Relationships: Body and Self Image for Men and Women Part Two

This topic to be expanded upon by popular request…and because one post is just not enough.

In addition, this is partly a rebuttal to this post that my friend DP linked on his Facebook. He did not write this article, simply was interested in our responses to it. I suspect this post will get both long-winded and tangential. Brace yourselves.

If you haven’t yet read the article (which is very thoughtful and completely worth reading), I’ll summarize my takeaway. This is not the same as his intended message, necessarily. From my perspective, the author holds that men–I would argue, “adults”–feel as though it is impossible for anyone to want them, and so they have an inherent need to be needed in all of their relationships, because that’s all society has left for them. They must be the heroes, the ones opening the jars and fixing the broken light bulbs and bringing home the best bacon, because otherwise why would a woman even think about being with them?

Now, I think it’s important to note that in our culture, self worth is very much based on what adults do with themselves. There’s this blindingly infuriating observation that women can’t both work and have families, or they are doing both a disservice. And then this guy complains that women need to need men or the men don’t know what to do with themselves. While his tone isn’t remotely aggressive, all I can hear is “So if you women don’t need us, we justify brutalizing feminist theory, blaming you for the bad economy, and generally teaching you that without us you couldn’t survive.” All I can think is that if women had forced young men in the past few centuries under 20 to marry them in order to be provided for, we’d struggle to find those 20ish year olds loving us too.

And I hear people complaining that no one needs them while I’m at work at my high-paying systems engineering job for that company everyone wants to work for. My observations after years of career employment tell me that the best way to progress, to have job satisfaction, to accomplish things of significance, is to be socially conscious. To be capable of learning new skills and to be willing to each others new skills. Forbes has something to say on the topic. However, I find a pervasive mentality–often generational, but not always–that hoarding knowledge and being the “only one” capable of doing a particular task or handling a project will provide job security for the individual involved. This is typically not a drive for excellence, but for others to rely on them. In other words, they feel that being constantly needed will provide security–this is where relationships reflect into the workplace, and both are an extension of self image. This is not strictly limited to men, though I work with more men and thus have more experience with that attitude in men.

This was my initial response to this article, for DP’s benefit (and to catch you all up):

 Since I am a lesbian and the breadwinner, I kinda feel both sides of the bite here. I feel that this “needed not wanted” concept also ties into the fact that our culture celebrates and popularizes the extroverted person, whether male or female. Quieter, gentler people are not appreciated (regardless of gender, except in 50s media: Source I have better somewhere…). It’s the same irony that makes men afraid of non-macho sports or exercise (like yoga, for example).

Men span the spectrum of introvert to extrovert just as widely as women do, but because many “dream jobs” (such as major league sports, for example) require a certain level of aggressive behavior, the introversion/introspection is not-so-casually beat out of many younger boys. Case in point, men in even minor league sports make WAY more than women in sports, and so except for olympic and scholarship purposes, sports just aren’t as much of a focus in girls’ rearing (source: ). Boys are more likely to be encouraged to fill rolls when they grow up that will require them to be outgoing as they grow up. The result? Emotional squelching for the 3 out of 4 boys (or girls in similar situations) who naturally fall into a personally style other than Driver. Out of self defense they may seek out situations where others will appreciate this false front they’ve put on for themselves, and so continue to perpetuate the same need to be needed. It’s also a bit of a loan shark idea, because if you’re the only one who can do it, no one really sticks around after the job is done… I’m not completely sure of this, but I suspect it’s because from a teenagerish age those 3 out of 4 personality styles are all afraid that having close social ties will reveal that they “aren’t really” The Hulk with Bruce Banner’s intelligence and Tony Stark’s money…

I see this more in the older generations of guys (35+) as well as certain butchy dykes, and it interestingly coincides with an obsession with the idea that if you are the only one who can do the job, you have job security. But job and company environments are becoming much more social, and becoming more about whether you can share the knowledge and teach other people what you know, rather than being the only one who can do what you do. Relationships are also evolving into this concept-responsibility-life-sharing that isn’t clearcut and role defined. That means that the caveman needs to evolve. Younger generations are starting to “get” this as more kids are being raised by single moms, or two moms, or dad instead of mom so that gender roles are blurred for them. But men still can’t cross-dress or vacuum or let their wives do the books because it reveals a weakness in their facade. Women, on the other hand, have this wonderfully horrible line where we can cross-dress and work “men’s jobs” (for less pay*) and be with women because we’re trying to move up to that higher standard of extrovert. As long as we don’t raise our voices.**

And don’t get me started about emotions in the workplace.

* I have made more than most of my male coworkers for the last 8 years.
** It’s usually women who tell me to keep my voice down. Grrrrrrr.

