The ROI of beauty

Empirically, the most accomplished, intelligent people I know couldn’t give two fks about beauty standards.

All the same, it is super popular and desired. Being beautiful seems to serve a purpose beyond health and attraction. I am wondering what that is.

I followed Jessi Kneeland a few years ago after seeing a recommendation on Greatist. Obsessed with HIIT, the fitness-junkie in me rejoiced at finding her, fit as a tennis ball.

 

So many women- clients, friends, and strangers- off handedly apologize to me or feel shame for not "having their shit together" like I do. Which always strikes me as strange, because I don't have my shit together either. We all have gifts. I just found a way to pursue and teach mine. But trust me, I have just as many "issues" as anyone else. I like to think I deal with them compassionately and patiently, but that doesn't mean they're not there. I don't see any particular reason to spend time lamenting stuff I suck at, because focusing on my gifts is so much more fulfilling! So I guess what I'm saying is this: stop giving all your power to the stuff you suck at. Stop comparing your gifts and weaknesses to other people's gifts and weaknesses. Just find some shit you're amazing at, and do more of it. Focus on your gifts, and enjoy the absolute shit out of sharing them. #mindset #selfesteem #confidence #dharmayogawheel #yoga #bodyimage #remodelfitness #gifts

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In the last year, she switched from being a fitness guru to a body image coach:

“Here are some of the boxes which a modern woman must check in order to be hot. (You’ll notice that many of these are actually “achieved” through effort, skill, time, and money, rather than inborn):
➡️A thin/toned hourglass body
➡️Big perky breasts
➡️Long femme smooth hair
➡️Youthful appearance
➡️Big doe eyes
➡️Kardashian level makeup
➡️Smooth and hairless skin
➡️Well-fitted clothing and high heels
➡️A particular way of moving, speaking and posture.” Source

I think this is a really interesting point: hotness is down to the amount of energy you put into it. My personal experience would be congruent with her ideas.

“Women were taught that our purpose in life was to be desirable enough to “snag” a good partner.”

That is certainly the idea being thrown around by “empowering” publications. I think any woman who was told this and bought it already had issues with her self-respect.

I went through a rebellious phase when I was around 12. Sporting short hair with a touch of pink, I was asked to stay behind after class. The teacher didn’t bring up anything academic. She told me that she does not approve of my image and that women ought to have lovely long hair.

I told her that I don’t subscribe to her standards of what women “ought” and could she please refrain from biting into my after school time unless absolutely necessary.

Being a rebellious teenager seems to be like chicken pox. It’s better to get over it when you are a teenager.

I’m not immune from societal expectations. I do admit to feeling a little ill when seeing some of the casual modelling that goes on on Instagram.

But if I were to feel bad when watching the Oscars for not being a movie star or feel bad when going to a gallery for not being an artist, that would be silly.

It’s best not to confuse societal expectations and your own. But this is where it gets interesting:

“Beauty standards got invented to help women be more competitive in the man-snagging market, and the whole thing escalated endlessly until we all have to look like airbrushed celebrities in order to be “good enough”.

Indeed, what is the point of beauty standards if not to attract a partner?

“I wondered if women who aren’t attracted to men might worry less about looking “hot,” since the whole women-as-beautiful-sex-objects thing was made by and for men, right?”

Basically, she asked LGBT women. As an experiment, this didn’t control for the “looking for a partner” aspect, only for “looking for a male partner”.

“The feedback I got proved this shit has nothing to do with men at all: being gay does *not* seem to offer ANY freedom from the pressures of the male gaze, beauty standards, or insecurities…

It’s not for men. So then what are doing this all for?”

What if we tried to control for “looking for a partner”? Ask married people? Well, they still have to “maintain a parter”, so that’s out.

So why do women do it?

A lot of men do the male equivalent, but it seems that that’s not quite as common.

Is it literally being gullible? These standards are floating out there, so we adapt them with the idea that… That what? It will make us better people? Plug holes in our self-esteem?

Or is it literally just down to being a more attractive partner? But that doesn’t add up because (from what I can tell) a lot of men don’t like women who fulfil the “hotness standards” outlined above.

So, either the purpose of looking hot is to find/maintain a partner, only the method is miscalculated, or there is some other reason. Let’s consider proving your worth as a reason.

Traditionally, men had other ways of proving their worth, e.g. their work. That’s increasingly popular with women. In that case, looks should be less important in today’s society than they were 200 years ago. I have no way whatsoever of testing that.

It’s well known that beautiful people are assumed to be more persuasive, trustworthyintelligent and generally better.

The question then arises: is it worth it?… Cause it is hard work – as Jessi has shown us above.

Curious as to what you think!

UPD: This is a really interesting perspective on gender issues.

Trying to be old

I loved how the sun lit up the windows of the ostentatiously classy restaurant come wine bar on St. Andrew’s Street in Dublin called Stanley’s. The bleached turquoise exterior with golden letters spelled understated chic.

A few doors down from the expensive Trocadero, the location seemed perfect for such a place.

It opened about 2 years ago. Today I found that it’s been replaced with a place called Kathmandu, a gerrish, bright orange Nepalese eatery. Full of people. 

Stanley’s was never full of people.

Why? Where did they go wrong? Where didn’t they go right, more like? The broadly positive Irish Times review and then another even more positive one? The perfect location? The classy interior in modern blues and grays? What more could people want?

Or is it maybe that classy is old-fashioned. Maybe these things don’t sell anymore.

I love old books, films, chandeliers, even houses. Often these things sell at a perplexing yet welcome discount.  Has it always been this way – that old things are cheap?

Writing up my list of the Christmas gifts I want to give, I realised that I strongly prefer older things. I think it’s from reading too many XIX century novels…

Which would you rather get for Christmas, a new iPhone or an antique chandelier? 

It turns out that the iPhone is about five times the price. This raises another point: did old things always go at a discount?

And finally, maybe that’s why Stanley’s closed down. Perhaps their bet was on people’s vanity, a desire for a classy place to shorten the protracted winters nights. But it never caught on.

Trying to be old without actually being old may be a hard sell. 

Silver linings

I edit essays almost every day. One sparkled my eyes with its brilliance. Later I realised that the author plagiarised it from John Green’s Looking for Alaska. Oh well.

I guess I can’t be expected to have read every novel ever written. My silver lining lies in the revelation that I’m good at spotting great writing 😉

In my quest to produce notes for Macbeth, I watched Scarface. A favourite of mine. Macbeth and Scarface would make a fabulous comparative study.

This time I noticed how the camera work underlined the message.

When Elvira snorts cocaine, the camera moves back and zooms in at once, mimicking the mind-altering effects of the drug.

When Tony gets killed, the camera moves from his lifeless body to the steely assassin and onto the fountain encircled with the neon sign “the world is yours“. The assassin obviously becomes the new Tony and the world is now his. The camera bows down to the winner by showing him from below, then it slowly follows the assassin as he descends down the stairs and distances to show what’s ahead of him. Endless dead bodies. His path will inevitably bring him to the bottom of the stairs, to the midst of the carnage and the cycle will repeat.

Murder on the Orient Express, 2017

For anyone who has seen the David Suchet version, it’s doomed to disappoint. 

I love Poirot. The ITV rendition with David Suchet is the classiest, coziest drama you will ever see. The only other TV series I enjoyed as much is Blackadder (and the Russian TV show What? Where? When?)

What about this latest film? 

Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot is straight out of Hollywood. He elegantly sabotages the villains with his cane, uses it to tear down locked doors, plays tricks with unloaded guns and insists that everyone straightens their ties all the time. It’s more of an ageing James Bond than Poirot. 

In terms of culture wars, Branagh’s Poirot used a the portrait of a long lost love for his ethical struggles rather than a religious relic. 

Michelle Pfifer as the victim’s grandmother was pretty awesome, to be fair. Just Dench didn’t really add anything, unfortunately.

For anyone who likes David Suchet’s performance, I don’t advise going to this. Not even to stare at Johnny Depp. 

In defence of four letter words

So,  now that D.H. Lawrence is on the Leaving Cert syllabus, to understand the man better, I’ve decided to read his most famous and controversial Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

My first impression was that there must be something really different about those times and now.

