” that only they can see (this is not unique to women). I don’t think that this fact made her particularly alluring to me but I can see how others could see it this way (after all, humility is often considered a virtue and the narcissism which can come along with being extraordinarily beautiful is usually considered a character flaw). It’s not that she considered herself ugly (at least not when I knew her –though earlier in her life was likely another matter) but she certainly did not consider herself unusually attractive.

          Thinking back on it, however, there is a circumstance which might be responsible (or at least related) to these perceptions: though she was not raised in a bunker, she is very dark skinned and was raised in a society were being dark skinned is looked down upon and considered unattractive (particularly by people in her own ethnic group).

          See:

          http://www.xojane.com/issues/racism-in-singapore.

          The skin color is about the same as that of the woman authoring the above article but it is not her (though if I squint really hard at one of the photographs I can make myself believe that the woman in that article resembles her). The country in question also not Singapore but it almost could be. Possibly, a similar article could have been written by my friend.

          • piegasm says

            I’m still not quite sure that I believe it as I think that I have seen plenty of anecdotal evidence that many women often obsess about fatal “flaws” that only they can see (this is not unique to women).

            First, don’t do this shit. Don’t deny peoples’ personal experience. We didn’t just make this shit up for the sake of disagreeing with you; we’ve lived it as has nearly every woman in our culture. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never noticed it or thought of it as a problem; if you’re male in this culture you can afford not to notice it or think it’s a problem because it’s not being done to you.

            Secondly, where do you think these women obsessing over these fatal flaws got the idea that whatever it was is a flaw in the first place? People don’t exist in a vacuum, champ.

            Also, the way you define humility vs. narcissism is messed up; Hunt was doing this too. You’re both exemplifying the OP: a reasonable degree of confidence (i.e. thinking that you might possibly be attractive because you’ve put a lot of effort into your appearance and people keep complimenting you) is apparently narcissism (Hunt kept calling it vanity) while complete obliviousness to the possibility that another person might find you attractive is merely a refreshing humility as opposed to a lack of self esteem.

            Perspective people. Get some.

        • Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

          I remember being made aware of this when I told a more enlightened friend of mine that her daughter was beautiful. She scowled and said, “Thanks, she’s good at math too” Apparently she was getting tired of her daughter’s looks being the only thing people commented on. I made a mental note.

          After that I noticed how we tell boys, “Oh, aren’t you brave/tough/smart” etc. But we tell girls that they are beautiful. I remember now to tell my boys they look great and my girls how smart/tough/brave they are and vice versa.

  24. says

    How hetereo is hetero? If you try gay sex and decide you prefer straight sex, are you still hetero? Anyway, that describes me, and I definitely have an appreciation for female beauty. But maybe I’m an outlier because I was told for five years by my junior high and high school classmates that they thought I was gay, so I became self-conscious about it.

    • Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

      I would call that hetero.
      I don’t know if what I’d call it counts though.

    • Pen says

      I’d say it depends how you decide to define yourself, because there are more realities and types of experience than we currently have labels for.

  25. ischemgeek says

    I’ve always felt that One Direction’s songs should all be titled Prelude to an Abusive Relationship.

    … becauseyeah. Abusive asshats I’ve had relationships with? Alllll talk like that. Decent ones? Don’t.

    Notice how generic their songs are, too: They like things about you. They’re never specific, but it’s things and qualities and attributes – generic shit that anyone in a vulnerable state of mind can self-insert into because it’s what they want to hear. It’s predatory and creepy as fuck.

  26. says

    Piegasm wrote:

    First, don’t do this shit. Don’t deny peoples’ personal experience. We didn’t just make this shit up for the sake of disagreeing with you; we’ve lived it as has nearly every woman in our culture. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never noticed it or thought of it as a problem; if you’re male in this culture you can afford not to notice it or think it’s a problem because it’s not being done to you.

    Oh, give me a break! You write like I have done something offensive here. I have not. (but I suppose that by disagreeing with you, rather than simply having a conversation, I am denying your experience, right?).

