Monday, October 19, 2015

"Power"

I have a question for you. A real, serious question about which I'm clueless and curious.

As hard as I try to be feminine, I freely and frequently acknowledge that I wasn't raised as a girl, didn't have female experiences in life, and wasn't treated as a woman in public. Lacking these experiences, I can't and don't claim to truly understand what it means to be female.

I dined recently with an attractive woman. She's beautiful in the conventional way -- slim, great figure, long blond hair, pretty face with symmetrical features. The kind of gal who could model if she chose to.

Talking openly about her life, she told me she values the "power" she has. She used that word. She described it as the source for preferential treatment she receives and has always received. She never has to pay for a drink; she gets shown the best table in a restaurant; men are drawn to and orbit around her.

This surprised me. Sure I know that physical beauty is prized by women and men, but I didn't realize that it conveys privilege. I didn't know you can trade on it. Use it. Exploit it even. I didn't know others would actually treat you different -- better -- because of it. Having never lived as a woman, this phenomenon is completely outside my life-experience.

Is this true? Is physical beauty a source of power for women?

If it is, are there any ethics about using it to obtain better treatment from others? Or are beautiful people simply more deserving of privilege by virtue of our human nature?

29 comments:

  1. I agree that beauty is prized by both sexes, and that therefore both sexes can trade on that beauty. This is not just a source of power for gorgeous women. Any truly gorgeous creature--woman or man--is treated differently. There's a difference between those people who are just good looking and those that are truly gorgeous, stunning, breathtaking.

    As for why that is, it's human nature for most people to want to create offspring, and to want to get the best genes to mate with. Physical beauty is high (for most people, the highest) on the list of desirable traits.

    As for ethics, everyone trades on their strengths, correct? Although some gorgeous people do not desire free drinks and the best tables at restaurants, some desire things more subtle and so it wouldn't be as clear as to whether their looks are benefitting them.

    Thanks for the interesting topic.

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  2. Interesting.
    I think its true.
    Sometimes people treat you the way they "see you" - if that makes any sense.
    Once I was going to an event and I chose to dress up. As soon as I walked in, someone came to greet me and gave me a seat behind the first lady. I wonder if I had shown up "normal" if I had been given that treatment.

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  3. oh and everyone else was left standing !

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  4. Without a doubt this is true.

    When I was younger I had this power. I discovered it when I was about 15. I exploited it. It was a fabulous untapped currency.

    Now that I am older and have lost this superpower it is devastating. Probably another one of the reasons I'm having difficulty with the whole aging thing and why if you asked me today if I'd like to be 18 again, I wouldn't hesitate for a second.

    My husband is lucky in that as a man he also is able to use his good looks to his advantage. Men don't lose the power as they get older it seems.

    bisous
    Suzanne

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    1. I agree with Danielle and Suzanne. But I disagree with Suzanne as this has gone away with her. Suzanne... if you walk into a restaurant, dressed the part, on high heels and you shake your head, let your hair loose and look bloody confident, you will still be treated that way.
      Greetje

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  5. As Danielle has said above, beauty is prized by both and so can be traded by both. I do think though that it can be traded more by women than men because in society female beauty is often more prized or seemingly more prized than brains. How often are little girls dressed up to look pretty, or told they look pretty compared with when boys are well dressed. Women from an early age are conditioned to be more mindful about looks. You only have to go into shops and see the difference in the girls and boys clothes departments. It was a big thing for me growing up as I hated dresses and looking 'pretty', as I was a natural tomboy.
    With men I think they tend to trade more on charisma. I mean, I've never found Jack Nicholson or Mick Jagger (in their haydays) to be even remotely sexy or alluring but to alot of women did/do.
    But going back more to your question, don't we all trade on our strengths? Whether that's looks, brains, talent, charisma, the ability to make someone laugh?
    Are beautiful people more deserving of privilege? No, why should they be?
    And I wonder if your dinner companion has in some ways a skewed view of 'value'. So she's aware of her power, and presumably uses it (understandable) but does she abuse it even on a subconcious level? I wonder if she's never had to buy a drink, always gets preferential treatment etc... if she actually truly values what most people have to really work for.... Just a thought.

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  6. Wow - this is really a great topic. The previous posters (IMO) have a firm grasp of the topic, and I really can't add much to it that hasn't already been said. I have found, however, that the kinds of individuals who respond to this 'power' are changing as I get a bit older. (I'm in my late 30s, gleefully entering my 40s.)

    I find that beauty might get your foot in the door (so to speak), but better than beauty is charm. Charisma. Uniqueness. Nerve. Talent. (As RuPaul says...) This is all my personal experience, so take it for what it's worth - but I find that I get more attention for the 'energy' I exude (apparently - I have no idea about this, I'm going on what people have told me) than my looks.

    I'm a tall, plus-sized, bespectacled, brunette. I have never had to pay for a drink, unless I choose to. I'm a fairly...forward person, so I have no problem just coming up to a random person and (gently) inserting myself into their conversation, (then introducing myself). We all play on our strengths, and perceived strengths - the problem comes when there's little to 'back up' what's at the surface.

