Hotness: Here’s a toast to the douchebags! Here’s a toast to the vain!
Last night, as I walking home in -9 without wind chill temperatures (Celsius) and foot upon feet of snow, I heard the most fantastic (ironic) thing. Granted, I was mad at the weather, and because my anger would be futile against snow and cold, I steered my aggression onto three darling little assholes.
Here is the conversation I overheard:
Guy 1: You know, dudes, I only have one problem.
Guy 2: Not enough pussy?
Guy 1: Yeah.
Guy 3: (With a hint of jealousy and maybe irony) Fuck you.
Guy 1: Nah, really, dudes, my only problem is that I fucking hate fat. Like I can’t stand it if a girl’s fat.
Guy 3: Fuck, dude, like who likes fat chicks?
Then, they turned onto Princess street (our main “drag”) and I had to turn a different way to go home. Needless to say, I wanted to hear more! But given only the brief bit of friendly banter I witnessed, I dedicate this to them:
There was something profound in what they were saying though. In the many conversations about gender and race we’ve had here and the once ground-breaking theory on intersectionality, what people fail to acknowledge – time and time again – is the power of attractiveness.
We talk about gender and publishing or race and publishing, but we just don’t talk about hotness, unless it’s a flippant kind of “what writer would you most like to fuck?” post, which has appeared, not without a degree of resentment or frustration, here on HTML. And yet, it’s impossible to separate the degree to which the attractiveness of a writer relates to his/her success.
Yes, this is a conversation about superficialities. But it is one that has relevance. With AWP around the corner, be honest: As an editor, if you met a hot writer you wanted to bed, wouldn’t you be more likely to read his/her writing with a kinder eye? (I’m not saying you’d publish, but you’d likely be more generous, no? Or maybe I’m the only superficial one. Hey, I can admit it.)
All of this ignores the inherent privilege that comes with being attractive. In my grad student/young professor milieu, the buzzword – almost to a fault – is positionality. Jesus, everyone wants to talk about the position they occupy, as a “white settler” (another hot buzzword here in Canada) or woman of color or whatever. People pay attention to their positionality. It changes the way they speak, depending on who their audience is. I don’t know. It’s like a hyper-political-correctness, a hyper-self-awareness, which is not to say racism/sexism/etc. does not exist. (Canadians are notoriously polite. Their politeness, in my opinion, obscures an obvious prejudice. In many ways, I would rather experience the blatant racism/sexism I’ve endured in places like Texas or Indiana than be greeted with a plastic smile hiding something far more sinister. Or, maybe Canadians are truly more enlightened than Americans, and because of my unwavering disaffection, I assume the worst about people.) We talk about positionality, eagerly, too eagerly maybe. We ignore attractiveness.
I mean, I get it. Attractiveness isn’t discussed in feminist academic writing or even here because it’s so “subjective.” Yes, obviously, we have a Western standard of beauty: “fair” skin, thin, etc. (All this ignores the “exotic.” Asian women, after all, is a stunning #11 on Stuff White People Like. I remember having a conversation with some writer – I can’t remember who – who said that all the male writers he knows living in Brooklyn have Asian girlfriends, except for the Asian male writers, who have white girlfriends.) Nonetheless, the subjectivity of who or what is deemed attractive shouldn’t detract from its obvious impact on our daily interactions with people. It is as much a form of discrimination or privilege – depending – as race, class, gender, able-bodiedness, weight, etc.
A brief detour: This past summer, I did research for a professor on Citizenship and Disability. I read a jarring article on fatness and disability by Nathan Kai-Cheong Chan and Allison Gillick based on a series of interviews. In each circumstance, the respondent – all morbidly obese by medical standards – made the argument that they were on the cusp of being fat enough to have a disability, but they were a few pounds shy. That is, if the respondent was 350 pounds, she’d say disability meant 360 pounds. What remains is the obvious truth that all these people who experience discrimination based on their weight, which is to say, they experience discrimination based on their attractiveness. This takes me back to the dear little undergrads gleefully talking about fat chicks, who certainly can’t come close to the obese line. Chances are, they were talking about girls who have a little belly, stress on the little.
But weight matters. Attractiveness matters. Size matters. I hate to admit this. I feel like I ought to be more enlightened than to care. I used to be a gender studies professor for gawd’s sake! But it does. When I visited my family for winter break, I got some new pants. They used a different sizing system, one I was unfamiliar with, and so, being vain, I looked it up on the internet. And I’m ashamed about how happy I was that they translated to a size zero, a size I haven’t been in a very long time. What should size matter? What should attractiveness matter? But, but, it does! It does!
I don’t know where I’m going with this. Mostly, I am disappointed with those boys last night, almost as much as I’m disappointed in myself for buying into a system that rewards attractiveness and thinness. If I can be a critical feminist and anti-racist, how can I simultaneously place so much value and weight (pun intended) in attractiveness and thinness?