    I have replied to someone who appeared to be saying that they found it inconceivable that a woman could grow up in this society with an improper calibration of how her physical beauty is perceived by others by noting that there seems to be plentiful of anecdotal evidence of people who do just that. It was a direct answer to her comment, nothing more. And not only is there anecdotal evidence but there is also scientific evidence of such miscalibration being commonplace. For instance, studies have shown that men’s perception of what body type females perceive as attractive in men differs from what women perceive as attractive in men and women’s perception of what body type men see as attractive in women differs from what men perceive as attractive in women (and this is relevant since the stupid song lyrics are about cross gender attractiveness). I’m sure there must be plenty of other relevant research but it is not anything I’m specially interested in and I am not going to look for actual references.

    Dove Real Beauty Sketches

    So tell me this, is the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video also an offensive denial of people’s experiences? I think not (I do dislike the video because the scenario portrayed clearly does not reflect the reality of what happened –forensic sketch artists are simply not that good even when they actually get feedback– but I understand the underlying message which is basically no different than what I wrote).

    Piegasm wrote:

    Secondly, where do you think these women obsessing over these fatal flaws got the idea that whatever it was is a flaw in the first place? People don’t exist in a vacuum, champ.

    Personally, I think it comes from society. This is not relevant to how people can have a miscalibrated perception of how beautiful they are by others (contrary to Marnie’s statement that it is not possible to be thus miscallibrated in this society). If anything, you seem to be agreeing with me that what I say happens really happens (which was my only point when I wrote about “anecdotal evidence”).

    Piegasm wrote:

    Also, the way you define humility vs. narcissism is messed up; Hunt was doing this too. You’re both exemplifying the OP: a reasonable degree of confidence (i.e. thinking that you might possibly be attractive because you’ve put a lot of effort into your appearance and people keep complimenting you) is apparently narcissism

    I did not define narcissism. You are putting words into my mouth. Talking about the “narcissism which can come along with being extraordinarily beautiful…” is in no way defining narcissism.

    It works like this. Just like the single child who is dotted upon and has every wish instantly tended to can predispose for the development of a spoiled child (who grows up to be as spoiled adult) and just like the child who is neglected can grow up to be an insecure adult, the girl who gets constantly complimented for her beauty can grow up to be a self centered narcissist who thinks her beauty is her most valuable asset (and sadly, this can be a self fulfilling prophecy –which is, indeed, promoted by the society we live in). Note the word “can“. This denotes possibility. It does not indicate that this happens to every very beautiful woman. In other words, not only do I not think that merely thinking that you are attractive is narcissism but I never even implied it.

    As an aside, constantly complimenting children on this is harmful (as is being constantly complimented on being athletic, intelligent or anything else which might be considered an essential characteristic –whether it actually is or not).

    Piegasm wrote:

    (Hunt kept calling it vanity) while complete obliviousness to the possibility that another person might find you attractive is merely a refreshing humility as opposed to a lack of self esteem.

    Again, I did not define humility. However, someone saying “I’m not that strong”, “I’m not that wise”, “I’m not that dextrous”, “I’m not that intelligent”, “I’m not that noble”, “I’m not that beautiful”, etc. is almost definitional for a person being humble and is likely to be perceived as such.

    As to your conflation of someone being negatively miscalibrated with regard to the perception of one’s physical beauty by others implying a lack of self esteem, that was my very criticism of the lyrics where I was decrying a societally derived perception that a woman can only derive self worth from being thought of as beautiful by others. When Hunt wrote that “the same assumption is kind of being made by people criticizing the song, right?” I was tempted to reply that while what he suggested was certainly possible I had not seen any evidence of it on this thread. But now I see it in front of me in that it applies to you. You have internalized the message (which is perfectly normal and what we are fighting here in this thread) but seem to be partly lacking in the necessary self awareness to see the full degree to which you have internalized the message.

    And I do disagree with this particular facet of the message.

    If people around me think that I am a better dancer than what I believe to be the case it does not mean I have low self esteem.

    If people around me think that I am have better physical coordination than what I believe to be the case it does not mean I have low self esteem.

    If people around me think that I am more intelligent than what I believe to be the case it does not mean I have low self esteem.

    If people around me think that I am far wiser than what I believe to be the case it does not mean I have low self esteem.

    And if people around me think that I am far more beautiful than what I believe to be the case it also does not mean I have low self esteem.

