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Open Mike           April 2000

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In This Corner!

In our April issue we opened the forum to opinions and stories on the issue of the importance of physical appearance in relationships. Most readers agreed on the importance of appearance - but it wasn't unanimous - in fact, the question sparked some fairly passionate responses. Even among those who agreed in principle, some were more enthusiastic than others, and several interesting takes on the issue surfaced. Below, we've posted some of the more interesting and compelling contributions, we hope you enjoy them. Click here if you want to read the results of our survey.

The dissenters...

From Ann

The point that some people settle for less than they think they deserve, while hardly news, is true. The point that being married is no excuse to stop trying to please your spouse is a valid one. And that's about it for the essay. In fact, it's so full of flaws it's hard to know where to begin.

First, it should go without saying that the author's definition of attractive is not the only one. Not everyone likes "sleek" fashion; some prefer overalls, sweatshirts and jeans. I have friends who are the outdoors types, and even though it's not my style, I don't depreciate them for not wearing makeup, or not shaving their legs. Their husbands certainly don't think those traits are flaws. Just because the author probably wouldn't think them attractive doesn't mean no one else does.

Second, like most of society, the author is much more critical of the appearance of women than of men. The example of Celia and Brad is a case in point. The author claims to use them as an example of a married couple who stopped caring about their appearances, but his reaction to the two makes his bias clear. From the dismissive description of Brad, it's obvious the author never cared for him anyway. But it's apparently very disturbing that Celia has changed. I'm not sure why, if he's so happily married to such a beautiful woman, it should be so bothersome that an acquaintance is no longer "hot" and sexy. And what would his reaction have been if she hadn't been so "hot" to begin with? What if she'd been overweight, or mousy, or flat-chested, or buck-toothed? Would it matter then?

Third, here's a news flash: People change over time; their priorities change, their tastes change, and their bodies change. Stands to reason that their appearances might change too. When you're responsible for getting your kids through school, or finding care for aging parents, or mortgages, or college funds, maybe the application of cosmetics seems a little less important than it once did.

Finally, although the author can speak for his own marriage, it's the height of conceit to think he can judge the relationships of others. It would disappoint me if my partner started listening to Celine Dion, but I'd never condemn another couple's relationship because they have bad taste in music. I'd hate it if he started buying frozen dinners instead of making stuffed leg of lamb, but I would never presume to apply that standard to my friends. What's important to one couple simply may not be important to another couple.

In short, the author might not be superficial for caring about his appearance, but I'd say he's a more than a bit immature for expecting the rest of the world to conform to his standards.

From Janet

Twelve years ago, I met a guy who was gorgeous, the kind of guy women stare at. We started dating. Early on in the relationship, I overheard him tell a friend, "You know, I'd marry Janet if she'd lose 30 pounds." I was crushed. I'd struggled all my life with my weight, and I thought I was doing pretty well. I exercised, I watched what I ate, and I liked what I saw in the mirror. Maybe I wasn't gorgeous, but I turned my share of heads too. But I vowed to do better. I stepped up the aerobics classes, cut down even further on the calories, and managed to drop another 5 pounds or so.

We moved in together. A month or so before Valentine's Day, he told me he'd buy me a leather dress if I'd lose fifteen more pounds. I agonized. I never did do it, but it wasn't for lack of trying. For the next three or four years, I was always concerned with what the scale told me, and what Carl told me. I listened to him ask whether, if I did lose the weight he wanted me to lose, my breasts would stay the same size. I listened to him wonder aloud how I'd look if I dyed by hair blond. I didn't dye my hair, but I did do a lot for him. I bought the clothes I thought he'd like; I kept my hair longer than I preferred. Mostly, I dieted.

Damn, I looked beautiful back then. I know; I still have the pictures. But I never felt beautiful. I felt fat.

We got engaged. I wondered how much weight I could lose before the wedding. Carl subscribed to the Playboy Channel and watched much younger, much thinner women with blond hair and implants. I felt less attractive than ever.

Then I met Michael. Michael was not gorgeous in any classical sense. But he had a grin and a sparkle in his eye that attracted women, especially this woman. And he was attracted to me as well. I could see it in his eyes. (All I ever saw in Carl's eyes was what was wrong with me.) Michael flirted with me. And I flirted back.

I didn't leave Carl for Michael. But knowing that someone else found me beautiful certainly helped me do what I should have done ages before.

Early on with Michael, when I stopped by one time after my visit to the gym, he said, "Don't lose any more weight, you're getting too skinny." I was smitten.

So now, it's almost six years later, and Michael and I are still together. We've both gained a few (well, more than a few) pounds. But so what? I still look at him and see the grin and the twinkle in his eye. He still looks at me and tells me I'm beautiful.

I'm sure people who knew me in my days with Carl would look at me today and think I've let myself go. But they're wrong - the only thing I've let go of is a neurotic obsession with trying to be something I'm not.

The supporters...

From Biffy the BS Slayer

Well, sure ... physical appearance is important in as far as it reflects your pride in yourself.

It becomes superficial when it is the locus of your self-esteem, and how you judge others.

