Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The 22YOBS.

The phrase "22-year-old blonde skinny chick," or variants thereof, has been getting tossed around a lot recently. It's a lazy shorthand for "conventionally sexy," with some unfortunate negative undertones--men and women will imply that only shallow men would want the 22YOBS, and women can be shockingly upfront about resenting the 22YOBS. Often there's an implication that she's doing it on purpose, she's selling out. That 22YOBS, her life must be so easy, but it's coming at the expense of real women.

All this is a little unfair to women who are young, blonde, and skinny, and actually look quite different from each other and have their own lives that may or may not involve being full-time sex symbols. Some of them you wouldn't even call conventionally sexy; some are conventionally sexy but aren't sexually active or have a relatively "boring" sex life; some even feel sexually deprived. And the ones who do get sex more easily than most, don't necessarily get other privileges along with it.

I can't be so easy on the guys who want a 22YOBS. Some of them, it's totally legitimate, it's just what they like. (Particularly if they're also 22.) Maybe they have or had a 22YOBS girlfriend and she was great; maybe there's a particular 22YOBS they know well; maybe they have just absorbed some social messages about the universal desirability of the 22YOBS. If you're not weird about it, hey, have fun with it, guys.

But other guys make it weird. Other guys talk about wanting a 22YOBS, but they're not really attracted to her. They're attracted to what she represents--the highest status, the best prize. She's the gold medal, and it doesn't matter if you personally think silver is prettier, it still doesn't mean winning. When the question is not "who do you want to wake up next to?" but "who do you want to show off to the other guys?", the answer is the 22YOBS.

And other guys, I think, want a 22YOBS because they don't know what they want. She's the "I'll have what he's having" of sexual preferences; the default if you've watched a lot of TV and haven't met a lot of women. There's nothing particularly attractive about a 22YOBS except for the way the camera always seems to linger over her and she's a lot more likely to take off her clothes. I think the more you get out in the world and the more women you get to know in person, the less you're drawn to any specific physical type because you see people much more as individuals and personalities.

I don't really have a conclusion for this post. I can't say "hey guys, stop liking 22YOBS!", because sometimes it really is a legitimate attraction. I can't say "real women have curves, real women aren't Barbie dolls!" because the 22YOBS is just as much a woman and a person. I guess all I can say is that 22YOBS isn't a synonym for "beautiful." It's just a body type.

(By the way, while I don't think this can all be reversed to apply to men, I am fascinated how often "Brad Pitt" is used as the shorthand for a male 22YOBS. He's like the official male celebrity for this kind of discussion. No one ever says "I'm no Ewan McGregor but..." Even though Ewan McGregor is damn fine.)


  1. ...the 22YOBS is just as much a woman and a person.

    Way too many people forget about this point. Conventional prettiness doesn't really say anything about a person other than conventionally pretty. The 'real women have curves' thing gets to me because it's just another way of inventing criteria about who's a 'real woman' and who isn't.

    The Brad Pitt thing is funny, honestly. It's interesting that the male version of your 22YOBS is in his forties. I wonder if that means something.

    (Personally, if I'm gonna ogle a celebrity, it's gonna be Jensen Ackles, but then I'm a sucker for a pretty-boy).

  2. The Brad Pitt thing is so true. I always use him if I need to mention some handsome famous guy women are supposed to drool over and I don't even find him particularly attractive! Much prefer Ewan McGregor. But Brad Pitt is so easy to say.

  3. Also, appreciating 22YOBS doesn't mean I want to date them or that I won't appreciate or want to date an aphabet soup of other women. I assume the same is true of most other men.

  4. I'm young, blonde, skinny, female and chronically dateless. I always feel left out of this sort of conversation.*

    Also: the only time I found Brad Pitt remotely attractive was when he was playing Tyler Durden. Anyone else in the audience agree?

    *Possibly because "androgynous, acne-ridden and getting better about the social awkwardness thing" outweigh the rest of it.

  5. ozymandias - I thoroughly agree about Brad Pitt. Then again, even in that case, I prefer the Edward-Norton-looking half of that character. Brad Pitt, though aesthetically pleasing, is too generic-looking for me.

    For the record, I'm young, brown-haired, not "skinny" (but not "chubby" either) female. Among some friends, though, I get lumped into the "skinny girl has it so easy" category, yet I'm not close enough to the societal attractiveness shorthand to get much male attention or avoid rude remarks. It's also an odd place to be.

  6. What bugs me is the way people will assume that I'm particularly attracted to the 22YOBS:

    * If I complain about having trouble finding a partner, people assume that it's because I'm ignoring anyone who's not the 22YOBS.

    * If I do have a partner who's not a 22YOBS, people assume I'm "settling."

    * If I have a partner who resembles a 22YOBS in any way, people assume that's what I'm attracted to in them (e.g., if I date someone significantly younger, it's assumed that I specifically sought out much younger women when finding partners).

    * Conversely, if I have a partner who doesn't resemble a 22YOBS, and actually find her attractive, people assume I have a "fetish" about it (e.g., if I date someone who's not skinny, I must fetishize fat and want my partners to gain as much weight as possible).