    Of course, someone may both have a false and inferior sense of one’s own physical beauty (or intelligence, etc.) and also be a broken, insecure person with low self esteem. Nevertheless, I insist that one does not imply the other. Furthermore, I insist that the application of this principle to physical beauty is precisely the sort of thinking that feminism is rightly fighting against.

    What I am saying is that the fact that we live in a society where women apparently must derive self worth from knowing that they are beautiful (the internalization of such a concept seemingly being exemplified by both the lyrics in question and your comments) seems like a problem to me.

    • piegasm says

      Oh, give me a break! You write like I have done something offensive here. I have not. (but I suppose that by disagreeing with you, rather than simply having a conversation, I am denying your experience, right?).

      No, you deny peoples’ personal experiences when they describe their personal experiences and then you say things like “I have a hard time believing that”. My personal experience isn’t a matter of anyone else’s opinion. It is what I say it is. It’s also not really up to you to simply declare that what you’ve said or done is not offensive. It’s not on other people to not be offended by one’s actions.

      I have replied to someone who appeared to be saying that they found it inconceivable that a woman could grow up in this society with an improper calibration of how her physical beauty is perceived by others by noting that there seems to be plentiful of anecdotal evidence of people who do just that. It was a direct answer to her comment, nothing more.

      Marnie can correct me if I’m wrong about this but xe wasn’t saying that xe finds it inconceivable that someone’s perception of their own attractiveness might be different from society’s perception. Xe was saying it’s pretty difficult, if not impossible, to be a woman in this society and not realize that society expects women to put an unreasonable amount of effort into being attractive and that everything they do throughout their lives will be judged against their attractiveness.

      I did not define narcissism.

      Bullshit. You’re using the word “narcissism” in reference to descriptions of people who have justifiable and reasonable grounds to think they’re attractive. You’re using the word “humility” in reference to a description of women who are oblivious to the possibility that they’re attractive and who (per the songs lyrics) are insecure. That you didn’t explicitly say “I define narcissism/humility thus…” doesn’t mean that you haven’t implicitly defined them by the context in which you use the words.

      Even your more explicit description of narcissism only serves to illustrate my point. Girls grow up in a society that demands they make their looks a priority and when they fit conventional ideas about what is attractive they are constantly told how pretty they are. But then when they do what they’ve been taught and prioritize their looks, and think they’re actually attractive just because people keep telling them so, and think that their attractiveness is what society values most in them just because it’s all society ever notices about them, that’s narcissism. No. It really fucking isn’t. It’s a no-win situation.

    • says

      piegasm correctly represented what I was saying.

      At no point does our society let a woman not know where she stands in relationship to conventional beauty and on top of that, what individuals think of our beauty. i.e. If a woman looks to be conventionally beautiful AND too confident, someone will feel it necessary to take her down a peg. So not only are we expected to constantly live up to the physical standards, but we are expected to constantly regulate our confidence so as to have the correct amount of confidence.

      I think that dove video is the perfect example. Let’s keep in mind a couple of things:
      -This video does not compare woman to men. So it annoys me on a logical level. What are we comparing these women’s responses to? How far, if at all, do they deviate from the responses of men?
      -The women were asked to describe themselves to a stranger in front of recording devices for reasons they did not know.

      Why does this matter? Because women, are taught to not be a “narcissist” and to be humble. You have confirmed this with your characterization of this beautiful woman who doesn’t know her own beauty. This gorgeous woman completely unaware of society’s standards and where people think (whether or not she agrees) she stands in it, is unrealistic. Beautiful women who are constantly self effacing have been bullied to be like that.

      The women in the dove commercial may not have wanted people to think they were narcissists. They may have suspected they’d be judged on the things they said. Far better to undersell yourself and be told you were more beautiful than to oversell yourself and be told you aren’t as attractive. A better test, perhaps, might have been to hide the cameras until after the test and tell the women that they are helping aspiring artists get certified to do police sketches. Explain that it’s important that they be as accurate and unemotional in their descriptions as possible. Then it’s not about describing one’s self but about helping someone else. Or compare the two groups to see how the pressure of being judged changes our responses. There is far more interesting research to be done than this bit of blatant commercialism.

      Let’s be clear, though, you are taking some liberties with your anecdote. Every human has their defenses and their secrets and while you may have been close to her, you make some vague references to her past being different that suggest you may not know everything about her. I would be careful about speaking for her experiences.

