Let’s look at taste for a minute. First the actual sense. Here’s a pop quiz.
Which flavor do you like better:
- Sour Apple Jolly Rancher ™
I think the taste metaphor plays nicely into the discussion about beauty vs. attraction/sexual preferences. In our modern lives we’ve been sold a bill of goods that slim teenagers bodies are the height of beauty and desire. But, of course, we know it’s a trap. Right? You do agree that it’s a trap, right?
While all the controversy about Miley Cyrus’s twerking performance and then naked music video stirred up the debate about how far the youth/sexual thing should be pushed to sell product. Make no mistake (with a father like Mr. Achy-Breaky-Heart himself) Mrs. Cyrus’s millionaire handlers were calculating every move on stage and on the video. Entire teams of consultants and lawyers are being paid to send Hannah Montana of into la la land as we make room for the new Miley, no wig necessary. No clothes either, but that’s a different story.
The part of the problem that is not being addressed is our cultural addiction to young and fit bodies like Mr. Cyrus’s. We love looking at them. We make all of our porn about them. And we (as a culture) shown the religion of marketing-of-the-youthful-midriff every time we check out at the grocery store. Even hit pieces on a former celebrity who’s really let themselves go, are cultural shaming pieces about what it means to be fat, or older, or… HUMAN.
My daughter will be 11-years old next month, and she too has a perfect body. Unblemished by life, or too much trouble. She has a smile that has photographers asking me and her mother all the time, “Does your daughter do modeling?” And we’ve come really close. Really close to taking a few of them up on the offer.
But… And the big but in the cultural equation and obsession with youth, thinness, and pretty smiles is… That beauty, even when it happens as a miracle of divine creation, is fleeting. We cannot capture our own youth in a bottle. Even the surgeons are failing to keep their work undetectable. It’s a fact: we grow older. And it’s another fact, that once you are beyond your teens, it becomes more of a perversion, this obsession with teen-gleaming sexual energy.
For me, that’s okay. I’ve learned over two marriages, and fairly recent re-entry into the dating market, that I have many different tastes in women. And I certainly don’t have any lustful thought about the naked wrecking ball vixen, or her media-driven counter-parts. None.
Revisiting the quiz. On different days, in different moods, my tastes vary. If you had to eliminate all but one of those choices, wouldn’t that be a harder choice? And that’s a bit what we are doing to our women, by erecting these absurd markers for beauty in our culture. A six-pack on a woman? Sure. If that’s what you’re into. I’m not. Not that I don’t appreciate the value and hard work, I just don’t find it attractive.
At the same time, I do have my own biases. I have my own tastes that are much more driven by my own experience with relationships than some image of beauty that is flashed on TV, Cosmo, or a music video. I find *most* celebrity vulgar and distasteful. Oh, and get this, UNATTAINABLE. They are a different breed of animal. And their pedigree and training and managers have all set them up to succeed or fail on how beautiful they can make you think they are. Stop. That’s not for me.
In finding myself single again, I’ve noticed some amazing things about women, and my tastes in them.
- I don’t really have a type. (I have some preferences based on previous experiences or resonances with old lovers, but I’m still open to what I don’t have experience with.)
- Fitness is great, attractive, and important. But fitness as an obsession has hit me on several first dates as vapid and empty. (What do you like to do? “Work out…” Um, yeah, besides that.)
- My taste has a lot more to do with where I am in my life and process than it does some measure of beauty that is fed to me via the media. (I’m angered by the exploitation of women in any form. I see my daughter and see the peddlers reaching for her.)
- A great smile is also important, but smiles and pictures don’t really tell very much of the person’s story.
- Chemistry, for me, short-circuits my expectations about what I want and says, THIS IS POSSIBLE. (The spark for me happens within minutes of having a face-to-face conversation.)
- The spark is a good starting point, but it’s a long way from a relationship.
As we are sold beauty by all the indicators around us. What sells magazines and products is ultra-thin women with perfect skin, no wrinkles (air-brushing works on photographs but not in real life), wearing unmanageable high heels and fashionable clothes. And for the most part, those women, are in a different league. They are not playing on a field that I have any interest of competing on.
I see them, these amazingly beautiful women, walking around the grocery store at 9:30 in the morning in their yoga pants and tennis skirts. And many of them are driving cars and flashing rings that would pay my mortgage for more than a few years. And… here’s the rub. They are not working for a living.
Sorry if that sounds sexist. But if a woman is dependant on limitless wealth and all-day childcare so she can perfect her lunge or backswing, that’s awesome for her. But she’s probably not someone I would ever find on a dating site. 90% of the women I’ve met in three years of “dating” are working women, and that’s more realistic. I also prefer it if they are moms too. And these women, in my field of vision, are most-likely not queuing up the weekly groceries to synchronize with their morning Pilates class and afternoon mani-pedi.
If I sound bitter, I’m not. I tried that. I didn’t quite make the cut at being able to support a stay-at-home mom. I think these women jogging every morning with their strollers are beautiful. And I hope they are happy with whatever deal they have made to allow them to have work-free days. But I can’t afford it. I can’t afford it for myself either. I see them while I’m heading through the grocery store on my way to work. And I certainly can’t afford it for me *and* someone else. (frown) There’s a part of me that would like to have that much money. Part of me, but not the main part.
Recalibrating our taste in a mate is difficult with all of these examples showing us what we should desire. Women have unrealistic expectations, that is draining all the life out of many of them as they try to perfect something in themselves. Abs, for example, may not be that important to their actual happiness. And men, well, expectations cut in our direction as well. The images of desirable men are everywhere as well. But they are not as rigid. At least we’ve got a few George Clooneys along with our Brad Pitts and Johnny Depps.
Men have an easier time with beauty. Maybe not the fitness box, but we can have wrinkles in real life to match our wisdom and our years. Now, the women we find desirable might be looking for better abs (or abs at all) and younger studs, but those aren’t the women I’d be interested in any way.
It’s a tricky mix, this taste thing. But I’ve found if I listen to my heart and then engage my brain it’s easier to filter out the lies of the media-sex-blitz and get back to what I find attractive and seeing if we have a sustainable interest that could become a relationship. I haven’t quite found that yet, but I’m looking. And, of course, I’m working on finding my abs again, but that’s a longer task.
Related post: Learning to Love the Body, All Shapes and Sizes
NOTE: This post was just published by The Good Men Project: Stealing Beauty: How Our Culture Sells Women
image: instagram of feeding the ducks, austin, texas, june 2013 – john mcelhenney