There is a saying: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That’s a bunch of bullshit and we all know it. If that were the case there wouldn’t be websites like uglypeople.com and there would be no cosmetic surgery industry. We should stop deluding ourselves with the idea that ugly doesn’t exist so that we can address why it does.
I was working at a trade show this past weekend and it proved something to me which I have suspected for a very long time: This life takes its toll in some very unexpected ways.
First, a thought experiment: Imagine someone widely regarded as pretty. Say Brad Pitt:
At his prettiest in Thelma & Louise if you ask me
Now I would argue that Brad Pitt is physically attractive because he has gentle features, all his teeth, a chiselled physique and eyes that twinkle like Paul Newman’s when he smiles
On top of that I have heard him in interviews and when he is not coming off as lovably, charmingly bewildered, he does seem very coherent and affable. And as if that weren’t enough, I’m sure he smells good too. These non-visible cues tend to add to his physical appeal and I would argue that this holds true for all physically attractive people.
However, working at a trade show all weekend I saw lots of people who fell short of the Brad Pitt standard of physical beauty (imagine that!). On the whole it was an average looking bunch, but there were many incredibly ugly, disfigured, wretched people who came by and more often than not their behaviours, whether obnoxious, creepy, inappropriate, spiteful or aggressive, matched their appearance. Now I say this with no malice, for I love my fellow man, but it occurred to me that these folks were living portraits of what this life can do to people.
Science has shown us that from a behavioural perspective, people are shaped by their environments. It has been posited, and I would agree, that behaviours are a reaction or adaptation to one’s environment. This is not to say that there is no genetic component, but the genes simply determine a range of possible behaviours while the environment dictates where a person falls in that range. The best analogy I have heard is that human beings are like computers: the genes are the equivalent to hardware and the environment is the programming.
10 years of running a bad program called “Crystal Meth”
I guess I never stopped to think deeply about the ramifications of this principle on physical appearance, but if you think about it, the way someone looks is both a product of their genes and their environment. If they did not have the genes to look at a certain way, lets say morbidly obese, they could not possibly look that way. But just because they have the genes to look a certain way, again morbidly obese, does not mean they are going to look that way if their environment doesn’t reinforce that predisposition (i.e. exercise, proper nutrition, etc.). In the above before & after picture, the woman obviously has the genes to look both ways, but her post-meth appearance was by no means pre-determined by genetics. Rather it was a possibility which became reality due to environmental factors.
On a sadder note (yes, sadder than meth addiction), look at this little girl.
Not only is she going to be physically ugly for her whole life (scientifically provable based on the labels pointing out her defects), but she is going to be so very wretchedly so due to environmental factors imposed upon her by the indiscretions of another. For she suffers from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, meaning her mother drank while pregnant with her.* Often we think of life beginning the moment you are born, but we forget that the newborn has already been developing in its own unique environment for the previous nine months.**
So when I saw so many sloppy, ugly, slouchy, slack-jawed fucks this weekend (again, said with no malice, but ironically love), I couldn’t help but wonder how much of their appearance was a direct result of bad programming or environmental factors. And of course, to what extent, if any, are these environmental factors a result of socio-economic status?
Now before you protest what you think I might be getting at here, watch this video:
Now I axe you: do you think the majority of people in that video were from relatively high or relatively low income brackets? I would hazard a guess that they were mostly po-folk from shit-kicker American towns reduced to poverty after the mill/plant/factory closed down.
Now I am not saying that the people I dealt with this weekend were as wretched as the Wal-mart all-stars (thankfully I saw no butt-crack), but many tended toward these appearances (obese, unkempt, misshapen) and behaviours (general apathy toward outward appearance, rolling around on scooters). And while I believe it is wrong to judge someone based on socio-economic standing, the affluent and the downtrodden are by and large very easy to pick out. The wealthier, or at least comfortable have a certain carriage and deportment which is reflected in their attitudes, behaviours and appearances. This is not to say that they always behave better; on the contrary, they can quite often be insufferable assholes and preening douchebags, not to mention misshapen and physically ugly. However, in my experience they tend to carry themselves with a confidence and deportment that poorer types lack. I can only attribute this to some sense of self-worth that they have, although I don’t pretend to know where they derive this sense of self-worth from.
On the contrary, more poorer types in my experience
tend to behave more erratically, being often unpredictable and squirrelly, not carrying themselves so much with confidence, but with a mixture anxiety, fear, desperation, or even malicious cockiness. To me, these seem like symptoms of someone with little sense of self-worth.