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  7. Not beauty, but charisma.That's what gets you special treatment. Throughout my childhood I was expected to look pretty, be nice, 'girly'... And at the same time I was surrounded by very strong women who ran their own succesful businesses and never traded on their beauty or femininity. Yeah, mixed messages.. But still, beauty is not enough, you also have to believe in your own beauty, charisma, whatever, and yes, it can help you get ahead. Up to a point... Still, the most impressive woman I've ever known was my grandmother: not a beauty, a short, plump woman. And she knew how to get everyone's attention, nobody ever thought of overlooking her, or crossing her. So, given the choice, would I like to be so beautiful that people are in awe of me (my mother was really beautiful, also very shy and miserable) or charismatic/scary enough to command respect? I'll take the latter please, had my share of 'look pretty and shut up' treatment from men (and woman) to last me a lifetime...

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  8. I'd say "power" is absolutely the right word. I've rarely had the opportunity to wield it myself (save a few times in college when it was less about traditional beauty and more about how much skin you cared to show, haha), but I've absolutely seen other women do it.

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  9. Beauty helps, but it doesn't when it is combined with insecurity. Beautiful people can be miserable, or too shy, whereas less attractive women with a strong personality and a self belief find themselves having a lot of power over men and people in general. Sometimes beauty can also be a burden, when people don't mind to check the other qualities in a person and only judge her from her appearance. Anyway, in most of cases I think a good appearance is connected to power, yes ! Kisses, my friend !

    Fashion and Cookies - fashion blog

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  10. Taking a little different stance than those above, I perceive myself differently when I dress differently. High waisted skirt. Booties. Sweater. Scarf. Blazer. I feel powerful in it so I act more powerful. I don't know if people perceive me as more powerful. If they do, is it the clothes? Or do I exude more confidence? Does it matter which? I also don't know at what point feminine and feminism coexist. Is it wrong to assert a feminine figure as a means of gaining power, if we castigate men for doing the same? Or does it come down to intent?

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  11. It really is true. I wouldn't brag about it, though. It may give you "power" but it's sometimes temporary and based solely off of aesthetics. Having said that, I admit I've used my looks to get me places. I don't feel good about it because I feel it's lazy and you have to kind of "cheat". It also makes you try a whole lot less than you otherwise would to get what you want.

    Beauty really does help you out in life, fortunately and unfortunately. Sometimes when I'm feeling extra catty, I feel good about it. But it's kind of sad if you think about it. An example is that I kept flunking my driver's license test when I was a teen. A young guy giving me the test that I flunked for the final time didn't mark me down for a few things I did wrong. (I'm not a bad driver, I swear! I've never hit anyone or anything to this day lol)

    That's only one of a few examples. It happens all the time to people (men and women). I've seen it happen to others as well.

    And I also agree with Vale 100%

    xo Azu

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  12. I think that beauty is indeed a source of power for women - but that the power they are given is not deserved and is given by shallow people, both men and other women. I don't believe that anyone deserves privilege based on looks. That being said, beautiful people cannot help how they look any more than less beautiful people. They do not deserve to be condemned for their beauty either. I wish we could all just get past looks. I think as we mature, more people get to that better place. Great topic.

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    1. Excellent points, Jenny. I agree with you.

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  13. When I mentioned this topic to my hubby his response was "It's a fact of life!" A fact that makes me rather sad because often the less pretty of us have to be stronger to be noticed and do more even if we have the same skills as the beautiful people.

    As usual another thought provoking topic.

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    1. I share your sad response, Lynn. I've always been among "the less pretty of us."

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  14. Absolutely true. Is using “it” ethical or not? It all depends on the individual and what they are comfortable with. Personally, I am not and never will be comfortable using, for example, my chest to get out of a parking ticket. I know a lot of women who probably would.

    I also think as much as it as a source of power, good looks and youth (I’m adding “youth” so I can proceed with my next example) can become a real hindrance. When I was working on my degree, I was one of the youngest (and blondest!) in my cohort, and I feel like it was difficult for people to take me seriously because of this. I felt I had more to prove. I don’t think any good looking person would wish away their good looks, and I’m certainly not hoping to rapidly age any time in the future, but there are drawbacks that I think some people don’t realize. Like another one of your commenters said, it would be nice to get past looks—at least, as much as our appearance-driven society can!

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    1. So true. Your comments ring of truth, Ashley, and I share your wish that appearances didn't matter. They hinder all of us. When we're young, we're not always taken seriously; when we're old, we're often overlooked. When we're pretty, we're assumed not to be smart; etc.

      I check myself constantly to make sure I'm not judging people on superficial, shallow features. I want everyone to look deeply into other people to see the good, evil, beauty or ugliness there.

      As an example, a few years ago I was close friends with a young woman who was strikingly beautiful. Stunningly beautiful. I could hardly stop from staring at the perfect planes and symmetry of her face. And yet... she was completely self-absorbed. Totally clueless about basic things. And the least generous person I'd ever met. After checking my reactions, I realized I had to and did terminate my friendship with her. She was an ugly person. I was initially blinded by her physical beauty but when I looked past that, it was not a pretty sight.

