Friday, December 15, 2006

Points to ponder?

Every once in a while when I can't sleep—which is pretty much nightly, so we're talking about an ongoing event—I get to thinking about things like, well, what makes the self the self, anyway? (This, again, may explain why I have no friends.) We've had this discussion on SHAMblog before, and I was surprised that a majority of those who weighed in seemed to feel that the self is infinitely malleable; in other words, it's whatever you make it into, regardless of how different the end result may be from what you began with. I think of this, today, apropos of the Miss Universe Pageant, currently in the news because of the alleged "behavioral and personal issues" of 20-year-old Miss USA title holder Tara Conner. Seems The Donald, who co-owns the pageant, has got his shorts all bunched up over whatever it is Tara did; they're not specifiying, for the moment, but I'm sure it'll be all over the Web before you can say "Paris and Britney." He's considering dethroning her. Anyway, I hadn't seen Ms. Conner before today, so I Googled her. Hence the intriguing photo, and this post.

I could be wrong here; I've made such misjudgments before. But to this untrained eye, Tara's upper torso shows fairly unmistakable signs of artificial enhancement. Further, whenever I see such work on a contestant in a pageant, I always wonder what else they may have had done—a nip here, a tuck there. Nasal contouring, say. Or maybe they had a set of Dumbo ears pinned back. Whatever. Now, if you're going to allow people to have such things done and then participate in competitive events...where do you draw the line? (Answer: nowhere, apparently. Click here and scan down to the tenth question for the Miss Universe pageant's official non-policy on cosmetic surgery.) In theory a woman who looks like Ugly Betty could walk into a plastic surgeon's office with a blank check, tell him to "make me look like Charlize Theron, except with really big boobies," and once the sutures heal and the swelling subsides, she could compete to become the next Tara Conner*. Weight problems? No problem! There's always lipo or even stomach stapling. Though I realize that beauty pageants are rather superficial affairs to begin with, if we're going to have them at all, should the judging not be based on raw material, instead of manufactured images?

You see where I'm going. Whether we're talking beauty pageants or anything else, if you make yourself into something that's so far removed from what you once were that the old you is no longer recognizable in the new you...then I'm sorry, for my money (actually yours) you are no longer you. We can debate whether this is inherently good or bad, if either; I still haven't made up my own mind. I'm sure that, as with most things, balance and moderation play key roles. At the very least, however, we should call the process what it is.
It ain't self-actualization. It's self-abandonment.

And I'll say this: In the same way that boobs like Ms. Conner's—with that absurd Cleavage of Death—look silly, unreal and ultimately unappealing (to me, anyway; I do know a few guys who'd differ), the personality traits that many people try to simply bolt on in the aftermath of a Tony Robbins seminar also come across as fake, insincere and ultimately unappealing. Something to think about.

* And every time I read or write the name, in my mind's ear I hear Schwarzenegger in The Terminator saying "Sar-ah Con-nor?" as he bursts through that poor woman's front door and blows her to smithereens in one of the film's early scenes.


Cosmic Connie said...

Ponderous points indeed, Steve. :-) But in a culture where appearance is everything, what's a little "enhancement" here and there? And I really do think that one reason so many self-help junkies keep going back for more is that they need a renewal after the thin veneer they acquired at the last workshop wears off.

Steve Salerno said...

As usual, Connie, you make some excellents...points. (OK, we'll retire that one now.) Still, I also think you answer your own question, in a way. If "a
little enhancement" is just a "thin veneer" that "wears off," then what's the point of it all? Why not forget about the ephemeral veneers entirely and focus instead on something of more lasting value (whatever that thing is)? And I actually think this has particular relevance to the overt topic of today's blog. If what the world sees in you is mostly veneer--as seems almost surely true of the way men are apt to react to people like, say, Tara Conner--then can you really blame them when they get to know you better--get to know what's beneath the veneer (and I don't mean in a sexual way)--and realize that (a) there's no "there there" or (b) they really don't like the real you all that much? I know I'm going to get a certain gender backlash for this, but I think this is a big mistake that women, especially, make during dating: They dress to the 9s, making themselves into sex goddesses in order to attract a man; and we men, being basically stupid and ruled by our you-know-whats, become interested. But what we're interested in is just surface--it's not the person, but the trappings of the person. Ergo, dressing up and looking sexy is not, in my opinion, a recipe for finding Mr. Right. By the same token, women who judge a prospective mate by his clothes or his car are going to learn, somewhere down the line, that what they married was a car and some nice clothes--not necessarily a good partner. Anyway, those are some off-the-cuff responses on a very busy day, and I refuse to be held accountable for them. :)

RevRon's Rants said...

