Hey, Beautiful

Let me introduce to you the thinking girls’ crumpet David Mitchell, of brain and eyes and epeolatry (uh, she said iambic pentameter-ously).

It’s important that you know who he is just in principle, but also because he is sand in my oyster. (Ooh er.) There is little I can say that he can’t say better – funnier, clearer, more memorable – but whenever he writes about women, he always lands slightly to one side of what’s important. This combination of clever and wrong, it nudges at me like a demanding cat; I’m busy, I’m reading, but the cat shoves her head under my hand and I just have no choice but to scratch her. All right already, you adorable fuzzy little snotball. (I’m unsatisfied with that analogy, but we’ll let it stand.)

In this case it’s about the media’s representation of what women find physically attractive in men. Apparently an ice cream company found that women generally prefer men who aren’t polished and pretty metrosexuals, but rather reassuringly disheveled and imperfect regular Joes.

Now, we ladygirls are aware of the double standard around beauty products: women are expected to make an effort and men are expected not to and so meeting cultural expectations is more expensive for girls than for boys. But do we, as Mr Mitchell intimates, reject men who’ve made an effort because making an effort is unmasculine?

I’m pretty sure not; if there’s anything sexier than Daniel Craig, George Clooney, or Brad Pitt, it’s any one of those three in a tux. (I recently received confirmation that I’m not the only woman in the world who finds the combination of an immaculately groomed masculine hand, a white cuff, and a dark jacket sleeve terribly, terribly hot.) That kind of thing is a marker of social status, and preferring high social status makes great evolutionary sense. We find it very male and very hot… but that doesn’t mean we’d approach him in a bar.

Or is our preference an effort to protect men from the nightmarish shampoo-hairproduct-shampoo cycle of women’s lives, as he suggests? Do we want to keep our men manly for their own benefit?

Hell no. It’s not altruism. We are not trying to save men from our hell of depilatories and microdermabrasion out of the goodness of our hearts.

I’m convinced we like our guys a little rough around the edges because it creates some breathing room for us. We can feel a bit more confident next to a guy with a mediocre haircut and little bit of a pot, particularly on a day when we can’t be bothered to put on make up or high heels. And if he gains a few pounds, then maybe it’s not such a big deal if we do too.

We’re already locked in an intrasexual arms race of commercialized perfection; we don’t need extra pressure from quaffed, styled men. In the end it matters less that our skin isn’t softer, smoother, or younger-looking compared to other women’s in the room, as long as we are, at least, more attractive than the man we brought with us.

(It begs the question, “But do MEN find stylized perfection attractive?” But that’s another post.)