Monday, November 08, 2010


This week I´ve been obsessing about ¨shallow¨ things. Beauty, possessions.

Our desire for beauty, including beauty in each other, is hardwired in. We treat beautiful people better. Life is unfair. We should try to be evenhanded with each other, but we should also not expect that this will succeed in making the appearance playing field fair. . . or even close.

I´m ok with that--and I´m ok with people doing things to level the playing field. Makeup, fashion, even plastic surgery. Here are the problems I see.

1) Men desire beauty more than women do, by about 30%. This is from Survival of the Prettiest. Additionally, many beauty practices emphasize aesthetic differences between the sexes.

Accepting that artificially enhanced beauty should be the norm, we run the risk of emphasizing the non-physical differences between the sexes as well. I would be fine with that if we had the science to understand what, and how big, those differences actually are, but we don´t. What we have are hints and possibilities, and thousands of years of speculation. And when I say speculation, I mostly mean patriarchal bullshit that uses the concept of essential difference as a justification for oppression.

2) Artificially enhanced beauty takes time and money. Right now, there´s a minimum standard of beauty practices that women must engage in to send the message that they care about how they look. That minimum standard is rising. It sort of looks to me like an arms race, with a lot of horrible waste.

3) For the most part, public discourse is insipid and superficial. I think we should openly and shamelessly acknowledge that we want beauty, but put limits on what we are willing to sacrifice (or have others sacrifice) for that desire. Currently, we seem to not acknowledge it--we treat it like a dirty secret, shyly acknowledging that ¨of course I want to look my best, and be healthy¨ while de-facto we treat it as though there is nothing more important.

A culture that fails to put clear limits on what is socially acceptable to sacrifice for beauty runs the risk of that arms race going fatal--which, indeed, it has. Anorexia, with a 20% kill rate, is the most fatal mental disorder. Major plastic surgery (general anestesia always carries a risk of death) is becoming increasingly accessible and common. And of course, countless lives are wasted peace-meal--not for their own satisfaction, but merely attempting to keep up.