The Thinker

The beautiful are a different species

I am a man with average looks. No one will ever rate me as anywhere close to a 10. Essentially I am too average looking to merit a rating, neither beautiful nor ugly, but simply ordinary. Like most ordinary people, I hang out with other ordinary people because there are so many of us but also because like types attract. We are all comfortable hanging with our tribes. My tribe consists of mostly other ordinary looking people, generally but not exclusively Caucasian like myself and generally in their middle years like me. They often come with above average intelligence and waistlines. We shop at Target and buy our clothes from places like Kohls. We have no idea why we would ever want to shop at stores like Nieman Marcus.

I do not often have a chance to hang out regularly with beautiful people. When I do, my relationship with them tends toward the superficial. Just as ordinary people tend to cluster together, the beautiful tend to hang around with other beautiful people. Since the beautiful are a distinct minority, if members of their group are not readily available, money and/or status (they usually go together) can be acceptable too. There certainly are cases of beautiful people marrying ordinary and not terribly well moneyed people but they are relatively rare.

It strikes me that life serves up more choices to the beautiful. If you are beautiful woman and have the choice between marrying an ordinary looking man who earns middle class wages and an ordinary man who has deep pockets then there is little reason to settle for less. Of course, if you are a beautiful woman, there is a good chance that you will get the opportunity to marry an attractive man who is also well moneyed. Unlike the rest of us, the beautiful tend to get these options. The ordinary like me get to marry other ordinary people, people who are wonderful, deep and personable in their own right but from the perspective of the beautiful, I suspect appear as mere table scraps. If you are beautiful, you probably do not need to spend much time looking for quality mates. You may have to seek out the beautiful and well moneyed, but the rest will likely seek you out.

The beautiful may not have asked to have been born beautiful, but since they are beautiful many of life’s pathways are set for them. They will get disproportionate and perhaps unhealthy attention. They are less likely to get speeding tickets or for that matter spend time in jail. Just as most women cannot resist a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, men find it difficult not to watch beautiful women. Women, as Fabio demonstrates, find it hard to ignore beautiful men. (Actually, many women are also checking out other women, because they have learned they should continuously check out the competition.) Our response to beautiful people tends to be hardwired into our genes. It is hard not to desire their time and attention.

I have a sister who is beautiful. She is tall, blonde, and lithe and like much of my family, overly educated. Although married for more than twenty years (to an ordinary guy) she is constantly getting unsolicited offers of affection from other men. She has a learned how to brush them off tactfully. She has also learned to take defensive measures. Unless the situation calls for it, she does her best to underplay her beauty. This means skipping the makeup, wearing her hair down, dressing down and the strategic use of sunglasses.

As we come from a large family, she also has many nieces and nephews. It may well be a coincidence, but since she has no children of her own she has concentrated her attention on a favorite niece. This niece is also beautiful. My sister is a vegetarian. Over the course of many long summers hosting my niece, my niece has picked up her vegetarianism too, not to mention much of her outlook and mannerisms. There is no question that my sister is her favorite aunt. It appears to me that my beautiful sister, perhaps subconsciously, is grooming her niece for inclusion into her tribe. I think my niece is learning valuable lessons from her too. They will prepare her for a long life full of dealing with the reality of being beautiful. In that sense, my sister is doing my niece a great kindness. This is not surprising, for my sister is also a very kind and compassionate woman.

If there is one thing I admire about beautiful people, it is their ability to eat healthy portions of food. Not all of them are completely successful, of course. In the extreme cases, they become bulimic. For ordinary people like me, such self-control is akin to magic. I tend to avoid junk food but if it readily available it tends to be hard to skip. In some ways, I see food as compensation for not being beautiful. Perhaps if I were beautiful and had plenty of positive attention then food would be less alluring. Instead, like many Americans, I see food as readily available compensation for things that are denied me, like the privileges that appear to come with being beautiful. I know the right strategies for weight loss, but the consistent day-to-day application of these strategies is a continual struggle. For the beautiful, it appears to be no struggle at all. I can eat a half dozen chocolates at a time. They seem to have the self-control to consistently stop after one.