    * Creepy guys assume that I buy into all that nonsense about "status" and "alpha" and 1-10 ratings.

    I did have a phase in high school of not knowing what I wanted, and defaulting over the popular girls, who tended to be skinny and conventionally attractive. This was mostly because I wasn't thinking in terms of "these are women I want sexytimes with," but rather "these are the women who, if one says she's my girlfriend, can get me into the social circles I want to be in."

    Re the Brad Pitt usage: I think that shorthands for attractive men are so popular because it saves men from having to think about men's attractiveness. (I think the real equivalent of the Brad Pitt phenomenon is the use of Angelina Jolie as the woman that straight women would "go gay for"; every single straight woman I know says this one, because it's an acknowledged "safe" answer.) Personally, David Tennant works as a better exemplar among the folks I know, but the standard doesn't get changed often. (It stopped being Tom Cruise around the time Tom Cruise started being notable for being a weird Scientologist.)

  7. *goes to look at pictures of Ewan McGregor* Mmmmmm... I always forget about him.

  8. I actually don't know what Brad Pitt or Ewan McGregor look like, in part because I haven't watched much in the way of movies for over a decade and don't pay much attention to celebrities (not that I have much time for either).

    My standard for male attractiveness is Harrison Ford. Mainly a younger Harrison Ford, when he was in his 20s and 30s, but he doesn't look too bad in his old age either.

    Among younger women these days, at least on the internet, I tend to hear "Orlando Bloom" rather than "Brad Pitt".

  9. Ozymandias, I agree about Brad Pitt too.

    I am a 22YOBSC who is otherwise, er, "not conventionally attractive" and really shy. This "attractiveness shortcut" has always interested me because, on my more cynical days, I suspect that if I lacked even one of those oft-privileged characteristics, I wouldn't have had a single one of my few dates/boyfriends (who, I hate to say, were not very nice people in the end).

  10. I love this post. Perfect.

    bookworm, who are these people that assume this about you? How do you know this is what they think? Do your friends actually say this to you? I am curious and confused. I've never had my friends speak to me in such shallow generalities about the guys I date. What I am wondering is, are you sure *you're* not just assuming this is what people think?

  11. Well, score one for PUAs and conventional beauty standards, when I was young and able, dating someone equally young and thin was a hell of a lot easier, and nothing for me has ever matched the pure sexual attraction of a young, pretty, thin woman of symmetrical facial features with symmetrical breasts. Now that I date women of more diverse body types (usually BMI 25-35, for some reason that's just how it has gone in terms of the women recently attracted to ME) I am accused of fetishism, of exploiting the low self-esteem of unconventionally-attractive women, of disabled women, of being interested in "squashing" etc. Gift that keeps on giving.

  12. Anon: Which things?

    Back in law school, there was the time a bunch of us were watching the Grammy awards and I remarked that I didn't see what the fuss was about Britney Spears. Instantly every other guy in the room turned on me, trying to convince me that no, she was the epitome of hotness, like my opinion made any difference to anything.

    For the rest, I'm saying things like "people assume" when the more precise language might be "people make statements that imply," but still.

  13. I'm a 22YOBS and I would consider myself attractive. Let me tell you, this doesn't help me at all with my Engineering studies, especially during internships.
    I have to convince all the (mostly) 50 year-old white men three times that I actually know what I'm doing and am still referred to as the "cute intern". Even if some women use their looks to their advantage, getting attention because of this is incredibly shallow. It doesn't help my at my work, and it surely doesn't help me finding a guy who does like my character and not just my face or my boobs or my hair.

    It's hard enough to make guys realize I have eyes, too - it's nearly impossible to convince them I have brains, too.

  14. As a straight guy who doesn't particularly like 22YOBS, I don't understand the attraction, really. Looks make up about a tenth of what I find interesting about a person, and how I judge someone's attractiveness is less a function of what I see and more a function of how they act. While everyone should of course do as they feel suits them best, I have to say I like the way I go about it; it means that I almost always respect and admire the person I'm attracted to, and they're usually my kind of person. Maybe it's just me, but it works well.

  15. I agree, the guys who obsess over 22YOBS like that's the holy grail are guys who are trying to impress their bros with a trophy, have no clue what they really want, or else are embarrassed by what they do find hot. "The bros will think I have a ____ fetish if I'm seen with a ____ chick," to pick on Eurosabra's example (dude, you need a new social circle). Dating unconventionally attractive women is a fetish or settling if you don't think women are people with value other than physical appearance.

    Thanks for pointing out that young, thin, blonde women are people/women too! It's fine to be attracted to them if you happen to be, just unhealthy and revolting to view them as a prize. The world is full of hot people and not all of them are blonds.

  16. My standard for males is Nathan Fillion, because if that son of a bitch ever showed up on my doorstep, my wife would leave with him and not look back.
    It's kind of a personal issue.

    But I'm going to use the Ewan McGregor thing from now on, because it's clearly true. Whatever I am, I am no Ewan McGregor.

    I *am* a very passable Abraham Benrubi, but nobody knows who he is.