What Beauty Really Is: A Theory

(Note: I’ve had a lot of thoughts on this, and I’ll probably have a lot more, but I wanted to lay out in full my interpretation of the loaded meaning and understanding of beauty, in a hopefully intersectional way. I apologise for the lack of external sources in this post, as this is mainly a personal interpretation. See beneath for a TL:DR.)

Beauty dominates the discussion almost everywhere, even when we don’t notice it. From when we’re laughing at things that look like certain presidential candidates (see below), to when we’re discussing what makes a “real” woman, beauty is at the heart of so many conversations.

Who Wore It Better?

This makes sense, there’s a lot that appearances can tell us about someone…or at least, so we think. It’s proven that good looks benefit from a “Halo Effect”, in which people rate attractive people more positively overall, for attributes unrelated to looks, like intelligence. It’s common knowlege that being “attractive” helps people find love, another central tenant of Western entertainment media (name one film without any romantic subplots. See? Now try songs without love themes!)

But what exactly is it? Media likes to also present answers. Beauty is the golden ratio. Beauty is good health. Beauty is confidence. Beauty is a certain weight. Beauty is a certain colour, or style, or manner, or attitude. Beauty is something equally vague and intangible, like “glamour” or “charisma”. It’s hard not to be incredulous when there are so many answers out there, and especially when so many of them seem to touch a little deeper than they claim to be:

Could this *be* anymore white bread?

Thus, I have my own theory, which collates all of the current theories and puts them together cohesively.

My own theory

There are three clear and definable aspects to the current beauty talk that resounds in our media streams. First is the most obvious and objective, (though it is by no means perfectly objective, as I will explain).

  1.  Symmetry (a synonym for Health)
    Almost all “scientific” articles about beauty talk about averaging features, and merging faces to create more and more beautiful faces, or mirroring one half of a face, or measuring the symmetry of existing people’s faces. On the face of it (pun!) this is the most objective, but don’t be deceived by appearances (oh my god I’m on fire today.)most beautiful
  2.  Gendered signifiers/ Fertility.
    This is where things start to get dodgy. As can be seen in the image of “most attractive couple” (judged by 100 british respondents), there’s obvious differences, and even if we ignore labelling bias, there are features seen as feminine and as masculine, such as strong jawlines, stubble, wider hips, smaller waists, broader shoulders, etcetera. But obviously, that’s not where the line is drawn, This is where you get the most douchebags claiming that “but biology” as an excuse to perve over contorted and ludicrous cartoon drawings of women with enormous busts, tiny waists, and twisted hips, because hey, it’s biological, it shows she’s fertile and therefore this boner is valid, valid I tell you!
  3. Personal Preference
    The most entirely nebulous one. This is where glamour or attitude or style starts to come into question, though undoubtably there will be people who claim it is actually to do with Health, like, the fact she can afford that expensive coat means that she’s presumably strong and healthy enough to acquire the resources necessary, blah blah blah, validate my attractions with SCIENCE plz. But it’s more to do with what we’re taught is attractive, but our bodies wouldn’t automatically recognise if we were dropped in a new planet or country (insomuch as they would automatically recognise anything, the jury is still out on that one), such as the elaborate neck rings of the Kayan people, or the hairlessness of Western female celebrities. It’s basically made up of all our personal preferences and internalised bigotries rolled into one.

    A very photoshopped female celebrity with hair in all the
    Soo hairless!! Soo completely confusing/not a factor in attractiveness to someone in a culture where shaving isn’t a thing!!

So yeah, that’s my list and my theory. Now, how are these not objective? Well firstly, the idea that symmetry is beautiful does sound like it has biological merit, I mean, it makes sense that we’d want healthy and strong people to breed with, right? Well not exactly. Some of the most attractive people, according to the media, are slightly quirky looking, and often men like George Clooney throw these articles all in a tizzy, and they have to make an excuse about how age reflects ability to survive, and that the same goes for scars, and anything else that isn’t symmetrical and doesn’t make sense from this ableist, age-ist and let’s be frank, classist perspective. Health doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does our understanding or perception of it. We learn that some weights and body types are “healthy”, and other’s “disgusting”, we learn to think of those in wheelchairs or with speech impediments etc as infantile, child-like, de-sexualised objects (whilst completely ignoring the very high rates of sexual abuse against disabled women, even in a lot of intersectional feminist spaces). We learn to associate certain levels of skin colour with health, like a ruddy tan changing from unhealthy and ugly to beautiful to “fake and orange” and therefore now deemed “ugly” again, unless it’s at just the *right* level. It’s complicated.