      A lot of your responses have unintentionally confirmed what some of us are trying to say. You think back fondly on this woman who you found beautiful who didn’t realize it. Like the manic pixie dream girl trope, it’s asks a woman to be an ideal that strips her of some of her humanness (what’s wrong with giving yourself a couple of finger guns and a wink, sometimes?) and every time you talk about beautiful women who have nothing to offer but their beauty (like the booth babe trope) you put women who are conventionally attractive in a place where they have to prove their worth in a way even very attractive men generally do not. Of course there are vapid shallow people, but the focus on women who are already told they need to be beautiful and confident but not too confident and the right kind of confident, or maybe humble, is what I find troubling.

      • says

        piegasm wrote”

        No, you deny peoples’ personal experiences when they describe their personal experiences and then you say things like “I have a hard time believing that”. My personal experience isn’t a matter of anyone else’s opinion. It is what I say it is. It’s also not really up to you to simply declare that what you’ve said or done is not offensive. It’s not on other people to not be offended by one’s actions.

        You might wish to be a bit more meta about reading what I wrote. I was not addressing marnie’s experience. I was addressing a comment which I interpreted to mean that, in her view, certain personal experiences do not happen (that is, I was addressing, in your words, her denying of other people’s personal experiences –as perceived by me through the reading of what she wrote). I suppose that you could nevertheless argue that I was denying her view (which isn’t exactly correct: I don’t deny that it is her view, just that it is a correct view).

        As to your being offended (hypothetically, I hope) by what I wrote, you could be offended by anything and it is out of my control (save the trivial case to prevent offense which would be to not write anything –which in some sense could be viewed as my preferred strategy since I could theoretically spend 24 hours a day writing to people but I don’t). I, myself, could even be helplessly offended by the fact you are offended (I’m not). Obviously there are things by which it might be reasonable to be offended and things that are not (though it is indeed true, and apparently your point, that if you are offended by the latter you will be offended by them regardless of whether other people say it’s reasonable or not). However, if one of these things one is offended by is mere disagreement then discussion is not possible without offense.

        piegasm wrote”

        cosmicaug wrote”

        I have replied to someone who appeared to be saying that they found it inconceivable that a woman could grow up in this society with an improper calibration of how her physical beauty is perceived by others by noting that there seems to be plentiful of anecdotal evidence of people who do just that. It was a direct answer to her comment, nothing more.

        Marnie can correct me if I’m wrong about this but xe wasn’t saying that xe finds it inconceivable that someone’s perception of their own attractiveness might be different from society’s perception. Xe was saying it’s pretty difficult, if not impossible, to be a woman in this society and not realize that society expects women to put an unreasonable amount of effort into being attractive and that everything they do throughout their lives will be judged against their attractiveness.

        Like I said, while that was part of what she wrote, that is not what I was addressing. I was specifically addressing her last paragraph (specifically toward the end –though I quoted the whole thing for context). Below, in my understanding of what she writes, she seemingly confirms my interpretation when she writes that at “no point does our society let a woman not know where she stands in relationship to conventional beauty and on top of that, what individuals think of our beauty.” In other words, to me it still seems like she is saying that women not knowing exactly how they are perceived in terms how physically beautiful one is seen to be is simply not possible. In other words, like I point out earlier in this post, it is marnie’s comment which is denying people’s experiences, not mine.

        piegasm wrote”

        cosmicaug wrote”

        I did not define narcissism.

        Even your more explicit description of narcissism only serves to illustrate my point. Girls grow up in a society that demands they make their looks a priority and when they fit conventional ideas about what is attractive they are constantly told how pretty they are. But then when they do what they’ve been taught and prioritize their looks, and think they’re actually attractive just because people keep telling them so, and think that their attractiveness is what society values most in them just because it’s all society ever notices about them, that’s narcissism. No. It really fucking isn’t.

        No, it really isn’t. My bad. I still did not intend to describe narcissism and I clearly did a poor job writing what I wrote (I meant to describe a process by which one may acquire a narcissistic outlook and I did not mean to imply that “who thinks her beauty is her most valuable asset” describes narcissism).