I thought: I can honestly say that my millennial brain didn’t detect anything remotely scandalous in it. The publisher was taken to court, you know, under the Obscene Publications Act in the UK… Fair enough, the subject is a little racy, but no racier than, say, Anna Karenina.

Apparently the man who led the prosecution of the trial in 1960 asked if it were the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read”… Hard to believe that that was said not even 60 years ago!

My other impression was that it was bland. What is this book about at all? Why is it famous? Just by virtue of the trial?

Something wasn’t right.

Well… it turns out that I read a censored version without being aware of it.

I’ve looked over the full text now, and I can see how much I missed out on. Whoever insists on publishing abridged and censored versions has no soul.

Up until this point I never believed that swearing adds anything, but this has made me change my mind. And want to swear, too.

Here is the full version if you need it.

The unofficially religious

I’ve recently attended a Catholic funeral. At one stage the priest said that the deceased wasn’t really dead. That was the point at which my suspension of disbelief painfully broke down.

I have respect for both religious people and atheists. The likes of Ricky Gervais with their cutting comments aimed at the religious folk are really cutting at people’s refusal to think critically, not their faith.

If it were any other way, there would be no such thing as fanatical atheists.  Or reasonable religious people. Most of all I think that people who claim that they are atheist do have a religion, they just don’t call it a religion.

Some have turned to science. Science has the answers, they say. Not really. Science is all about questions. “But science has proven…” Science has never proven anything. It has only ever said that within this narrow range of values and under these ten unrealistic assumptions, a relationship between two variables doesn’t break down. That’s science.

And don’t get me started on social science. Anyone who has handled data and statistical packages will know how to ask the right questions to get the right answers. That too is called science these days.

Then there is yoga, fitness, self-help, vitamins and mindfulness and all that other stuff that is basically a pagan pantheon in the context of weakened organised religion. Its importance ebbs and flows and whenever it’s not doing well, people find new unofficial deities. These things answer the same need that religion does: what to do when you don’t know what to do.

I’ve yet to meet a person who has the tolerance of uncertainty strong enough to not have a religion, whether it is officially called one or not.

David Foster Wallace comes to mind yet again:

“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

P.S. I am aware that many of my readers aren’t Irish, so for anyone who has even a remote interest in Ireland/ rural life/ religion/ comedy, you need to watch a few Father Ted episodes. Daily Motion seems to have all of them.

“Creating content” vs writing

Given that blogging is somewhat correlated with writing, I thought this article about tips for novelists may be of interest to some of you:

Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody,” said Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet more than a century ago. “There is only one way. Go into yourself.” Rilke, of course, was right – nobody but yourself can help. In the end it all comes down to the strike of the word on the page, not to mention the strike thereafter, and the strike after that….

“This most of all,” he says. “Ask yourself in the most silent hour of night: must I write?”

Everybody who has ever felt the need to write knows the silent hour. I have come across many such people – and indeed many such hours – during my writing and teaching life. I’ve been teaching now for the best part of 20 years. That’s a lot of chalk and a lot of red pencil. I haven’t loved every minute of it, but I’ve loved most. More here

And then The New Yorker’s Evan Waite and River Clegg giving it everything in this rant in their “Daily Shouts” about advertising and “content”.

I hate the term “content”. So American commercial, it’s like it’s a commodity. Aristotle didn’t create content, he wrote!

“How was your day?”

“I created 5 GB of content today!”

“Gosh, that’s amazing!”

Anyway, it’s brilliant:

Isn’t content great? It’s such a helpful distraction from the things that worry you. Like how your hair is thinning and your daughter no longer looks up to you. That stuff is a real bummer—unlike content. Content is awesome! It’s got everything: music, jokes, unlikely animal friends. One video is just eighteen seconds of a dog sleeping. Over three million views. Is watching an ad really too much to ask when your reward is a brief respite from thinking about what’s become of your life? More here

P.S. my blogging friend Dr Bob Rich has just been nominated for the People’s Choice Award. Please vote for his book “Guardian Angel” here http://www.tckpublishing.com/readers-choice-voting 

Click the LEFT arrow a few times to get to his book! (This request isn’t in any way sponsored).