Saturday, August 2, 2008

On Attractiveness

Recent criticism from an anonymous reader inspired me to ponder the nature of attractiveness and ego. This is not the first time I received commentary accusing me of self-absorption and / or arrogance, particularly when I write about the topic of attractiveness. Some people seem to think that because I describe unattractive people at sex parties and acknowledge my own attractiveness, that I’m an egotistical snob. I can be a snob about certain things. I’m not going to deny that. I’m especially a snob about style, art, and culture. And grammar. Don’t I have impeccable grammar? As for the ego—it exists in everyone. So why not embrace it?

Ego is a problem when it blinds one to others; one becomes obsessed with oneself to the point where others don’t exist as more than mirrors to that person’s ego. A truly egotistical person is obsessed with proving one’s talents and abilities to others, and is so wrapped up in this mission that she is incapable of seeing people for who they are (this, too, is subjective; I mean the egotist is incapable of seeing others more objectively, without the self projecting “What can I do to make this person worship me? Me? And Me?”), making it impossible for her to give anything out of compassion or selflessness. The egotist is incapable of genuine generosity. The egotist is unattractive.

When I describe my attractiveness, I feel like I am outside of myself. I step outside of my ego and observe the effect I have on others. If people are drawn to me for whatever reason, I am attracting them. Therefore I am attractive. They may be attracted to my looks, my personality, my energy. It doesn’t matter what it is. If I were famous, I would attract certain people solely for that reason. If I brought drugs to a party, I would attract others for that reason alone. The point is that attractiveness boils down to either an innate quality or something you possess. People either want you or they want something you have. Simple logic. That’s one level of attractiveness.

The other level is subjectivity. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That’s the most wonderful cliché in the world. It means you could be the ugliest person in the universe and someone will find you beautiful. But if you’re ugly and mean, the chances are slim. Unless you run into a masochist. But the masochist may be attracted for egocentric reasons; only the most disgusting people turn him on because deep, deep down he hates himself. When I say someone is unattractive, that means the person is unattractive to me. Why is it arrogant to admit that? And why is it arrogant to acknowledge one’s own attractiveness? This seems to offend a lot of people. It’s such a taboo to say, “I’m hot and I know it.” Yet it’s okay for women to gripe about their weight or say, “I’m ugly” because it inspires compassion in others. You want to say, “No you’re not. You have a lot of attractive qualities…” You feel sorry for them. How sad! Such victims of society’s high standards of beauty! You want to be the Mother Theresa of American pageantry, reach out and say, “That’s not true. You’re not ugly unless you say you are. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” But when someone, especially a woman, acknowledges her beauty, how quick people are to tear her down and scream, “How dare you! How self-absorbed! That makes people who are less attractive than you feel bad!” Do you think I’m so one-dimensional that I must boast of my beauty to prove something? The embracing of one’s finer qualities is not always a reflection of conceit. The nature of the self and attractiveness is fascinating to me and it gives me pleasure to observe these elements of human nature at play, in others as well as in myself.

So now you think I’m a bitch for knocking women who complain about their looks. As an honest writer, I must anticipate such reactions. And I feel compelled to point out that attractiveness has more to do with energy and personality than appearance. But to deny the importance of appearance is inauthentic. Not to mention ridiculous. Naturally, I’m attracted to beautiful faces and gorgeous bodies. But not every beauty is beautiful. Out of all the people I’ve dated, only a few have been physical beauties. I’ve had sexual encounters with men many women would call unattractive. Older men. Flabby men. Men with bad teeth. But there was something, or several things I found attractive about them, and therefore deemed them worthy of my sexual generosity.

On the other hand, sex parties are playgrounds where people explore their sexual fantasies. You may be in love with a plain Jane or Joe, but the characters in your fantasy look more like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. (Neither of whom I find very attractive, by the way. Maybe it’s due to media overexposure. Or because their aura of perfection is boring to me. Anyway, that says something about the relativity of physical attractiveness.) So you and Jane go to this party and are naturally drawn to the guests who look most like your fantasy couple. Do you bother to get to know the pock-faced girl and her pot-bellied date? Most likely not. In other contexts you might make the effort, and after getting to know them, find them attractive. But not at first glance. At sex parties, there isn’t time to get to know people and develop crushes based on extended interactions that allow their attractiveness to expand and grow on you. So why waste time on getting to know people at a sex party? Of course I want to feel some kind of connection and feel safe with the people I choose to play with, but the point is to find people who appeal to my fantasies. Because I’m not there to look for a mate. Unless I’m among friends, I’m there to seek pleasure without any expectations to see these partners again.

