Saturday, March 5, 2011

Face beyond beauty.

Rowdy got a new camera (this was a more involved process than most house purchases) and last night he was taking pictures of me and showing me the super-duper high-quality results.

At first, I was a little bit appalled. I'm aware that I don't look like the ladies in the magazines, but the photos made it so painfully obvious how little I look like them. If angular faces with big eyes and graceful expressions and coiffed hair are beautiful, I'm round-faced and narrow-eyed and guffawing and frizzy.

But you know, so I am. Is that why I'm not beautiful, or is it why I look like me and not somebody else? Is a linear scale from "good" to "bad" really a way to fairly describe anything in the world, much less a human being? When you go to the grocery store, you don't shop for "the best food"--you put carrots and potatoes and milk and chicken in your cart, because they're different things. Because the very best carrots are really shitty milk.

So I looked at the photos again, and made an effort to stop seeing them as not-Jessica-Alba for ten seconds and instead see what is there. It's me. It's a combination of genetics and luck and history and choices that exists nowhere else on Earth. I don't look like other people because I'm not other people.

We took some pictures of Rowdy too. One of them came out really nice; the focus is crisp, the pose is cool, and there's a lot of personality showing in his face. But Rowdy also has a weird discoloration in one eye, and this is very visible in the photo. "I'll retouch that out," he said. And I questioned: why would he? That's what his eye looks like. It's kind of cool. (It gives him eyes that are different colors! How awesome is that?) Is it more important to have a picture of the Theoretical Perfect Eye than of his eye?

I mean, there's a reason I took that photo of him and not of somebody else. If I just wanted the "best" possible photo, I would've put a picture of John Barrowman in the album. So is the best photo of Rowdy one that makes him look the most like John Barrowman while still being sort of recognizable--or is it a photo that shows what he looks like?

None of this is a protest that I'm beautiful, or that Rowdy is. (Although he so is.) Instead, it's about looking beyond beauty, as seeing appearances as conveying things in entirely different dimensions than "prettier" or "uglier." Not everything in my life is about who wants to bang me, so not everything in my face is about how bangable it is. (Not that bangability requires perfection anyway, considering what else happened last night.) I've posted about how I'm more than that, but even my appearance itself is more than that.

Am I hot or not? I'm Holly.


  1. I am always, always, posting links to your new entries on Twitter and saying how much I love reading your blog, so I thought maybe I should stop being a lurking asshole about it and tell YOU how much I love reading your blog. It's fantastic; I relate to it almost every time you post, and even when what you're talking about is beyond my ken, I enjoy your insights.

    Great job; glad I found the blog.

  2. Low this. Absolutely love it.

    I came to a similar realization a year or so ago, though I wasn't nearly so eloquent about it. I realized that I could love and take pride in my appearance, that I could use my body as a canvas for self-expression, without being "beautiful" in any conventional sense.

    We live in a culture where beauty is so often positioned, not as a single pleasant attribute among many, but as a basic requirement for personal worth and success. It's so liberating to realize that is not in fact the case.

    And whether you see yourself as "beautiful" or not, I will add that I find your pictures here to be full of unadulterated awesome. So there's that. :)

  3. My eyes are different colors, but because the difference is too subtle for most people to notice under casual circumstances I feel like a braggart for pointing it out.

    I also wanted to highlight something implied but not fully expressed by this entry: Personality matters. RoboBabe2600 may have perfect symmetry, an ideal forehead-to-chin ratio, and flawless skin, but so does every other RoboBabe. Give me slightly big ears, or an interesting birthmark, or a crooked grin and I'm far more intrigued.

  4. What Bruno said. I think the thing that brings someone over from "good looking" to "OMFG hot" is the quirkiness of their face.

    Example: try going to and morphing five or six hot faces (all of the same sex) together. The result will be technically beautiful, but utterly generic because the interesting parts of each individual's face have been averaged away to blandness. The more faces you add to the mix, the more boring the result will be - pure RoboBabe.