      • says

        WithinThisMind wrote:

        Would you mind editing your post into something coherent so we can address whatever point you think you are making?

        Sure:

        – MissMarnie is doing to some women the same thing that piegasm claims I am doing to MissMarnie: denying the validity of their experiences by negating their very existence with the suggestion that they can’t possibly think as they do.
        – Piegasm is showing some of the same attitudes exhibited in that song regarding the value placed on beauty. Namely, she sees a binary context where only two possibilities exist and only one is actually correct such that a woman who underestimates the perception by others of her own beauty can only be “humble” (in her view, always the wrong interpretation) or have poor self esteem (in her and in One Direction’s view, the correct interpretation). The possibility that either could be correct, much less the possibility that neither may be correct (so that someone could be wrong about how others see them but not have poor self esteem or be particularly “humble” –maybe because they don’t put the excessive value on physical beauty that society demands and therefore don’t care that much or maybe because they are simply mistaken) doesn’t even cross piegasm’s mind.

        • says

          MissMarnie is doing to some women the same thing that piegasm claims I am doing to MissMarnie: denying the validity of their experiences by negating their very existence with the suggestion that they can’t possibly think as they do.

          Actually, what I am saying is that you appear to be a man speaking on behalf of a woman based on your interpretation of her experience and that is a tricky thing to do. I am not denying her experience in any way because she hasn’t spoken. I am asking you to consider that your experience as a man (I’m assuming. I apologize if I’m wrong here) brings its own bias in interpreting the experience a woman has had, just as my experience as a middle class white woman may bring its own biases in understanding what it is to be low income person of color.

          • says

            Hi Marnie,

            Hopefully this threads correctly. My response to you was regarding a comment in which you seemed to be saying (though you might not have been saying) that the feedback women get is such that there’s no possible way a woman could have a wrong impression of how others see her in terms of how physically attractive she is. I may have misunderstood your comment and I was addressing nothing else in your comments (and, mostly, I’m still addressing just that). I think that I surely must have misunderstood your comment since, as I (mis)understood it it would imply such things as the complete dismissal of the mindset of at least some anorexics (male or female –but mostly female) who see unattractiveness in themselves due to excessive fat where others around them do not.

            My response to you was twofold.

            In one part of my response I mentioned a friend who may have such a wrong impression and who thus could superficially be seen as a counterexample to the statement I perceived you to be making but who is not, in fact, a valid counterexample because in the culture in which she was raised the message she would have received would actually be different than the message in the culture I am in (I am in the US). Since I cannot speak for her (and do not wish to), I brought up an article by someone else speaking for herself who was raised in a very similar situation to give a rough idea of her background (both cases are of ethnically Indian people in a multiethnic society where the Indian is a major ethnic groups) and because I liked the article. The message throughout the society in which she was raised about how lighter skin color is more beautiful was as told to me by my friend and is hardly an extraordinary claim (it is found in many places including in the US –though it may take different forms here). Of course, I cannot truly know exactly how she feels just as I cannot truly know how anyone else feels because true empathy, in the strong sense of the word, does not exist or is, at best, an illusion (even though there is something we also call empathy which is very real). Barring that, however, we can make good approximations in our minds regarding how other people feel (the version of empathy that some argue is part of what makes us human) which are subject to many, many errors (some of which you mention).

            The second part of my response was noting that in addition to cases which seem to contradict your (apparent) statement but do not stand up to closer scrutiny (like my friend) but that there also exist cases which truly do contradict your (apparent) statement. My response only made vague references to anecdotal observation because I assumed such would be so commonplace that more than this would not be required (plus I’m lazy).

            In a later response I made comments regarding the misperception of individual’s perception of body type desirability in terms of attractiveness as seen by members of the opposite sex as compared to what people of the opposite sex actually consider most desirable. It logically follows that if physical attractiveness of certain body types is commonly misperceived by people, one’s own physical attractiveness in general should also be commonly misperceived (since the physical attractiveness due to body type has to be considered a component of total physical attractiveness).