Even after acknowledging the superficial nature of orgies, I feel I am open to people who don’t physically fall into my usual standards of attractiveness. The usual, for me, includes dark haired, dark complexioned handsome men with gorgeous dark eyes, men who mysteriously straddle the fine line between hyper-masculinity and feminineness. I don’t have a height preference—anywhere between 5’4’’and 6’ appeals to me. I like men who are in shape, lean and toned but not super-buff. With women I’m generally attracted to super-femme beauties that exude masculine energy as well as tomboys and butch dykes with pretty and/or cute faces. Androgeny is hot, regardless of gender. I like petite women with small breasts, but I’m also drawn to larger, voluptuous women with big natural breasts because they are such a contrast to me. I’m far more tolerant of body fat in women than in men; large women can be sexy, whereas large men are simply large. In both sexes, clear skin, nice teeth, great smiles, and balanced features are constant winners. Those are my physical preferences. There are always exceptions.

Sometimes it surprises me who I end up offering myself to. Since I desire connection and I want to feel safe at parties, after evaluating physical attributes I move on to the following: hygiene, energy, and attitude. Within a few minutes of interaction I have a pretty good idea whether someone is open or prude, honest or inauthentic, intelligent or vacuous, respectful or rude. And it doesn’t take more than ten seconds to determine whether the subject has washed his ass at least once in the past two days. Are you relatively secure with yourself? Do you know what you want? Do you have integrity? Are you interesting? Are you sane? If so, there’s a good chance I’ll overlook your less than stellar physique, your bald spot, your crooked nose. In exchange, you may find substance behind my pretty face. But if you want to fuck me for my looks, I don’t blame you. That’s what fantasies are for.

Did I say I was pretty? How dare I! I must be self-absorbed. When I shared my concerns with a fellow artist, he said, “That’s a criticism? I would take it as a compliment!” After further discussion, I came to the conclusion that any artist who creates from the well of personal experience is bound to some degree of self-absorption. Oscar Wilde said, “…the realization of oneself is the prime aim of life, and to realize oneself through pleasure is finer than to do so through pain”. He also said, “To become a spectator of one’s own life is to escape the suffering of life.” There is nothing objective about being human. So I look at myself “objectively” through the eyes of others. My intention is not to escape suffering, but invariably when I step out of my narrow self-perception, I feel more open and connected to the universe.

Unfortunately, I also happen to be sensitive to criticism (especially when it’s an attack on my character), so I obsessed about the anonymous critic who wrote these comments. Is it someone I know? Maybe it’s someone I met recently, possibly a writer I met at Yaddo (because the comments were so well-written). My fellow artist suggested that this commentator is probably female, because how often do men complain about women who shamelessly acknowledge their attractiveness, especially one who writes openly about her sex life? And if this commentator is a female, she’s probably insecure or jealous or envious or all of the above, and projecting her ideas about self-image onto my writing. Then again, maybe the person is a dirty old man getting back at me for snubbing him five years ago.

Whoever you are, I’m glad my Club Tantra experience got you so riled up. That means I’m doing something interesting with this blog. But arrogant! Please. Maybe if you knew how ugly I felt for years, that I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was eighteen, and that at my high-school reunion, a guy said snidely, “Since when did you become gorgeous?” you would read my words differently. Maybe now that I’ve revealed these secrets, you will understand why I embrace my attractiveness. And it’s not because I’m beautiful, dammit! It’s because I’ve learned to accept myself.

One more thing: any reader who chooses to call me arrogant and self-absorbed and doesn’t have the dignity to identify herself (or if she knows me personally, doesn’t have the balls to speak to my face) deserves to be spanked. I’ll gladly do the honor and hope she enjoys it.