I’ll just leave this here…
I don’t pretend to know why their sense of self-worth is so low though.
Of course there are exceptions to these observations, and I find it fascinating and encouraging to see someone of modest means who carries themselves with dignity. Again, I don’t pretend to know where their sense of self-worth comes from, but I do know where it doesn’t come from: their bank-account, for we already established that this person is not affluent.
To Be Contuvre…
~Random Tangent – Read at Your Own Peril~
To this last point, there is a Spanish word, Hidalgo, which I am rather enchanted by. Its actual historical context doesn’t impress me so much, but its literary context, that of a nobleman who has lost all his wealth but still retains the privileges of his class, well I rather like that. For what more important privilege of nobility is there than knowing your worth; knowing that you are better? Not better than other people mind you, but better than the value society places on you based on your material wealth. This is the most important knowledge. A nobleman can be broke, destitute, emaciated and starving but he could still go somewhere and make a demand with the full expectation that it will be fulfilled. He had knowledge of self and that can’t be taken away once it is learned. The problem is that many don’t ever learn knowledge of self in the first place; they either learn some religious malarky like “original sin” which implies they carry someone else’s sin which they must atone for, or they are just subjected to a society which reenforces subordination to legitimized forms of authority no matter what (don’t question your parents, always co-operate with police, etc.). This teaches people that they are less than a human being, they are simply subjects in a pecking order. So instead of rooting their self-worth in the very fact that they exist, they tie it to fluid and changeable things like money, the opinions of others, etc… Things, in other words, which can ultimately be lost or taken by others. This process of acquiring financial means, social capital or other fluid things for the sake of moving up in society’s pecking order is colloquially called “getting ahead.” So many are caught up in this game when they should be trying to figure out how to get free instead.
When people who root their sense of self-worth in wealth and status which they do not have, I believe they are wont to treat themselves poorly (poor nutrition, deliberately poisoning themselves with alcohol and other drugs, poor posture). They are worthless in their own eyes when compared to others who have done so much better by the standard which they judge themselves by. This contributes to a less physically attractive person both superficially (slouched, vacant look in the eyes, slack-jawed) and in the long-term, as certain prolonged diets, vices and lifestyle choices will have irreversible and detrimental effects on a person’s physical beauty (see above photos of crystal-meth addict).
So back to Brad Pitt, just imagine that he hadn’t had the particular upbringing he had and he had instead ended up as a lower-class worker or homeless person. He would cease to be the pretty boy we all know and secretly (if you’re a dude) have a crush on. He would likely be some long-haired, leathery-faced, fat American chain-smoker riding around in a rascal at the Springfield Wal-Mart.
Conversely, when you look at the so-called ugly people from the Wal-Mart video, or just the ones you see in everyday life, imagine the wasted potential for hotness that their genes might carry but which has been squandered from perhaps as early as their time in utero when their mother may have drank or done drugs, to their childhood where they were perhaps malnourished and not taught their true worth as human beings, all the way up to adulthood where their bad habits intensified due to the ingrained belief that they don’t deserve any better than what they have and society’s persistent reinforcement of this idea. This wasted potential for hotness is the unsung casualty in discussions about social change. I truly believe that the further stratified our society becomes and the greater the amount of poor people becomes, the more the average physical attractiveness of the population will go down and the lower the overall number of 5/10s and above will be. If this doesn’t instill a sense of urgency in you as to the importance of changing the world for the better, you should check your pulse cause you might be dead.
*By calling the little girl with FASD ugly, I am not trying to be malicious, but honest. One of the worst distortions of truth is soft, politically correct language because it turns some unfortunate human being’s real problem into some statistician’s quantified abstraction. We must be precise in language and call things what they are, lest we trivialize the problems of others. As is often the case, George Carlin had something to say about this:
**One of the important qualifiers for what constitutes life, or more accurately what constitutes an organism is that it has an environment which it affects and is affected by. In the case of the fetus, its mother’s womb counts as this environment which in my mind pretty much galvanizes the position of the Pro-Life camp that life begins at conception. However, this realization in my mind does not soundly resolve the abortion debate because if we are arguing the baby’s right to life we must also argue the mother’s right to security of person, which should be just as inviolate.
I think the oft-overlooked position in the abortion debate is ameliorating the factors which lead to unwanted pregnancy and the desire to abort at a fundamental, root cause level. Giving out condoms and lectures about safe sex apparently have not resolved matters. A discussion about abortion is something that merits some attention and I may get to it at a later date but I wanted to clarify that although I believe life provably begins at conception, I don’t think it soundly decides the abortion issue.