Some weeks back I had the opportunity to spend the better part of a week with younger, single beautiful woman. Our relationship was of course cordial, since it was business related. In addition to being one of these beautiful women with almost no body fat like my niece she is a former gymnast. Her posture is always perfect. In the days we spent together, I never once saw her slouch. Her breakfast consisted of a granola bar. She could eat a bite of it, then put it away and have another bite an hour later. When we dined together, she was always served standard American portions of food. In other words, her portions were enormous. She never ate more than half of what was served. I simply do not have that kind of will. I have to finish what is on my plate. Not only do I want eat all my food, but I hear my mother’s voice echoing in my brain, “It is a sin to waste food.” Gluttony is also one of the seven deadly sins but naturally, I defer to my mother’s admonitions. I finish my serving and I often find myself wanting more.

My colleague’s weakness is coffee. She gets many of her daily calories from Starbucks. Even here, she exercised a surreal sense of control. She does not mind if her coffee gets tepid. She could still be sipping from it an hour or two later. In restaurants, she was incapable of ordering something greasy like a cheeseburger with fries.

Like many beautiful people that I have come to know, talking with her was sometimes a strange experience. I think this came from each of us viewing the world through such different lenses. We could express thoughts, but they often did not translate correctly. There were times when I felt like I was talking with a Martian. I think this was in part because in many fundamental ways we had trodden different paths through life. She did not appear to understand gluttony, for example. It was even hard to share life experiences. We both came from ordinary families, but her path through life had given her a much different window on our world.

While I certainly respect her as a person and colleague, by the end of the week I had had enough. Her world was just a little too strange to me. I was grateful to come home to my ordinary wife and our ordinary world. As she described it, returning home meant taking off her shoes the moment she walked in the door because she did not want to stain the carpet. Mine was to come home, kick back, pet the cat and watch a West Wing episode into my DVD player. I can imagine being married to a beautiful person. While I am sure it is great to wake up in bed every morning next to such a stunning work of nature, I think the other hours of the day would leave me feeling as if we had little else in common.

She, like my sister and my niece remain in their own little tribe. I, an ordinary person, seem content within mine. I cannot help but watch the beautiful people I encounter in life, and in some way envy them. However, the older I get the less envy I feel and the more value I find in being ordinary. In some ways, I feel sorry for the beautiful. They appear trapped in a slightly artificial world where real life is not quite the way they experience it. It must be hard to be both beautiful and grounded in reality. On the other hand, perhaps by being beautiful they have created their own version of reality wherein the rules work a bit differently from mine, but the effect is still the same.

They seem to be their own species, these beautiful people. It is curious that we elect so many of these beautiful people to be our leaders. How many of them though are effective leaders? Is their beauty something of a barrier to serving the public? Can they truly empathize with people like you and I, or are they just good at faking empathy? Should we be voting for average looking people like Bill Richardson and Fred Thompson rather than beautiful people like John Edwards and Mitt Romney?

My suspicion is that all things being equal I would be in better hands with Bill in charge rather than John.


One Response to “The beautiful are a different species”

  1. 9:14 am on June 17 2007, Allison said:

    This is an amazingly thoughtful piece.

    As an ordinary looking person, I find that I tend to subconsciously discredit and/or feel disrespect for those of superior beauty. It’s unfair to assume that those gifted with looks are lacking in intelligence, or are less interesting… but I am ashamed to admit I’ve been guilty of it.

    Another quirk I have is that I have difficulty remembering names of people who have pretty/handsome faces. The more unique/unusual/unattractive a person is, the more likely I am to remember who they are.

    When I read about your sister having to play down her looks and disguise herself to avoid attention, I recalled Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron and felt a stab of pity for her. I’m sure she can’t complain about having to go through what she does to the ordinary humans like myself. Who would feel sympathy, except for a fellow member of the beautiful tribe?

    NOT Diana Moon Glampers 🙂

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