The gender one is the most icky for me. There are clearly gender signifiers, and there are clearly ways people distinguish these, and by that, determine their sexual identity (heteroflexibility shout out!). But also, a lot of gender and sex is a construct that heavily overlaps. A male-presenting person in eye-liner with long hair? Why am I attracted to this? This is why it heavily merges with number 3, learned attraction and taste. The only way this section works at all is that many people are attracted heavily to one gender, and understanding gender as the visible presentation to the world, the man with the jaw that’s been widened by deliberate medical testosterone treatment is saying the exact same thing to potential relationships as the man with a jaw widened by a natural testosterone puberty. But a lot of people like to ignore this aspect, and treat this section like the “get out of transphobic jail free” card. Biological children are no longer just a matter of putting random junk together and hoping it works, and in reality, relationships and families reflect that now.

Finally, and most importantly for me, comes the personal preference section. This in reality is where all the classist, racist, transphobic, ableist nonsense comes from. Whilst there’s a thread of truth in both the above sections that cannot be denied, there’s no sense in claiming they truly hold much influence. For one thing, there’s no one single person that we in this otherwise homogenous society all hold to be the most beautiful person. A lot of people (myself included), worship Angelina Jolie and her cheekbones, but ask a random room of people if she’s attractive and they’d like her? You’d be amazed at how many “no’s” you get…unless of course, you’re one of them. Which would be fine…I’m one of them who doesn’t think that either Brad Pitt or George Clooney is attractive in the slightest. My boyfriend claims to prefer me to Beyonce (I don’t!). People have different tastes, and that’s because of this final and most important section of attractiveness and beauty.

What we value in life, whilst some of it is learned bigoted junk, is important in how we live and who we choose to be with. You don’t find many hippies swooning after clean cut jocks, you don’t find many stoner’s crushing on cheerleaders (though damn, now I want to see that movie!). Because they hold different values, all junk aside. In unlearning the restrictive nonsense of rules like “wide jaws are unfeminine” or “big people are lazy” or “can people in wheelchairs even…you know….right??”, then we open the door to finding what we truly look for in a person and people we can truly be happy with, without arbitrary rulings about heights, dick lengths, ratios and all the rest.

The Answer:

The answer is actually very simple. Aside from the “are they alive enough to be interested in and capable of dating” and “do I like that gender identity”, the rest comes down to what makes people HAPPY. Is it what makes you happy? Guess what, you’re going to find them attractive. They might be funny in the way that you like, clever in the way that you like, kind in the way that you like, and ultimately, that’s what’s going to make your heart flutter. It’s why we fall for our favourite musicians, our favourite actors. And it’s why chasing a list of numbers is only ever going to make you unhappy.

*insert image of a touching quote about people being more than paper and ink but flesh and life, if only I could find it*


Changed My Mind (Blog Update) (Not really)

I’m still going to be about social justice, and hopefully build up a fairly comprehensive selection of resources, but I can’t make any promises. Instead, I’m finding myself writing a lot more long-form posts, which also verge on social justice topics. Right now, I’m about to write about what Beauty Really Is, for example. It’s not really social justice, and it’s not news, but it will include references to classism and racism and sexism. So stay posted, my tiny few followers, I’m evolving a little bit, but not too much.

Yet another blog post about…: What Corbyn Means for British Politics

Obi Wan Is A Threat to Galactic Security
Labour's New Leader Is A Threat To Our National Security
Overly dramatic and obvious smear campaigns are obvious, well done Tories, you look ridiculous.