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  15. I've long found this subject both fascinating and detestable. As everyone has already mentioned, physical beauty is very much a source of power for women.

    On one hand, I appreciate its existence to some degree. In a world where women are constantly undermined, it's sort of nice that ladies can attain this sort of leverage. However, as others have mentioned, it is a power that can only be wielded by those who are confident. But seldom is confidence what ends up backing it up in the long run. More often than not said confidence distorts into narcissism. Then the power becomes quite reprehensible.

    Something that I find intriguing is who benefits, and how it truly varies depending on the location and demographic involved. For example, I benefitted extremely back home, but now I don't.

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  16. For some, it most certainly is, but not (to a large degree at least) for all. I'm not conventionally attractive and have known this (acutely) my whole life. Couple that with being quite shy by nature and I've never really felt like I had those famed "feminine wiles" on my side at all.

    I think that there are a lot of different sources of power and influence and that each of us possesses at least a few. Kindness and integrity are two that I've always tried to lead my life with and which I see in absolute spades in you, my dear friend. So even if - like me (a born woman) - you can't wield that femme fatale allure, you can still be a powerful woman thanks to numerous other traits and behaviors.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Thank you, Jessica. I too have been acutely aware of my deficiency in this department. Which propelled me to develop other skills, like intellect and hard-work. Those efforts paid off in my life.

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  17. it is true, I think. A beautiful person is also assumed to be nicer and more talented. When I was in my teens I did notice I got a lot of attention, it was heady but disturbing, too. Life is easier for a pretty girl, but life is good when a girl knows the value of all of her attributes, and uses them to achieve a good life. I have never taken a free drink, btw. and I am okay with my beauty fading . It is lovely to see a daughter whose beauty is on the rise, though , and she , I don't think, would ever take a free drink either. She seems unaware of being beautiful.. how cool is that.
    I was , and remain, a serious person and work hard. I am having more fun as my beauty fades, though. I connect well with people , having been a bit shy growing up.
    I think most find confidence to be attractive, in both sexes, also.
    A great post topic.
    XX, Elle
    http://mydailycostume.com
    http://mydailycostume.com

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  18. Uh what an intersting topic - I think it is two sided... somehow the answer is yes, BUT it only counts as long as the woman believes in her beauty. What makes the power, is not the beauty itself but the confidence of te beautiful woman. This is at least what I think :)
    Have a great day!
    Xx
    Larissa
    cenestquedelachance.blogspot.de

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  19. Oy. This post brings up a lot of emotions in me for some reason.

    I consider myself to be reasonably attractive. Granted, I was the ugly duckling growing up but I learned to practice kindness and treat people with the respect I hoped to earn in return. That said, even when I DID have my little transformation (courtesy of contact lenses and a friend who taught me how to wear the right clothing for my type), I never sought out to abuse my "power" and I would never have wanted anyone to treat me any differently because of my looks (or other physical attributes).

    I dunno. I think sadly we live in a society that really values beauty above all. I don't know what can be done to change that and if it ever will change.

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  20. Beautiful people do inhabit a different reality than the rest of us (male or female)! It's just the way things are. Being beautiful can be a blessing or a hindrance to one so endowed. Some of them never progress beyond the superficial while some of them are as beautiful inside as out.

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  21. It's true. There have been studies done on it and I think most people feel they have experienced or witnessed it in some way. Similar studies show that for males it's not attractiveness but height that gives them an advantage. Taller males are perceived as more intelligent, capable, and get more promotions. Women tend to prefer taller males and even very short women, for whom a man of 5"8" would be tall in comparison, are often attracted to men in the 6 foot range. I think it was the ancient Greeks who believed beauty and goodness were equated. Many women claim to feel a sense of power that comes from whatever their degree of sexiness is. It's a pretty intense feminist debate whether or not that is true power or if it is just succumbing to the male power that requires sexiness of a female.

    The flip side, is that many beautiful people report negative experiences due to their looks and of course if they say so they are loudly criticised and called arrogant, or told they are not as beautiful as they think they are.

    This is a major sociological, feminist and complicated issue and involves the consideration of evolutionary traits people may or may not want to acknowledge. For example, some will say that our attraction to others, the very fact that we seek mates and that we compete for them, are all explained by evolutionary factors. Feminist, of course, do not like the suggestion that women compete with each other for a mate, but others will say that women do not like another woman who is beautiful because she is competition and so they will attempt to sabotage her. Also, what we define as beautiful is typically the physical representation of health and fertility. Put crudely, the caveman did not want a trophy wife, he wanted a fertile wife because his main goal is to have many progeny. This is also the explanation for male resistance to monogamy whereas female attraction to monogamy is due to the fact that having one guy to stick around and help provide for and care for the children is the ideal.

    You ask the sorts of questions that really get me wound up! LOL
    xoxoxo

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    1. Thanks for the thoughts, Shawna. I believe evolutionary hard-wiring in our brains contributes to this, for the reason you cite (reproductive ability). That's not consciously acknowledged but it certainly plays a role. I'm a feminist but I also believe in science.

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    2. Me too. :-) I call it being a smart feminist.

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