There's a thread running on the Straight Dope Message Board right now, asking people to rate their own attractiveness as honestly as possible.

I gave myself an 8. I have absolutely no idea, and I said so. I have no other experience to use as a basis for comparison -- I've been treated more or less the same since the day I started looking like a grown-up. This was around age fourteen, so in retrospect, some of it was hilarious or creeptastic or both. In the defense of the guys who used to hit on me in the mall, apparently I didn't look sixteen at the time, and all of them turned right the fuck around and walked away when they asked where I was a student, and I named a local high school.

One of the other posters said that this lack of comparative experience is true for everyone. Not quite true, I think. There are plenty of women especially who have undergone some sort of radical transformation in their lifetime -- a drastic change in weight, unsubtle plastic surgery, things like that -- and pretty much anyone middle-aged and older can comment on how others' attitudes towards you gradually transform as you age. I expect some sort of change to happen when I quit looking like I'm twenty-something, although though I have no idea when that will be. I have good luck, good genes, a running supply of cheap retinol cream, and a passion for high-SPF sunscreen.

The kind of comparison I lack -- which pretty much every woman in my culture lacks -- is a good baseline by which to judge how many nice things my appearance prompts. Women do not talk about this. I don't mean 'it's at the bottom of the list, and usually by the time we're drunk enough to have that convo we're too busy sharing intimate details about the exact sizes and shapes of our boyfriends' cocks, so we never get around to it'. It's more akin to 'the first rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club'. We talk about how society treats women in aggregate, we talk about how we perceive other women are being treated, and we talk about negative experiences we've had because some douchewaffle on the street had a thought about our ass and decided he needed to share. Some of it is about how people in general feel that a woman's appearance, good or bad, is public property and fit to be commented on, but even the discussion about what happens to conventionally-attractive women is centered around the competition, the entitled attitude from onlookers, the attention it tends to get even if you indicate you want the attention to fucking stop already. You can present conventionally-attractive looks as a curse, although not too much of one, because then you're an ungrateful cow who doesn't know how good you have it. Not that they will ever give you an answer on how good that is, other than 'better than other people, so shut the hell up'.

Talking about compliments we've personally gotten? Never. The taboo is so strong that the only women who are even acknowledged when they try are women like the British lady Samantha wossname from a few years ago, who are sufficiently paranoid/delusional in other respects that they can be easily made into a joke. Protip: The thing where the pilot on her Air France flight sent back surprise free champagne? Stuff like that does sometimes happen. (More mundanely, all other things being equal, pretty girls have a suspiciously large proportion of under-$10 bar tabs. I know I have.) The thing where every other woman on the planet hates her passionately because she's too beautiful for words? Yeah, that's bonkers. There are seven billion human beings on Earth, and on the whole, the world just does not have enough of a collective attention span to loathe you, personally, all the time.

There is a big push in feminist activism to convince women to love the bodies they have, and to consider themselves attractive, but there is no allowance for even wondering, much less admitting, that someone outside your own head might think the same. At most, you get to admit that your partner thinks you're attractive -- although even there, there exists a lot of pressure to frame it in such away as to imply that your partner has prompted you to find beauty in a part of yourself that is unconventional, and that no one else has ever pointed out.

I know people treat me nicely because of how I look, because there instances where they do so when they have have no opportunity to learn anything else at all about me. You can't know about most of it from a cursory visual inspection. I've never had a perfect stranger come up and wave their hands at me until I yanked my earbuds out so they could tell me they loved my knowledge of calculus, but someone does that to tell me I have beautiful hair about every other time I leave the house. I just don't have any way to compare the amount of this I get to the amount of this that any other given woman gets, because talking about it is verboten.

Another poster shared an exercise that an anorexic former girlfriend of his was led through during her recovery: Start by rating your looks at a base of 5. Remove half a point for each thing that detracts from your overall attractiveness. Then add a point for anything you get complimented on. Most people, he says, rate themselves 2-3 points below how other people would. It seems an interesting exercise, especially as he mentioned the patients doing it once themselves, and then having other people in the group rank them along the same scale, and seeing the disparity in the results.

Do you count things said by people who obviously want to bang you? I mean, they probably want to get into your pants because of some attractive feature(s) you have, which is what you're ranking in the first place. But on the other hand, wanting to get someone naked in a particular hurry might prompt some measure of optimism and rose-tinted-glassification, not to mention outright lying, at least in the short term. And I think everyone already knows that, while your mother probably means it when she says you're the most beautiful thing in the world, she's also the exact opposite of objective, and it might be a good idea not to take her exact words as gospel.

If we're counting things said by people trying to get me into bed, then a 10-point scale is not sufficient. I also think that's ridiculous, because no one on Earth is that perfect, let alone me. If we're just counting things told to me by straight women and gay men who had no particular stake in my well-being, and people who were assessing me professionally, I still come out as at least a 10. I am skeptical. I suspect attractiveness works a lot like intelligence -- once you've passed a certain threshhold, the amount you have is no longer anywhere near as relevant as whether you happen to have the particular kind that would be advantageous in any given situation.

One advantage that I recognize quite readily is that my life is missing something that is a common stressor for other women: I never have to worry that my basic appearance is unacceptable. I never have to fear that someone will tell me I look "gross" in that dress, that I should "cover up", or that "no one wants to see that". It just doesn't happen to me. Not everyone is attracted to me, but you'd be pretty hard pressed to find a member of my own culture who wouldn't understand why someone else would be. I don't look particularly stunning when I run down to CVS with my unbrushed hair shoved into a cap, wearing sweatpants and shedding cold germs, but no one is ever going to tell me how ugly I am. This is only partly due to the way I look, though -- it's also because, for whatever reason, that's not one of the many (many many) things I neurose over. I've known plenty of absolutely stunning people, almost all of them women, who were unaware of it. There's not necessarily a lot of difference, stress-wise, between having other people make animal noises at you from the other side of the street, and perpetually believing that they'd start to if they ever happened to notice you.

I don't particularly think this makes me a better person. I, frankly, have nothing to do with this. I think it makes the people making the animal noises asshats, but I don't have a remote control for them -- there's not much I can do other than publicly disapprove, and if they paid attention to things like that then they wouldn't be oinking at people in the first place. I don't oink at people, because I enjoy living in a civilization and I do my best to act like it. I actually have some difficulty assessing how attractive other people would find someone; it's part of my social-camouflage-blindness, that I often don't notice or don't attach any significance to things that others tend to want to conceal, which are often the same as things others think detract from their value as a mate.

One of the above posters also posited that perhaps 5% of the female population could get even casual modeling jobs. I have no idea about this either. I don't make a living at it, but I am professional, i.e., I charge hourly rates, and am actually paid. I certainly don't get every job I bid for -- a lot of the time I don't even get a 'no thanks' response. This isn't unusual for the entertainment industry. I don't find it all that hard to book things, though. It's a matter of sifting through casting calls, and just not bothering to apply for anything that wants a 5'9" size 0 B-cup commercial runway model, instead of someone who looks like me. It was pretty terrible in Flagstaff, because Flagstaff is in the ass-crack of nowhere and the nearest large markets are the extremely cookie-cutter commercial LA and Las Vegas, but MA/RI/occasionally NYC is a huge, diverse market with a lot of artists and specialty designers.


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