So on Saturday, Facebook and Twitter feeds everywhere exploded with the #JezWeCan hashtag amidst the news that rebel back-bencher and longtime labour MP Jeremy Corbyn had won the Labour leadership election, a process constantly smeared with doubt in the media, with Buzzfeed doing an extensive series of articles about how suspiciously easy it appeared to register a fake member in this election to vote (they used Ned the cat as an example) and other reporters eagerly picking up on the trend.

Regardless, it’s a massive victory. 59% of the vote, a genuine mathematical majority for the first time in years. In fact, it’s a far higher majority than it took to elect the Conservative government into power during the national elections, which pours cold water on people claiming that his leadership is somehow illegitimate but in the same breath defending Cameron’s cronies because “democracy!!”

The shake up of politics feels tangible. The press everywhere are falling over themselves to either praise or condemn him, proclamations of “THE FAR LEFT” held up both in reverence and in fear simultaneously by each side, in quite hilarious manner.  Whatever your opinion of socialism, your reaction to a “negative” or a “positive” paper here is going to be determined by this opinion, not by the headlines either way. There is a real and tangible split, and for many, this is genuinely exciting, as there has been no real split in British Politics since the 1980’s and the infamous time of Margaret Thatcher.

Many papers are clinging onto this fact, and using this to argue that a split can only inevitably mean another far right wing Tory victory, but to this I argue: What’s new? The Tories already hold an outright majority of seats in the House of Commons, with all of their opposition together being smaller than them (and therefore ultimately powerless in a first-past-the-post voting system where the vast majority of the party MP’s vote with their leader). The Tories already want to change the human rights act and put the Hunting Act back on the table, how much worse can it really get? They already want to cut and privatise the NHS, and they can’t privatise the Rail service and close down the coal mines AGAIN, because they already did it last time! (As an interesting note, Corbyn has said he will consider OPENING the deep coal mines in the North, which is fantastically interesting and deserves it’s own post about the Northern Economy). In all honesty, how much worse could it be?

Obi Wan Is A Threat to Galactic Security
From: https://twitter.com/elementaladam/status/643377785201893376

As another point, it is in fact, a different time. There’s social media and connectedness like never before, and not only that, there’s also the very real benefit of hindsight. We have seen Thatcher, we have seen what happened then. History might rhyme, but it certainly doesn’t have to repeat itself! No one, based on history, was predicting that Corbyn would win this leadership election, the rebel back-bencher. No one, based on history, was predicting that Labour would lose almost all of its Scottish seats to the SNP. No one, based on history, can exactly tell the future for our people right now.

People are ready for a change, that’s what the SNP win and Labour losses tell us, what the record wins of both UKIP and the Green Party are telling us. People are polarising again, and we need a political landscape that reflects this; that reinvigorates the voting public again and spurs us on, beyond the “middle of the road” politics that Blair bought in in the Nineties, into truly polarised politics with real changes. Imagine a political landscape with clear borders to get behind, where everyone has a party that they can be passionate about…imagine what we could do then. The number of people who are socially aware of classism, oppression, the myth of trickle down economics is growing, and we can only hope that when our new polarised governments arise, it will be coming down on the side of the Left, fuelled by the hysterical attempts at muck-slinging by the right wing media bloc (which have undoubtably played an accidental role in the hype for this party leadership election).

At least with this new balance of right wing and left wing, we can finally begin to excercise some real choice in our national elections… in 5 years time.

Oh well.

The First American Slave Owner Was Black…And How This Doesn’t Change Anything (Part 1)

For years, this was my only source on the beginning of US history. Broad and logical-sounding, it resonated, but I didn’t yet have the time or the inclination to find out more…what really was there?

Turns out, quite a bit!

“Religious Freedom”
The timeline starts, according to Wikipedia, in 1619, in the newly founded town of Jamestown, founded by English settlers. A Spanish ship is conquered and the enslaved Africans are brought into the community and deemed free by their Christian status, because under English custom, a christian cannot be a slave.
So they join the ranks of the indentured servant class, who work for a landowner on a fixed contract of 7 years or so, upon which time they will be free men who have earned their positions in the new colony and may in turn become landowners themselves. How egalitarian.