          • says

            I did not use “Miss Marnie”. I used “MissMarnie” which I was copying and pasting from a comment (which is what I often try to do to get things right). There appear to be at least two separate accounts registered which appear to be of the same person. I imagine this is due to the multiple registration options on these blogs. Similarly, in my case here I might be under more than one account as well: one corresponding to my Facdebook information and one corresponding to my Google information (I might have others as well but I am not sure). I also seem to display more than one name. On here, for some reason, it’s displaying as “augustpamplona” but elsewhere I may be shown as “cosmicaug” (which is the username I use almost everywhere) or as my real name “August Pamplona”.

  27. sosw says

    I honestly hadn’t heard of the band previously. We just discussed it with my girlfriend (she has a 14-year-old daughter who apparently likes the band), her interpretation is that “not knowing you’re beautiful” is anti-superficial. I guess you can think of it that way, although I do fear that the real meaning is just as bad as this article points out.

  28. ourmandave says

    Just got back from the One Direction concert at the open amphitheatre in Tinley Park, IL last night.

    My daughter and her friend attended while I sat in the car and played games on my phone.

    I could hear every song from the parking lot. Everyone sang along to this song (and a couple others) to the point it drowned out the group.

  29. says

    @augustpamplona

    I’m afraid I didn’t see (and can’t find) your link to the article about someone like your friend. It is a more complicated issue when you mix very different culture standards for beauty. Like you mention, beauty standards in India are going to differ in some ways from beauty standards in the US and most of us have a hard time shaking our native cultural biases.

    In any case, the point I wanted to make is that woman are constantly told how they compare to a given society’s physical ideal. It doesn’t mean that a woman sees herself that way and how she feels about herself can vary depending on where she is in her life, what happened in her day, how she feel physically, among countless other factors. I assume men experience those same fluctuations in opinion, being that we are all human and all. I just don’t think men get quite as much unsolicited feedback on their appearance. So, back to this article’s main point, fetishizing a low self esteem is simply a part of a greater problem in which women are expected to:

    1. be genetically predisposed to being conventionally attractive for the society she lives in
    2. be the “ideal” weight with that weight distributed in a way that society deems most appealing
    3. dress in ways that highlight those ideas and obscure any imperfections while looking neither too prim nor too sexually open
    4. while also looking as though she did not need to work at looking this way
    5. all while not being aware of her attractiveness

    It’s a terribly unrealistic standard that requires a women to be both self absorbed and self unaware at the same time and yes, it can lead to things like body dysmorphic disorders and other self destructive behavior. That said, you make a fair point that this is becoming a greater issue for men as well and the rise of eating disorders among them is proof of that.

    If I am hearing you right, I don’t believe that you fetishize this sort of mentality, though all of us carry the burden of the bias of our society. I know that I sometimes catch myself momentarily holding another woman to these sorts of standards. I try to catch myself when I do. It’s not something I want to be a part of saddling other women with.

  30. queequack says

    Of course, the most obvious allure of the beautiful woman who doesn’t know it is that the likelihood of Schrodinger’s Bully and Asshole is far lower.

      • queequack says

        Well, yeah, I am. I don’t think that should be controversial. Being attractive is a huge advantage in life (for both men and women) that is for the most part arbitrarily granted, not earned. And like any other giant unearned advantage, having it tends to foment obliviousness and unwarranted arrogance.

        So yes, I think attractive people are on the whole bigger assholes than unattractive people, in the same way that upper-class people are bigger jackasses than other income classes. (http:// www. youtube. com /watch?feature=player_embedded&v=IuqGrz-Y_Lc)

        • says

          So how come insecure guys aren’t fetishized the way insecure women are? If beautiful people are mean, then that standard should apply to people of all genders. Yet it’s only ever presumed to apply to women.

        • says

          Also, this song isn’t actually talking about ugly women. Ugly women rarely have songs written about them. It’s talking about beautiful women who just don’t realize it, and the singer’s point is to make her realize it. So in any case, she’ll realize how beautiful she is and become mean, so going after such women is bound to be fruitless.

          • queequack says

            I think the other factors you discussed play a role as well, and those are all more gender-specific. But most fundamentally, I think it has to do with risk analysis. That’s certainly my anecdotal experience.

            But also, I think there is sort of a pretty nerdboy fantasy that’s floating in the culture as well. It’s not nearly as prominent a trope as the innocent Girl Who Doesn’t Know She’s Beautiful, but it exists, and I think that again, the major factor here is risk analysis. Shy awkward men are less likely to be assholes than frat boys.

          • queequack says

            And point taken. However, I think one implication here is not only that the woman will realize her beauty but that she will be grateful to the guy for helping her, and thus fall in love with him. It is a little bit creepy, I’ll give you that.

          • says

            Depends on what you mean by asshole. Frat boys are more likely to be upfront about what assholes they are. But the people who have manipulated me the worst, made me feel the most like shit about myself, and ultimately hurt me the most have been “shy awkward men.”

            With frat boys you know what you’re getting into. People who are insecure, on the other hand, sometimes–not always–end up unintentionally using their insecurity to manipulate and coerce others.

            See: every person ever whose partner has prevented them from hanging out with people of the opposite sex by being like “but I’m just so INSECURE about you being around all those guys/girls,” tried to control what they wear and how they behave when out in public because they’re worried about someone snatching their prize from them, and so on.

            I’m not saying that insecure people are all this way, or inherently this way. I think that being insecure and unaware of how that affects your emotions and behavior can lead to this, though. Mostly I’m saying that the trope of confident people being Mean and insecure people being Nice is inaccurate.

          • queequack says

            I guess I wouldn’t disagree with that. But a few things. First, in terms of the trope, what matters here is perception, and since like you said, frat boys are more upfront about their obnoxiousness, less confident people are perceived as nicer. Beyond that, I think there’s a fine line between insecurity and unattractiveness- an ugly person isn’t necessarily insecure, he’s just aware of what other people get that he doesn’t, so he’s maybe a little, I dunno, humbler.

            And anyway, though I concede that unattractiveness could lead to controlling, abusive insecurity, I still think that on the whole, attractive people are more arrogant, more self-centered, and more assholish than unattractive people. Which is what I meant- not that there are no jerks who are unattractive or shy or whatever, just that it’s less common.

        • says

          I’d be curious to know how queequack is defining ‘bully’ and ‘asshole’ behavior? Is this the whole “friend zone” thing, the one where guy is interested in someone only for her looks, pretends to be friends and feels used because she isn’t into him for his looks?Or are there gangs of conventionally gorgeous people who routinely seek out all us normals for a little verbal and physical abuse?

          Not being interested in someone sexually is not bullying or narcissistic. No one is obliged to be attracted or interested in you in any way. If your behavior is creepy or insincere and it doesn’t get you the result you want, that’s not the other person’s issue, it’s yours.

          • queequack says

            Bullying behavior is exactly what that implies. I see it often from attractive people, especially attractive women.

          • says

            @queequack

            I was bullied as a kid but I don’t recall it being based on looks. As an adult, I’ve seen abusive behavior but, again, that didn’t seem to be special to beautiful people. Can you give some examples of what you mean?

          • queequack says

            I was bullied because of my appearance. So that’s looks-based. No I don’t fucking feel like providing exhaustive citations or any of that shit. Attractive people, who have basically been given everything, are usually the perpetrators because of the giant arrogance and entitlement that their giant privilege gives them. Fuck them.

  31. says

    I loved this post. I think much of what happens in a lot of pop music lyrics is both creepy and hilarious (mainly because I feel it necessary to laugh so that I don’t become depressed).

    Several months ago, Stephen Colbert did a bit on this One Direction song and pointed out that by telling her that she’s beautiful because doesn’t know she’s beautiful informs her of her beauty and therefore, by the end of the first chorus, she knows she’s beautiful and is therefore no longer beautiful.

    *Head Explosion*

Trackbacks

  1. […] Because what’s the point of female characters who aren’t firmly and explicitly stated to be pretty? Not that they’re allowed to know they’re pretty – as a recent compilation of actual quotes from classic novels by the wonderful Mallory Ortberg pointed out, narratively speaking, we’re obsessed with the idea that openly admitting the beauty of particular women is a bad thing; because female vanity is (naturally) horrific, the absolute worst, such that even winking at female prettiness could potentially tar the subject with the awful brush of slutty, vainglorious primping. Instead, we have to come at it sideways, telling ourselves that women aren’t pretty until men come along and say they are; that women must both actively maintain their beauty while appearing to take no effort over their appearance, because that would make them high-maintenance and self-obsessed; that women are at their most beautiful when they don’t know they’re beautiful. […]