    So even with celebrities, it's their "imperfections" we're responding to. And this is the thought I use to comfort myself when I get stuck in one of those "Waaahhhhh, I don't look like Natalie Portman" loops.

  5. Metaphor time!

    One of my favorite musicians is Adam Pascal, who mostly does Broadway (he was in Rent and Aida, among others). Adam Pascal has a very good rock voice, but he is far from the best singer in any production he's in. You can hear him straining to hit the high notes. But that strain gives his voice all of this extra emotion, which makes the songs he sings (in my not so humble opinion) some of the most heart-wrenching I've heard.

    It's not like "he's good, except for his flaws." It's like, "his flaws make him good."

  6. At some point I read a lot about portrait photography and how it's about trying to find a way to show someone at their best while also showing what makes them a unique individual. The theory is that everyone has attractive points and it's the photographer's job to find them and capture them. I actually got pretty decent at that. But it wasn't until someone challenged me to produce some sexy photos of myself that I realised how much I was socialised to NOT look at myself in that way, to focus always on the negative and never see the positive.

    It was a real eye opener.

  7. I'm not even sure there's a point to me connecting them but Emily Nagoski's got a pretty intense post up right now that's also about beauty and the beauty trap.

    And Ozymandias has one about truth.

    And they all feel really related.

    I think it's because they're all different perspectives about the disconnect between what we think is real and what we think should be real instead.

    Meanwhile, I don't have the mental horsepower to put them all three of your posts together into one of my own. And it says right there on my superego that I should be able to do it.

    So I'll just say that when you say

    "When you go to the grocery store, you don't shop for 'the best food' -- you put carrots and potatoes and milk and chicken in your cart, because they're different things. Because the very best carrots are really shitty milk."

    I think that's true and beautiful and real.


    p.s. Molly, in comment #1, appears to be a more elegant than average spambot.

  8. Re: Molly - I dunno? I don't see that exact phrasing anywhere else on Google, and although her profile links to a site, she didn't post a direct link or boost her site.

    I'll give her the benefit of the doubt, if only because she's such a sweet and polite little robot.

  9. I swear I'm not a robot! I don't have a site (I think my profile links to the place where I practice typing), just a twitter, and as it's a personal/fandom twitter I didn't think a link was the right way to go.
    Anyway. Great blog!

  10. Aw, thanks.

    You're a sweet and polite actual human being!

  11. Hi Molly,

    I totally apologize.

    I saw the link to the typing site and made an ASS out of ME.


  12. We spam bots take offense to the callous implication that our writing is inelegent by default. We demand an apology!

  13. Very eloquently said, Holly. Much as I love the internets and digital cameras and technology, I think we don't always really get how much the whole "standard of beauty" thing has been affected by the use of these. Yes, maybe it is in human nature to compare and contrast, but maybe in a pre-techie time, your "standard" was another woman in your town or the prettiest girl in your social group, but you could see that each town or each social group had their own "prettiest girl" and that it varied widely. Now our "prettiest" girl is allegedly some publishing and advertising "standard" who is not even vaguely real but airbrushed and digitally manipulated. Not good for even the most strong and independent psyche (see also "penis panic" where many young men are convinced that theirs is soooo small because the "standard" is the porn schlong).

    I think it's part of an overall tendency in our culture to measure EVERYTHING by the global "best" instead of the local "hey, pretty good for me". Parents rate their 8-year-old kids' sports teams against what they see in the professional leagues, someone who sings and dances in the local holiday show is compared to pop and stage stars, everyone is looking WAY far away for the evaluation instead of really appreciating what is right there in their real lives. Something I've thought about more than a couple of time and tried to catch myself when I do it...

    And another vote for adorable imperfections here too. Those are what I really notice in attractive individuals as well :)

  14. No worries, figleaf! I find the link pretty weird myself--I'm not sure how it ended up there, other than my registering there with my Gmail login. (Also, I have TONS of personal information on various Google sites, and none of it populates my supposedly Google-based profile page automatically, which I find even stranger.)