Discussions of physical attractiveness are often fraught. Often, it trolls itself rapidly down into a shouting match between people who see themselves as the "haves" and the people who see themselves as the "have-nots". It doesn't always break down according to who the average observer would consider attractive. "Anecdote" is not the singular of "data", but it's been my experience that overwhelmingly, the people who would disagree with a disinterested third-party over which group they were in are the ones who are generally considered attractive but don't believe so.

Eventually, someone will get frustrated with all the talk of what should be and shout, "Yeah, but all other things being equal, wouldn't you rather be pretty?" It's the Godwin's Law of the topic. What do you call that, anyway? Wolf's Law?

There are two ways you can take that question. One of them is a near-instant way to trip everyone's temper switch, so of course this is the one the internet plunks for. The default interpretation is that what the querent is asking is, "All other things being equal, would you change what you look like to meet the prevailing beauty standard?" That is a very angry-making question. Hell, I think it's insulting, and I do professional pretty-person work. Your physical body, whether you like it or not, is a part of your identity. That interpretation of the question is asking you whether you'd throw away a huge chunk of yourself just so that other people would approve of you. That's fucking offensive, not to mention stupid and unproductive.

The other way to interpret that question, and the more useful one, is, "All other things being equal, would you change the prevailing standards of beauty to match what you already look like?" People are not so quick to say no to that -- and not so quick to tell you that it would be vain and shallow to derive some measure of your self-worth from it. It would mean that face is still rightfully yours and that other people would not question why you wanted to keep it. Obviously you'd want your face to stay the way it is. You're pretty!

The discussion also rarely if ever acknowledges that there are downsides to being labeled "attractive". Much as being fat or choosing not to shave your legs or wear makeup or apply some other traditional adornment is read as "sloppy" or "incompetent" regardless of the truth of that assessment, being thin and conventionally pretty is read as having your act together, even when you think it's obvious that you don't. Convincing people of this is sometimes a lot of work, usually when you can least handle putting forth the effort. It's one of those things people always mention when someone has a psychotic break or makes an attempt at suicide, as if 'being attractive' provides so many effortless good things in life that it's incomprehensible that a pretty person could find themselves under that kind of stress.

It can be shockingly difficult to get yourself into an appropriate amount of hot water when you are charismatic -- ask Robert Downey Jr. People really liked him, even when he was high almost 100% of the time, and didn't want to do anything they perceived as 'ruining his life'. He finally got down to asking the judge to please throw the book at him, because he couldn't fix this by himself. Even he thought it probably should have happened three or four arrests ago, and I'm pretty sure he had actually gotten down to being confused over why it hadn't.

When most of the people around you are going, "If only I [had Quality X], I would be so much happier!", it's a special kind of hell to sit down and realize that you do, in fact, have Quality X, and it is not in any way making you not miserable. You can try to tell people this, but it doesn't usually work very well. If you're lucky, they ignore you; if you're unlucky, they actually argue with you, because it completely violates their idea of how the world works. (Probably more importantly, it invalidates their attempt to externalize whatever they think is wrong with their lives, which makes it kind of a personal threat.) Particularly when Quality X involves appearance or talent, you also get a lot of people who upon meeting you immediately run a comparison and find themselves wanting. There's nothing you can do about this, because it's in their head and not yours, but it doesn't help anything to know that the fact that you're existing where someone else can see you results in them feeling lousy.

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