October 2nd, 2004


Playing percentages

This article talks about a worldwide study of women's views of their own appearance. The part of the survey they pull out for the lead is that only 2% of women from ten different sample countries consider themselves beautiful. I'm not sure that's wrong, though: "beautiful" is a superlative, and not everyone can be superlative. How many women think they're "brilliant," as opposed to "smart" or "bright"? How many women think they're "hilarious," not just "funny" or "witty"? And -- I think this would be the most interesting -- what percentage of other women do they think are beautiful? I think it's most likely that some of the people answering that affirmatively are ranking themselves in the top 25%, some in the top 10%, some in the top .5%, and some that they have good features that they like all right (which could be who knows what percent).

Also, what do men think of all this? If you asked thousands of men to rate their own attractiveness, would similar numbers of them agree to do it in the first place? What would they say? And what percentage of men do they (and we) estimate actually are -- I hate "handsome," it's a Ken-doll word -- extremely attractive?

Anybody want to have a go at answering any of that?

The part that bothers me is not the superlative. It's that only 5% consider themselves pretty (and that'd be a hand up here; I have gotten to the point in my life where I can say that and not flinch) and 9% consider themselves attractive. "Attractive" is a low standard, people. Everybody in women's magazine fluff pieces is at least "attractive." I can see where "I am beautiful!" would be a hard proclamation to make. But "attractive" sounds positively Scandosotan in its restraint. "Attractive" is what your friends tell people they're trying to set you up with, if they don't want to say "has the face of an elderly woodchuck." And we've got only 16% of women "worldwide" (ten countries, not the same thing) ascribing to themselves at least woodchuck standards of attractiveness? That's pathetic.

And it says 63% strongly that "women today are expected to be more attractive than their mother's generation." And if they're my age, they're smoking crack. I mean, seriously. It was socially acceptable for us to go to class in high school and college wearing pajama pants. Ask anybody my mom's age how kosher that was. Ask them, when they were 16 or 20, whether they would have felt comfortable wearing low-rise pants and cropped tops if it meant they were showing the world visible fat rolls. Go ahead, I dare you.

I know that there's a contingent out there that goes with the "every woman is beautiful" theory, and I just don't buy it. I think that the word loses its meaning at that point. I used to make the rash claim that I could find an attractive feature in anybody, until scottjames found a counterexample in our immediate social circle at the time (an individual I liked all right, and of my preferred sex), and I sat there going, "Err...umm...well, he's got nice -- well, no, not really, his eyes are kind of weird-looking. But his hands are...uh, okay, kind of grub-like. Oh dear. Ummm...." I would still maintain that most people have an immediately obvious attractive feature or two. But I don't think that's the same thing as beauty. Is it?