I’m only just starting to get my head around this beauty idea.
Since I was a teen, I understood that boys would fancy a girl because of her “beauty”. This made sense to me, because I myself would be attracted to boys because of their “beauty”. The criteria would often be arbitrary though, and depended on what can only be called taste. I find it interesting now that my best friend and I never went for the same type of men, and were never attracted by the same look although now and again we would stop in our tracks, glance at each other, and go “Phwoar” at some guy we passed on the street. Anyway, all of this made me conclude that There Is Someone For Everyone and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Then as I got a bit more wordly-wise I began to understand that beauty was currency, when it comes to women. I saw that women’s bodies and faces were commodities that they could exchange in return for a wage, as a model or a dancer for example, or perhaps as a wife. I guessed that if there were two identical women’s CVs on the table, male interviewers would make a decision based on the attractiveness of the women in question. So I understood why women tried to beautify themselves. The more beautiful you are, the higher your currency, right?
But when I realised that beauty standards vary greatly from country to country, and across time and place, everything began to make less sense. Surely, if attraction to a particular set of physical traits was biological, then it wouldn’t vary as much as it does. We all know that large women are coveted in times of scarcity, because they represent health and wealth. The pale, anaemic look is still valued in countries where women till the earth as peasants. So I began to wonder what it was that men actually found beautiful about women…
… and more recently I began to wonder whether men find women beautiful at all except as currency. I find my friends beautiful, because they are. And the more I get to know them the more beautiful they become. Especially when they’re relaxed and not wearing make-up. But if men find women beautiful, then why do they require us to wear make-up and diet and walk about on spiky heels…? Why is it that I, a heterosexual woman, can find beauty where men can’t? Are straight men all latent homosexuals?
My conclusion is that men do not find women beautiful. They can assess the value of a woman’s currency as defined by the current cultural mores, and they can place a particular woman in a beauty hierarchy, and in fact they do, (some women get a 10, others an 8, and others aren’t worth rating) but all of it depends on the opinion of their mates, or other males. It means that getting a pretty woman has nothing to do with the woman herself and everything to do with showing other men how well you’ve done. I know all this sounds obvious, but it took a lot for me to get my head around the fact that men can’t decide for themselves whether a woman is beautiful or not. They really can’t.
And then we have the fact that women go on diets and get breast implants and other types of cosmetic surgery, believing they are making themselves more “beautiful” to men. But it seems to me that this system of eugenics is taking place, not because men are actually attracted to this or that trait, but so that the women are able to slot themselves into a slightly higher chategory in the hierarchy that men have devised in order to display their own status, which also has the effect of playing women off against one another.
In all the literature I’ve ever read, only once have I been overwhelmingly convinced that a man found a woman beautiful. The man in question was Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. I’ll never forget the line about him stretching out his hand ever so tenderly to stroke a single lock of Cathy’s hair, touching it as gently as though it was a bird, before pulling back, startled. He was mesmerized by her beauty. It has baffled many critics that Emily Bronte managed to create such a passionate love affair, probably the most passionate in English literature, at the age of seventeen, despite being isolated on the moors with a controlling father and never coming into contact with men…. It turns out that Heathcliff was probably modelled on a female friend of hers after all.
Do men find women beautiful?