08 March 2012

On Appreciating the Beauty of Women

Today is International Women's Day and that leaves me conflicted about this post. I fear this may seem a trite or misguided subject in light of the injustices toward women across the globe. I can only trust that you, Dear Reader, are familiar enough with my blog that you understand I have my eye on the big picture, too. You see, I have recently had a very upsetting experience with a very close friend of mine whom I love dearly.

My friend has a small body frame and is wrought with insecurities over it. As she recently remarked to me, all too often our "Real women have curves" subculture is so preoccupied with validating the bodies of overweight women that women such as herself who are thinner than the "average" woman are left out in the cold. What do we say about, or to, such women?

Sadly, it seems we say nothing.

In the course of apologizing to her for inadvertently offending her last night, it came to light that she has rarely been told she's beautiful. "Sexy" or "hot," occasionally, but even if those were meant sincerely there's something so uninspired about them that there's no real flattery to be taken from such words. And this, I believe, is the heart of the matter.

I'm sure someone reading this is already frustrated that I haven't given the obligatory "You don't need someone else to say it" admonition. I won't. Philosophically I may agree, but there is always a difference between theory and application and the truth of the matter is, the human ego demands validation. Denying this is at the root of a lot of problems for a lot of people, whose insecurities are then compounded by a sense of shame that they even felt inadequate in the first place. Rather than negating the self-doubt, then, the "Look inward" crowd bullies the rest of us into feeling that our very insecurity is itself a deficiency.

I'll never forget watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Relics," in which Scotty from the original Star Trek series appears. When his 24th Century counterpart remarks of a shuttle craft that "she's not much to look at," the venerable engineer replies:
"Laddie, every woman has her own charm. You just have to know where to look for it."
I immediately embraced that philosophy as soon as I heard it articulated. How could I not? I had already bought into it before I heard it articulated. Had I not taken notice of various classmates of mine, including a lot of girls who weren't necessarily part of the popular cliques?

Too often, boys and men are unimaginative and selfish. They look no farther than the parts of a woman's body they don't have and define her physicality by those areas. There are plenty of women whose "charm," to borrow from Scotty, is in a feature that men also have. For example, my friend who inspired this post has lovely clavicles and an alluring throat. Anyone who would stop looking at her because she's not a D-cup is, frankly, too lazy to deserve the kind of influence he has on her self-image. No one, my friend informed me, had ever complimented either of the features of hers that I appreciate. I understand that breasts and buttocks outrank clavicles and throats for the average guy, but I cannot believe that I'm in such a minority that no one else managed to see these parts of my friend. In addition to the scores of thoughtless "mmm...boobies" reviewers, we have another dilemma that is perhaps even more frustrating: Those who see, but say nothing.

Reasons for keeping quiet are as maddening as they are legitimate. Some of us guys simply don't have the self-confidence to say anything to a woman (I've certainly been guilty of this over the course of my life). I've been hamstrung by my own sense of inadequacy that I have lived in fear that the slightest non-neutral remark from me would be an invitation for an emotional beat-down. I've conjured mental scenarios like those from medieval stories, where peasants were punished for daring to look at princesses. I am neither fast enough to outrun, nor strong enough to overcome, the royal guard.

Some of us, however, lack not the willpower but the thoughtfulness to say kind things to a woman in a meaningful way. This, I'm afraid, accounts for a lot of the "sexy" and "hot" remarks that my friend has heard. They ring so false to her because they articulate so little. The fact she was breathing may have been sufficient for some of those critics to give her approval. Perhaps some of them wanted to say, "You have lovely clavicles" but all they could manage was, "Damn, girl! You hot!" I don't know.

What I do know is that there are a lot of women out there just like my friend: Beautiful and insecure. To them, I would say that (trite as it may sound), you really are beautiful, whether it is properly articulated or not. Please do not conflate the failure of those around you to acknowledge your charm with whether or not it exists.

To the menfolk: Stop reserving your flattery for when you're trying to pick up a woman. It's perfectly okay to offer a kind word to a classmate, coworker, neighbor, whomever. It can be something as seemingly benign as, "I like it when you smile." Listen to Scotty and look for her charm and when you find it, acknowledge it. And when you do this, speak to the women around you not as potential bed mates seeking your approval, but as your sisters whose hurt you might be able to help assuage.

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