Leftist commentary from a mouthy bitch
I’ve blogged about his obliquely before, mostly on the Geek Girls Rule! blog, where I talk about men who fancy themselves “in love” with some woman they’ve never met or actually spoken to, based solely on her appearance. Over there I spoke primarily about the difference between “fangirling” and straight up objectification. The main difference being, primarily, that once fangirls develop a crush on a cute actor, they then obsessively read and listen to interviews, Google, go to the IMDB.com page to find out everything they can about said actor (or actress, let’s not be heteronormative). They don’t leave it at a surface attraction. They investigate to see if this person is actually “crush-worthy.”
That said, I want to talk about a more serious aspect of the “I love you because you’re pretty” syndrome, and that is: what happens when that person is no longer pretty?
Many things happen in the course of a life to alter what someone looked like at 20 into what they may look like at 25, 30, 40, 50… Age being the most common. Add in also having and raising children, disease, injury, stress, and all the fun stuff that genetics can do to you that you may be blissfully unaware of until they hit. Comedian Dana Gould has a fantastic bit about how family reunions are an opportunity to see all your potential genetic defects as they’ll appear in the next 50 years mapped out in front of you.
How many of us have read the letters to Ann Landers, Dear Abby, Dear Prudence, Dan Savage, that talk about a (usually, but not always) man* who no longer desires his spouse because she’s “let herself go?” Have you ever noticed how they usually include the phrase, somewhere in there, “I’m in good shape for a man my age.” Then you read on and discover his problem with the wife he’s been married to for ten or more years is that she no longer looks like the 20-something he married, after having had children and working and everything else (also, they almost never say anything about helping out with childcare or housework to give her time to work on her body if she wanted to). But he’s willing to give himself a pass on not looking like the hot-bodied 20-something SHE married, because he realizes that age does things to his body. Some of these men will allow that they still feel affection for their wives, but many will full on say they don’t love her anymore because she doesn’t look like the woman they married.
That is the problem with falling in love with appearance and not the full person.
Nowhere else is this sort of crap more apparent then when women are diagnosed with serious or chronic conditions like breast cancer and have to undergo mastectomies to save their lives. Tumblr user Roman-Numerals wrote a wonderful post called “My Beef with the ‘I Love Boobies’ Bracelets.” The post talks about the objectifying nature of that campaign, separating the women who suffer cancer from the affected body parts. A 2009 study from the University of Utah found that women who were diagnosed with serious or chronic diseases like brain cancer or MS were far more likely to wind up divorced, than men diagnosed with similar conditions (note, this study did not look at breast cancer).**
I want to focus on the fact that, disease or injury aside, we all change as we age. Men and women (something no one tells us until it happens) lose hair, even people whose job it is to stay in the peak of physical condition lose muscle tone, skin tone and develop more of a fat layer. Women, particularly if they’ve had children, lose the elasticity of their flesh. Breasts start to sag, especially if she’s breastfed her children. Hips widen. Wrinkles appear. And for everyone, metabolisms slow.
No one gets out of here at 80 looking as they did at 20, or 40.
We live in a society that fetishizes a non-human beauty that even the icons of that beauty cannot maintain, but instead must be airbrushed or Photoshopped into conformity in magazines and videos. No one looks like Scarlett Johansson on the cover of Vogue or Vanity Fair, because Scarlett Johansson doesn’t look like that. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a stunningly beautiful woman before Photoshop, but she isn’t the pore-less ceramic creature they make her into.
Is it telling that when I Googled “before and after Photoshop” the majority of pictures I came up with were women? There were a few dudes, but the majority of them were women. And I think it’s great that more and more female celebrities are allowing the “before” photos to be shown. But wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t HAVE “before” photos, and just represented what human bodies looked like?
This, all of this is why I stress to people the importance of marrying someone you LIKE who shares interests in common with you. It’ll last longer. People are not objects of art, they are living, breathing beings who age and grow and change.
Personal Anecdote Corner: I remember a neighbor of ours in Boise who had been horrid to my mother because of her weight (mom was fat, I’m fat, couldn’t possibly be genetics, heavens! Next I’ll be telling you that I’m short because mom was also short), showing up on our doorstep in tears to apologize, because at some point her metabolism slowed down and no matter what she did, she could not lose weight. She just kept gaining it, and no amount of exercise or dieting changed that fact. And it suddenly dawned on her that just maybe my mom wasn’t sitting on the couch mainlining lard and and powdered sugar after those four and five mile walks she took with the dog every day.
*Yes, I know women do it, too. I’ve seen those letters as well, but nowhere near the numbers in which men write in. However, this could be the bias of those answering the letters, but I have no way to judge that. It’s also a common trope in our media, and society at large. How many jokes hinge around men trading in their first wife for a “newer model?” Particularly successful men? The book The First Wives Club was written for a reason.
**There was a study done in Quebec that did look at breast cancer specifically and found that breast cancer diagnoses didn’t raise their chances of divorce, but it only looked at women in majority Catholic Quebec, and it did not appear to differentiate between women who were treated with mastectomy versus those who were able to keep their breasts.