I have a cocktail party to go to tonight. Sort of -- it's an art event, and I'm going to support a friend of mine who does photography, but I have to get dressed for a cocktail party to go, and that's the pertinent part here. I am still occasionally weirded out by the idea that going somewhere in a nice dress with face paint on is work. Makeup is still very much a girl thing, and tends to be treated like an expensive hobby. Pouring time and effort into your looks is seen as vain and shallow, taking away energy that you could be devoting to bettering your character or getting an education or cleaning the bathroom or whatever. When I went through my worldly possessions before moving across the country, I had to sit there and stare at the tackle box full of makeup for a while, because I'd suddenly realized that all of those little pots of compressed powder were legitimate professional supplies, and weren't just stupid entertainment that could go into the bin. It broke my brain for a minute.

Beauty, like intelligence, is one of those things you're just not supposed to talk about, especially if you've got it. Ideally, you're supposed to be unaware of having it, which is a cornucopia of stupid, because if you've got working eyes and a reflective surface, you know how you look, and if you have any sensory organs at all, you have some idea of how other people react to it.

A "good" pretty person, particularly a woman, has no idea how pretty she is, and would argue against it if you told her. This is pretty fucking dangerous, if you ask me. Any positive social quality -- looks, smarts, cash, power, whatever -- makes people want to compete for your attention. Some of these people are going to be assholes operating under the mistaken impression that you are a vending machine, and that if they feed you enough suck-up coins, you will dispense whatever it is they want. If you have no idea that you have Quality X that they want from you, then you have no chance of figuring out that the reason they're getting so overbearing is that you're not giving them all the X they think they deserve. People can get remarkably angry when you don't give them the thing you have no idea they're asking for. And then they get angrier if you try to tell them you're confused.

It's also really fucking hard to figure out just how good you actually are at something, if you're unaware that the people showering you with praise really just want you to get naked. David Wong wrote a thing for Cracked at one point, "5 Things You Think Will Make You Happy (But Won't)", in which he points out that people who have been attractive all their lives basically think of compliments as those noises that happen when they leave the house. They pretty much are. I'm not saying that they aren't nice things, or that they don't brighten my day, but the happy part of the exchange isn't really the magnitude of the praise, it's just that someone had a nice thought and decided to share it with me. I've basically learned that I can't trust anyone's word on how well I'm doing on something if I suspect they're trying to get into my pants, and figuring that out requires more attention than I care to spare sometimes. It's similar to how trying not to give your genius kid a swelled head takes away their ability to figure out where they stand in relation to other humans, only in the other direction -- I might be shit at something, but the person doing the evaluation of my performance might not want to say so, for fear that I might decide to zip my jacket up all the way.

You're also categorically not supposed to use your appearance in any way to gain an advantage in anything, ever. Nuts to that. One of the many pieces of extremely bad advice we like to give our children is that appearances never matter, and we should never judge anyone on how they look. This is true when whatever it is you're looking for is not connected to appearances. My tits, they don't type so well; they definitely do not design aircraft or compose symphonies. This is not true when whatever you're looking for is connected to attractiveness. Finding a mate, for example. There is this weird idea that runs in the same sorts of circles that Nice Guys inhabit, some kind of noblesse oblige stating that if someone has the privilege of being considered highly attractive, s/he is required in turn to "give a chance" to people who are clearly not in the same league. To do otherwise is to be a shallow wanker. Firstly, this presupposes that everyone's "leagues" are the same, which they aren't; secondly, this is presuming you have the right to dictate what is or is not a deal-breaker for someone else, which you don't; and thirdly, it's essentially the equivalent of asking, "How do you know you don't find me attractive just because you don't find me attractive?" which is one of the dumbest ways to whine your way into a date, ever.

You know what I use my looks for? Being nice to people. I have this harebrained theory that most people will be reasonably nice to you if you just give them any old half-assed reason to do so, and it turns out that tits are a great excuse. I like charming people. I don't do it to get a leg up on everyone else, or because I'm co-dependently desperate for everyone to like me, or because I want to make them dance like puppets; I just do it because I like pleasant interactions more than unpleasant interactions.

Comments

  1. "Beauty, like intelligence, is one of those things you're just not supposed to talk about" -- also money. Huge societal focus on getting it and having it, heavy pressure against mentioning it might affect anyone's decisions, heavy pressure against admitting how much you personally have.

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    1. It's true for a variety of positive social qualities, although with money, you are allowed to realize, privately, that you have got a lot of it, that it's available to you, and that it might affect how people react to you. Beautiful women are supposed to be quite cleanly ignorant of all of these things -- showing awareness that your looks might be affecting how people interact with you for some reason makes people think you're doing the DANCE PUPPETS DANCE! thing, even when it's never crossed your mind.

      Intelligence is sometimes treated similarly, although you're more likely to get a pass on privately realizing where you are on the scale. I don't know why, other than possibly that people don't have to look at you and be reminded that you know calculus or Sanskrit or whatever, whenever you're in the room.

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  2. Ideally, you're supposed to be unaware of having it, which is a cornucopia of stupid, because if you've got working eyes and a reflective surface, you know how you look, and if you have any sensory organs at all, you have some idea of how other people react to it.

    I think you may be overestimating that. I disregard my own opinion of my looks because the mere exposure effect renders me hopelessly biased, and other people's reactions are based on lots of things, not just looks. If you're not in the upper tiers of social reading, it can be difficult just to figure out how people are reacting to you, much less why.

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    1. Possibly. I think it's more likely that you know how you look, and you have some idea of how other people are treating you, but for whatever reason you lack either the ability to work out how much your appearance affects others' reactions, or a reliable reference by which to judge that. It's maddeningly multifactorial, like all other social things, and of course it isn't true for everyone. Broadly speaking, most neurotypical women can at least discern that there is a difference between how they're treated when they slog down to the store in sweatpants and a hoodie, trailing flu germs, and how they're treated when they turn up to a party in a cocktail dress and clubbing makeup.

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