“Step up to red alert.”
“Sir, are you absolutely sure? It does mean changing the bulb.”
-Rimmer & Kryten, Red Dwarf
In general society we are confronted daily with the commodification of personal appearance. As an industry and subculture the speculative fiction scene is one renowned for supplying the world with intelligent escapism. But is there any escape from one’s physique being a matter of communal property even among the “thinkers” of the creative community?
Recently at fan conventions, industry conferences, and in the social networks there has been a rash of people exerting poor control over their actions toward those they deem “beautiful.” We’re talking about rampant groping and or grabbing out of nowhere, stalking, or even just beginning your first interaction with every attractive person using some remark about their physical appearance. For a scene that seems to pride itself on inclusiveness there is a disturbing trend of objectification.
It stands to reason we can nip uncontrolled physical urges in the bud by limiting verbal behaviors cultivated under this inverse lookism trend, and in doing so work to establish what should already be in place as socially acceptable limits of interaction. In avoiding the he said/she said of real-life experiences, let’s takes a look at the verifiable happenings on social networks, where our interactions are a matter of public record. When somebody posts online that they prefer people attempting to friend them not open with comments about their looks–and specifically add they find it creepy–what is the correct reaction? How to we respond, or is it our business to respond at all?
“It’s hard not to talk about your looks when you post all those portraits of yourself.”
Folks: empirical evidence of a person’s physical existence is not the same as them posting “Holla at me!” People–“beautiful” or otherwise–use social media to share experiences with family, friends, and also for their own personal reference. More to the point: in the case of professionals in the arts you’re expected to have one–or, preferably, more than one–professional portrait. Then there’s the publicity factor. If there are no photos of an event online it did not happen, or it might as well not have. Authors experience a boost in sales after an event due to 1) the word finally reaching all interested parties, and 2) people regretting they could not attend. Do authors, editors, artists, and creative others attempt to make themselves presentable for events? Of course. In the publicity photos we tend to see them at their hygienic best. It’s really not a cry for help/visual solicitation. It’s called doing your job by not driving away customers, fans, and potential business partners with slovenly attire, rowdy body odor, unintentionally raucous hair, and the dazed, sallow face belonging to a hangover victim.
“Hey, it’s a compliment! Isn’t it nice the first thing I say to you is a compliment?”
Let’s flip-flop here: every interaction you have online, running errands, and so forth is prefaced with some remark about your appearance. And probably staring, pointing, and/or murmuring amongst others who may know each other and could potentially be plotting something against you. Every cashier attempts to monopolize your time, throwing in one or two pickup lines for good measure. Perhaps strangers don’t even bother to walk up and say something, instead opting to yell at you from a distance. It’s impossible to get anything done because the world is staring, following, attempting to engage. The “beautiful” as members of the population are subject to the same doubts, insecurities, and other issues the “rest of us” possess. It so happens that people whose physiques do not match cultural preferences can be attractive, and people who are neither beautiful nor attractive in any way can still value their looks beyond levels the casual observer would expect, and are not shy about seeking external validation for such opinions of themselves. Perhaps from regularly encountering these “common divas” we come to believe we must lavish praise on the genetics and fashion sensibilities of those we deem beautiful, however uncomfortable it makes them, or whether or not they regard themselves in such a fashion.
“But you’re gorgeous! You have to know that! Just take a look in the mirror!”
The argument of personal incredulity is not, in fact, an argument at all in that it fails to present another viewpoint, much less one that contradicts the original statement. Instead it is an affirmation that the speaker lacks imagination, facts, or–more likely–some combination of the two, rendering them incapable of conceiving anything beyond the original viewpoint, no matter how distasteful they find it. As we learn between ages seven and eleven–when concrete operational thinking sets in–disliking a reality is not enough to render said reality unreal. As regards the “beautiful” person in question, assurances aren’t the solution. Constant obvious scrutiny of their appearance is enough to cause insecurity. Your assurances are derived from scrutiny. Not helping, homeslice.
Let’s backtrack. The problem is in the phrasing of the above questions and statements, or more precisely: how we allow the word choices employed above to shape our perception of the subject. If I ask you what is a beautiful person do you say, “Duh! They’re beautiful.” Or do you say, “Duh! They’re a person.”
As it turns out “beautiful” is not an organism, nor even a quantifiable “thing.” On researching the matter further we find that the homo sapiens is an organism more commonly known as a person, and quantifiable. So, what is a person considered beautiful within their specific sociotemporal context? A person. Let’s treat ’em as such, eh? And if our relationship with them develops to a point where it is in fact proper to comment on physical attributes, well, we can do so then. Until that point it’s perfectly acceptable to compliment a nice shirt or pair of shoes. Learning how to say “I’ve lost my virginity…can I have yours?” in Tagalog to impress them on your first meeting…no dude. That’s just creepazoid territory. You a freak. Do not anticipate reciprocity.
My opinion? People are attracted to people, not bodies, otherwise singles night at the morgue would be the hottest ticket in town. You’ll find engaging a “beautiful” person as a person and having a genuine, long conversation with them far more rewarding than them saying, “Thanks. No, I don’t dye it. I’ve got to run, but maybe I’ll see you around!” Maybe then you won’t feel compelled to grab them in a desperate attempt at drawing their attention. Strange how folks don’t have the wherewithal to engage you in conversation, but have the gumption to physically throw themselves on you.
Is all of this sounding silly to you, still? Consider this: beautiful people–as people–are multifaceted, meaning they can be perceptive in addition to possessing symmetrical features. They understand that a relationship couched in physical terms from the outset is likely to be moored in the physical or–more distressingly–their anticipated physical availability to you at some point in the future.
Perhaps I’m just overreacting. It just seems that we all spent four years in high school, give or take, and it would beoove us not to return there every time we’re among our specfic peers. Didn’t we already pay those dues? And sure, those “beautiful” people derive plenty of benefits from their looks, so perhaps they owe us some physical access. Because we know they spent those ten months in the womb cackling madly whilst shaping themselves into forms they knew would force us to be nice to them. Evil geniuses, they are.
“Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?”
-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy