Sunday, September 29, 2013

Standards of Beauty and the Dynamics of Attraction in an Urban Metropolis (Alternate Title: The Universal Appeal of Awesome Rockin' Boobage**)

** Alternate title credit to the writers of South Park for their episode Major Boobage

Since moving to New York City I have had to adjust the way I think about my appearance and the role of human aesthetics in every day life. The city's role at the heart of fashion and advertising make it the arguable origin point of the beauty narrative. More importantly, there are mad hotties all over the place. An average person must learn to deal with this. Luckily, it's not that hard to do once you realize that beautiful** people do not have any kind of monopoly on happiness.

Despite the vast diversity of New York City I often find myself in neighborhoods where I don't quite fit in. Whether its an ethnic enclave or a pocket of wealth, I am regularly surprised by how homogenous certain areas remain. I don't bring this up in order to discuss socio-economic dwelling patterns, but rather as a launching point to discuss an issue which has been on my mind a lot lately: Standards of beauty and the dynamics of interpersonal attraction.

Men, bless their hearts, are predictable in their tendency to leer. I am moderately attractive, but not so attractive that it is a given that everyone will stare at me, so I have actually been able to glean a fair amount of insight into the relationship between attraction and status simply based on who makes weird faces at me on the street in relation to how I present myself.

The street is really the best place for this experiment because there are fewer variables at hand than in any situation where there is potential for conversation or having to deal with the implications of "being seen together". Split second reactions to another person's appearance on the street defy the "10 point scale" that dictates who is too attractive for whom. At the heart of it, a person is either pleasant to look at or they are not, and the street is the only place where both a 10 and a 2 can appreciate a 6 without having to apologize for it or deal with the implications. I myself do not subscribe to this particular ranking system but I accept that it exists.

Rule #1 is that everyone likes boobs. If you sport some cleavage then everyone, not even just men and lesbians, will look at your boobs (If you are a straight woman or a gay man who cannot appreciate great cleavage than I don't even know what the point of you is). However, since they only have a brief moment as you pass on the street, they do not have time to also make eye contact or register anything else about your appearance so any and all data collected in the presence of cleavage is inconclusive. The same is true for great butts but unless you are with a friend who is taking notes for you it is impossible to measure how often other people look at your butt.

I think everyone can agree on the above statement. Nothing else I have to say about any of this can be considered universal because I am my only test subject and the variables are numerous. I know how science works, people. This isn't science.

That being said, here are a few things I have observed often enough to assume that they are always true.

-Men in nice suits don't look at me when I am dressed eccentrically, but they do look at me if I am wearing a shift dress and heels, as long as I am well groomed.

-Hipster guys don't look at me if I am dressed conservatively, but they really like it when everything I am wearing looks like I stole it from an obese gypsy.

-Men in tight Ed Hardy type shirts always look at me no matter what and raise their chins at me suggestively. I assume they do this to all women, just in case.

- Men who walk with their arms around the girl they're with are among the most likely to look at me if I am dressed in body conscious clothing.  Men who walk NEXT to the girl they're with but don't make body contact with her don't look at me at all, because they are able to look at that girl. So ladies, if a guy if being publicly affectionate towards you in a way that makes it impossible for you to see his face, he might be scoping other chicks.

These are all indicative of fairly obvious truths, but it says a lot about how style works in New York City. My style isn't definitive and on one day I might look like I'm on way way to a business lunch where on another I look like I'm on my way back from an underground rave. I should mention that I have never been to a rave; I just often look like I go to raves. Either way, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the abundance of perfect human specimens in New York, and having the power to conjure a wide range of personas through my appearance is very comforting to me, even though I am just fine with being myself.

**It is difficult to write about beauty without getting caught up in the semantics so allow me to  to clarify that what I'm trying to discuss is what makes another person pleasing to look at. At some point the word beauty was taken hostage by the notion of self-worth, and it is important to me to keep these two ideas separate. It has always been my opinion that "Everyone is beautiful" is one of the most damaging ideas ever to be propagated to the masses because it simultaneously renders the word meaningless while still upholding the notion that beauty, however you define it, is intrinsically linked to a person's worth. I know it's a less romantic way to put it, but I think what we should be saying is "everyone is valid".  I apologize for being precious with my words.

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