I think a lot of our obsession with "packaging" is borne of our genetic imperative: to mate with a partner who seems to fulfill the basic drives to improve the gene pool, and to survive. Somewhere in our hard-wiring, men have the notion that a woman with a well-developed pelvic region will b better suited to childbirth, and that a woman with large breasts will be more able to nurse. The primitive drive for a woman to mate with a powerful male is quite logical, as well: the more powerful a male is, the more capable he will b of protecting and providing for his mate.

Of course, we tack on all kinds of "underlying" motivations, and even the most basic genetic cues are exaggerated as we begin to analyze them. The man who has the "trophy" wife obviously has achieved the status of alpha male - and the same inference applies to the woman: the woman who is aligned with the alpha male ranks higher in the social order than does a woman with a less-dominant partner.

Having been raised in the South, I have seen these drives more overtly addressed. Girls were (and to an extent, still are) raised to be "ladies," who will support and be complementary to their men, and men are raised to be "gentlemen," who will provide for and protect their women. Though the roles have blurred, the instincts which gave birth to those roles is intact, and that is not an inherently bad thing.

I do not feel wholly responsible for my partner's well-being, yet still feel driven to protect her. She is very much a "lady," yet not in the demurring damsel sense. And I consider myself a "gentleman," yet not in the domineering manner consistent with the stereotype. But would I have been so drawn to her if she had been less physically attractive to me? In all honesty, I'd have to say probably not. But I think (hope) that aligning one's self to a partner based solely upon physical characteristics and/or demeanor is becoming more an anomaly than a default behavior. We might go after the "Hooters" babe for a fling, but not for a lifelong commitment. And even though we are (thankfully) beyond the metrosexual phase, I think that women are being drawn more to the essential man (for long-term relationships) than to the puffed-up alpha. But I could be mistaken. :)

Matt said...

For me, it's so much a combination of things. I am most definitely attracted to the Hooters' Girl (thanks, Rev), but on the same level I would expect her to be attracted to me should I drive a nice car. Physical attractiveness is indeed a clue to all sorts of genetric qualities that our brains use (sometimes poorly) to evaluate a partner. But so are many other things. I wanted to date my wife because she was a hottie in a lab coat, but I wouldn't have kept dating her if she'd proven to not have the other fine qualities I was looking for.

So Steve, I think it's great for a woman to slap on the thin vaneer for the purposes of catching the eye of a larger pool of males, but at some point in the relationship it would serve her well to drop the camoflage when the real courting begins.

Finally, I guess I'm just not that much of a purist. If people want fake boobs, whitened teeth, bigger biceps, I say, "Why not?" I do all sorts of things to make myself more attractive/less repulsive, and I'm nowhere near a metrosexual. Fundamentally, what's the difference between brushing one's hair every day and getting breast implants, other than degree?

Bear in mind I'm an idiot and so that was not a rhetorical question.


acd said...

But what good does it do to don the veneer in the first place if there's nothing else there? The woman will soon be discarded anyway once the man finds out she does not have other desirable qualities. As previously mentioned, that is okay for just a fling, but not for a long-term relationship. It would behoove women not to bother with the veneer so that they do not attract men who are looking for the "Hooters babe," because these types are men will become bored when the pretense is dropped and move on to someone more exciting to them. If a woman wants a lasting relationship with a REAL man who appreciates a REAL woman, she should not need to pretend that she is something she's not.

The thing is, if you're falling in love with a veneer, you can always find a duplicate of that out there somewhere--someone who is willing to put forth just as much effort and/or pay just as much money to achieve the same physical characteristics. If you fall in love with a person in their natural state--from the very beginning--then you are loving a unique individual that cannot be re-created with silicone, Botox, or collagen injections. If you admit that you are looking for those superficial characteristics in the opposite sex, then there will always be someone who will outdo the person you are with. If you appreciate someone for all of their collective genuine qualities, then no one else can replace that person. And that is what forms a good foundation for a long-term relationship.

Matt said...

acd, you're right of course, but I would argue that it's unrealistic to assume a person should drop all primping entirely. I was attracted to my wife's more obviously physical characteristics, but I built a relationship with her more inner qualities. I woudl aruge that that is inevitable, and non-damaging.

If she'd not bothered brushing her hair or wearing nice clothes, I doubt I would have asked her out. I don't think that's evil of me.