Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Friday, September 10, 2021

I was reading about blondelibrarian’s struggles with her lily-white skin, and how she would fare better had she been born a century or two ago. She nails it perfectly by noting that certain physical traits are deemed attractive based upon societal and class distinctions:

Once it was fashionable to have lily white skin because it was a sign of wealth and leisure. During that time it was the working class who had to be (i.e., work) outside and, as a result, ended up with tanned bodies. Obviously, for a person of leisure the thought of having to work outside was highly undesirable. Therefore, any sign that he or she did so (like tanned skin) was also unwelcome. Consequently, fair white skin was an indication that the person did not have to be outside or work.

Fast forward to the last half of 20th century. Suddenly working people had to spend the majority of their time indoors. Everyone* developed white skin per default. People wanted to be outside surfing, gardening, swimming, or a thousand other things that would, unsurprisingly, result in a tan during their hard-earned free-time. This shift to favoring a golden brown tan over lily white skin indicated not only that being outside was a good thing, but also communicated that the person in question had time and money to spend outside enjoying these things. And what better way to prove that you can spend time relaxing on the beach or smelling your well-groomed roses than with a tan?

I concurred by commenting:

Bingo! Class distinction underlies what’s defined as attractive and what’s not. The other example:

The Botticelli ideal of plump women was in vogue during a time when having several extra pounds was a sign that you were (very) well-fed — i.e., rich enough to be well-fed. In the 20th century, the spread of cheap starchy-based diets among lower-income populations meant that the poor tended to become overweight, because they can’t afford to eat right. In reaction, more affluent consumers could afford to indulge in leaner meats and low-cal foods; you literally had to be able to afford being able to starve yourself. Thin became in.

Upshot: The media’s not to blame for the ideal of beauty it presents. It’s only reflecting societal memes.

Discerning what is or isn’t attractive/desirable/beautiful, especially as it concerns women, is always a hot topic. Of late, Dean Esmay recently devoted some thought to it (discovered via Dustbury). Unfortunately, the track taken was the predictable one: That the popular imagery of models and actresses was false, and that “real” women — those too fat, too short, too flawed — should be celebrated.

As noted above, general perceptions don’t work that way. The basic law of supply and demand works for societal trends, too: Those who fit the ideal of perfection (or at least desirability) are always going to be in the minority, and “the rest” are going to be a dime a dozen. Scarcity creates value; that’s natural. If every boy and girl were drop-dead gorgeous, then ergo, nobody would be beautiful.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 09/10/2021 10:03:14 AM
Category: Media, Society
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4 Feedbacks
  1. This is seriously a great topic, - one that a comment box can’t even start to really hit - although I tend to weigh in on the other side of DE’s “celebration.”

    I’ve always thought people should strive to attain societal ideas of beauty, and I sometimes have to crush my disdain for people who want to act like its a vicious cycle of victimization. It’s not, because nobody forces you to participate; it’s just nice when you do. And before anyone wants to hang me, I have to point out that these facets of beauty are a societal ideal because most of us think that way whether we mean to or not.

    The catch here is that it isn’t gonna always work. But that’s actually no big deal with me - I just like to see people trying to put their best foot forward. We all get the “only 1 in 10,000 women is a supermodel” deal, but that shouldn’t inspire such reactivity that it erases the element of pride in one’s appearance and the very basic (if maybe old-fashioned) idea that doing your best to look your best is a sign of respect for yourself and the world.

    Maybe my point here is live and let live, even if it sounds like I’m being overly didactic just to cover up superficiality, but I hate when people wanna act like issues like health maintenance, an interest in fashion, or other manifestations of pride in appearance are the *negative* result of societal pressure.

    It’s only a negative result if you follow social dictates on appearance because you are a quaking mess of nerves and low self-esteem.

    You feel me? Or I’m a jerk?

    Comment by r* — 09/10/2021 @ 12:31:24 PM

  2. Not a jerk, at least not much.

    I think the idea of having a choice on whether or not to follow societal standard in this (and most other things) is shaky. Even those of us who like to think we move to the beat of a different drum usually can’t do so unless there’s enough others doing so to create an adequate support system. We’re social creatures, like it or not.

    Finding the line between reciprocating respect and harboring unrealistic projections is tricky business. That’s where the negative considerations come in.

    Overall, I think this theme is considered too one-dimensionally: It’s media corruption, or patriarchalism, or corporate manipulation. Micro- and maco-economic drivers are almost never considered, nor is basic human impulse.

    Comment by CT — 09/10/2021 @ 09:19:11 PM

  3. If a societal ideal of beauty dictates that you should be white, what do you do if you’re black, or asian?

    Thats purposely extreme, of course, but I think the societal ideals that that post is referring to have more to do with things you cant change about yourself (without extensive surgery) at all, not just making sure to brush your hair and wear clean, fashionable clothes and hit the gym a few times a week.

    Comment by The Belt — 09/11/2021 @ 08:05:39 PM

  4. Not as extreme as you might think: Consider the “high yellow” blacks, especially during the Jim Crow era and in places like New Orleans. Their lighter (more white-looking) complexions gave them a tangible leg-up over darker-skinned blacks. Also during the same period, blacks would do things like chemically straighten their hair to look more “high-class”. Some might point to celebs like Halle Berry today and see remnants of this perception.

    This again points to socioeconomic considerations playing a role in societal preferences.

    Regardless, in blondelibrarian’s case, I think she was looking primarily from her personal perspective, which is all she can do.

    Comment by CT — 09/11/2021 @ 08:17:47 PM

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