Fast forward to 1640, 20 years later, and it’s already apparent that there are exploitable holes in this egalitarian system. In a case that echoes the “subtle” prejudice and stereotyping of cases today, 3 servants escape. 2 get off with warnings and slight extensions of their servitude of a couple of years, and 1 is sentenced to life-long servitude, essentially slavery. Guess which one is African.

The document of John Punch's sentencing
The document of John Punch’s sentencing

So John Punch is officially an African American slave, but he’s not really called that yet, and his case is simply punishment for a crime, and let’s conveniently ignore that it’s an unfair punishment according to race. This is still a totally free system so God bless America…right?

…Until 1654. Another John, John Cassor, is declared a “slave” in an ownership battle between his black owner and his white neigbour. Racists like to point to this as if this proves that black people somehow invented American slavery, and thus white people are guiltless. Obviously, that’s nonsense. The first recording of a case is not the first actual happening of a practise, and the court and other significant powerful forces are unlikely to all be black African Americans.

In fact, this source (http://www.mythdebunk.com/first-slave-owner-african-american/) heavily suggests that people of African descent were already being treated as slaves through official census records failing to report surnames, marital statuses, and most pointedly, dates of contract completion dates, without which, it can be assumed servitude is expected to go on indefinitely. In times when only the privileged have access to writing and reading, this exploitation is almost too easy.

Anthony Johnson (presumably)

It’s likely that Anthony Johnson, himself a legitimate free man under the indentured servitude system, was simply targeted for perpetuating the same system of undefinitely extending a servitude period as his neighbours in an attempt to disadvantage him against his neighbours. (Or simply to use his name as the first official case on the records, and create some plausible deniablity for racially biased slavery systems, one might think, if one was cynical, and didn’t live under a rock regarding current shady practices by the media and courts, and therefore logically concluded that this might have been even easier to pull off pre-literacy and pre-internet.)

Now how does sexism come into this toxic mix of capitalist landowner exploitation, xenophobia, racial bias and profiling I hear you ask? Glad you asked! Of course, sexism finds its way into this exploitative mess, through the case of Elizabeth Grinstead, a woman borne of a (legally) enslaved black woman (no citizenship), and a white English landowner. Against what honestly sounds like all odds, her parenthood is proved and supported by witnesses who vouch for her and against her white and married English father, and, combined with her Christianity (which is still being considered important at this stage), allow her to escape being sold as a slave for any longer than her (already extended) indentured servitude had already entailed.

Conveniently pre-captioned!

Of course, this is a massive flaw in an exploitative system: how are you going to exploit women by sexually terrorising them, if you also have to also be responsible for the (mixed-race) children that this spawns? How are you going to use the patriarchy to win in this scenario? By cheating! Literally! Simply define a law called “Partus Sequitur Ventrum” that means it’s all the mother’s responsibility to determine the status of your illegitimate child, and boom! You’re no longer responsible for this mixed race child, and you’ve also gained another slave, indefinitely!

So a few more laws fit in now around the gaps, to really cement the structural inequality to make sure no one’s getting up and out of this system again easily, they pass laws against inter-racial marriage (1691), they define everyone who is NOT a christian as a slave in 1705 (a powerful reversal of the original “if you are a christian you’re not a slave” principal of the English founding colonies), and a petition from Quakers in 1688 against slavery on moral and religious grounds is ignored and then conveniently lost for 150 years, so it’s no far stretch to say other stands against the system were similarly quietly erased from history.
Then the history books like to start talking about Abolition, as if it’s a simple storybook process: beginning and nasty set up of some little intolerances of new and scary skin colours, middle and the brave northern abolitioner’s storm the system and break it down, end and Obama is elected and everyone holds hands. If you’re reading this, you know it’s not, tune in next time for my Abolition piece. Obviously this is not a complete and perfect history course about the start of Slavery in the US and the America’s, but I have found it useful to summarise my findings of this initial period of slow encroachment and codifying of bigotry and removal of liberties in the early American colonisation period.

From http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2008/04/11/tim-wise-on-the-invention-of-the-white-race/, and originally found here: http://telling-secrets.blogspot.co.uk/2008/04/tim-wise-on-white-privilege-clip.html