And it's not as simple as that, I know. I'm about to meet a woman next week with whom I've connected online. Yes, I want to look "my best". But more than that, I want to reflect the person she's seen and developed an affinity for in our correspondence.

If I can achieve that, and the "physical appearance" thang works for both of us (an intangible that for me has little to do with accepted norms of "attractiveness" -- and which I hope is reciprocated) -- AND she's who I'M seeing in HER words ...

... And if the sparks DON'T fly, but we do have a human connection ...

There IS such a thing as friendship, y'know.

And that ain't bad.

From Geoffrey

Physical appearance is always important. Not the absolute level achieved, but the level of effort in the attempt.

It should be more natural to make the effort while in a relationship than while single. After all, isn't it a better motivator to make your lover happy than to impress a stranger?

The standards of appearance may change while in a relationship, since you now know exactly who you are trying to please. Yes, your lover will love you no matter what you look like, but shouldn't he/she have the closest possible thing to nirvana that you can provide?

From Philsrobot

In this world appearance is my chief consideration in selecting significant others. With each day that I age I am confirmed that hygiene, dress, physique, car and hair are utterly superficial, and yet necessary. A significant other with similar interests can offer nothing more than a buddy can; while one who is attractive can stir the heart to foolish heights. Such stupefying reactions to significant others is what makes love so special.

From Erica

Physical appearance is very important in a relationship. Before my husband and I got married, we dated for 3 years. He would get his hair cut every 2 weeks. He was always so sexy to me. About 2 months after the wedding, he just stopped getting his hair cut. He began growing dreadlocks. Not the Eric Benet dreadlocks, but the nasty looking ones. I have been attempting to deal with this for the past 5 years. I often tell him that had he began this transformation prior to the wedding, we would not be married today. It should have been my choice to have to be seen around town with this guy with the "nasty hair". I am not against dreadlocks. I am in the process of starting mine, but I would prefer him to start over and get them properly twisted. Looks aren't everything, but it's not fair when someone makes such a drastic change in appearance AFTER the wedding!

From Noelle

Appearances have an equal significance in both new and lasting relationships. If we were to break a new relationship into working parts, the first stage (1st. 3 months approx.) is devoted to impressing our new partner into wanting to stay with us long-term. This is where superficiality usually plays its largest role. In order to "get to know each other," we put on our best clothes, we wear our best scents, we wash and style our hair for every encounter, we keep our makeup on when we go to bed with him, and we freshen our breath before the morning kiss. While the second stage (3-6 months approx.) is geared towards letting our guard down and relaxing into our true self in front of our partner, we should, by the third stage (3-8 months approx.), have taken off our impressive masks to see what's really behind them. The starting point, in essence, is a good way to find out whether our relationships are based on more than just good looks and sex appeal.

Maintaining our appearance once we've committed, however, is essential in keeping the proverbial flame going. It's not an issue of vanity or superficiality at this point. It's about validation. Sure, we all desire to feel comfortable enough to let our hair down and be ourselves (or perhaps even comfy enough to have a conversation while one of us is sitting on the john). But we also want to be shown how much we're loved. No matter how well we communicate, our actions say way more. If we cease to impress at least once in a while, we may find our partners wondering what they've done for us to lose interest. Worse yet, our partners may be inclined to develop a sudden case of Wandering Eye Syndrome!

From Mignon

My boyfriend and I are in a long-term relationship. We have been together for five years and have three children. Recently, he told me that I am not as attractive now as I was at the beginning of the relationship. He also said that I do not take as much time to take care of my physical appearance as I once did. I'm baffled. When we go out to social events I present myself in an appealing manner. While at home I make myself comfortable in something that would not be ruined by the kids. Although I know that men need constant visual stimulation, it's kind of hard for me maintain the house, work outside the home, take care of three children, run his business and still be BEAUTIFUL!

The logical side of me realizes that for any relationship to work compromises must be made and we both would have to work out something mutually beneficial. To keep the home fires burning at home, we made a deal...I agreed to wear my comfy clothes sans baby puke but had to keep my hair nicely combed. His trade-off was to attend the gym three times a week to get rid of his pot-gut that was a complete turn off for me.

In any relationship, appearances are part of the visual stimulation that keeps us all going. For men more than women, it's of absolute importance. Women, I know it takes more than a little effort (not all of us are born beautiful) to present ourselves in an appealing manner to our mates, but trust me, it's worth it!

...and the last word...?

From Vance

There is a vast gulf of sucking psychic quicksand between what matters and what does not. Stuck down in the pits of these faltering footsteps reside the basics of the decisions we make regarding how something looks to us.

It is, after all, when we follow our thinking far enough back into our thought processes, we are taken down into the lizard brains of our medulla. Down there in the dark of our interior outback is where we make most of our snap judgments, right or wrong. From there we are driven by ancient forces we would rather deny, but cannot. and it is there where our brain instinctively decides, not who or what to take to dinner, but rather, who or what IS dinner.

And that, my friends, is how we decide whether or not we like the cut of one's jib. In other words - "My, my, doesn't he look absolutely delicious!"

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