Moving on to the rest of my commentary here in this post:

Now fast forward to the part of his article where he says that beautiful women hear it all the time, but beautiful men may never know they are beautiful. This somewhat hilarious conversation between various regular people about “why not” is a good example of preconceived notions. One woman notes that she is afraid the man will take it as an invitation to have sex. I laugh so I won’t cry. But since women are being told they are beautiful all the time, why does this pretentious jerk think telling women they are beautiful is enough to earn him the right to kiss them? And why does society think rape victims are to blame if they are pretty?

So now we get down to the real meat of the problem on both sides of this argument. People–especially adults–define themselves, by and large, by stereotypes set for themselves by their society. In the case of Western culture, it’s primarily by their career–or lack thereof. When you meet a random stranger in the store or the park, they are most likely to ask “What do you do?” because it’s a safe question. No one can really feel like a question about career is too personal. And yet, it defines much of what we feel about ourselves.
And why is that? Is it because our body image and self esteem have already been thoroughly trashed by media and other social influences before we ever reach the adulthood that would define our career? Is it because we observe on some level that physical beauty is not an absolute requirement for success?
I mean, look at this guy:

If he can be ragingly wealthy and successful by dressing well even though he’s ugly, so can the average computer nerd with more achne than panache.

Now, some of this problem comes from pre-conceived notions of attractiveness and the masculine/feminine. So here’s a little exercise. Look at this image below:


Now look at this one:


Can you tell me which faces of the six in the first image and 5 in the second are female? Which faces are male? Leave a comment with your guess. It’s more ambiguous than you think.

So if facial features are not masculine or feminine by nature (especially in children), what makes us define ourselves that way? Simply put, we are identified by others based on what we wear and how we cut our hair. That is why parents obsess with dressing their boys in blue and their girls in pink–a stereotype that is ironically only a somewhat modern occurrence.  The well-meaning parent wants to make sure their child is not confused for someone of the opposite gender. In doing so, they cement in the foundation for body image woes.

In the adult, part of our problem with self image could well stem from some silly but simple issues of angle. For example, I’m short waisted. That means that my torso is short in proportion to my long legs. If I look down at how I am dressed–rather than looking at a properly angled upright mirror–I will feel extra short and can see more of my hips than anything else. I am by no means overweight, but that doesn’t keep me from feeling like my hips and feet are all anyone can see of me. By contrast, if I look in a correctly positioned mirror and I’m not wearing baggy clothes, I can see that my long legs belie my short height (I am 5’4″). In addition, a mirror that is tilted slightly upward will make individuals seem taller, particularly in the torso, when they admire themselves in it. One tilted slightly downward will make the individual seem shorter. If the mirror is above their natural line of sight they may feel wider when they see their reflection. Wide mirrors versus narrow ones can also be a problem.

Another issue I observe is the thought that people notice blemishes. Aside from the fact that most people are too busy worrying about themselves to notice you, the average person doesn’t have sensitive enough sight to notice blackheads across your nose–unless they are up close and personal. What you can see three inches from a mirror is much different than what an observant passerby can see from several feet away. Be kind to your skin. I recently met a woman in a grocery store, and she suggested that the “Black Beauty” scar I have on my forehead (the remainder of chicken pox when I was 7) should be covered up by makeup. I just laughed it off and didn’t bother to tell her that I don’t wear makeup. In the last 20 years less than ten people have noticed or remarked on my scar.

I am going to confront some conversations about clothing and dress (especially for the masculine) in a series on dressing and accessorizing in more “masculine” style for various body types. That will likely be a 4-part series and will start next Monday, so stay tuned.

I warned you all that this would be tangential, and it certainly is. I am not saying that “everyone is beautiful in their own way, so we should not celebrate beauty.” Certainly not. What I am saying is that people need to learn to define their attractiveness outside of their job or the impossible standards imposed upon them by a society who does not need to acknowledge any one person as an individual. What that means for adults struggling to be needed is a new hobby. If your friends and your loved ones don’t want you, re-examine whether you are someone who should be wanted. If you don’t find desirable qualities within yourself, it’s time to pick up Darren Hardy’s “The Compound Effect” and get to work on yourself. In the book he talks about keeping a journal of who he wants to be. Get to work. Get a lined notebook and start writing. What kind of friends do you want to have? What kind of job do you want to enjoy? Where do you want to live? What do you want to do for fun? You should have pages of material, and you should write it in present tense as a story you are telling about your dream life–as though you already have those things.
Now start writing about the kind of person you would need to be in order to have those things. Would you be talkative? Beautiful? Talented? Would you work every day for twelve hours or would you just get up early so you can finish early? What would be necessary to have those things?

Now get to work. Being needed requires fostering dependency in the people around you–but being wanted is your responsibility. Being desired requires you put in the effort to be desirable. You don’t get As by not enrolling in college–you don’t get good jobs by not applying for them. Go forth and be awesome!

Now, what does all of this have to do with sexuality? Well, take George R R Martin’scharacter, Daenerys. She was sold into a slave marriage for her brother’s ambition and regained her power by taking control, something she could only do when an unlikely friend informed her that embracing her own future and her sexuality was the only way to earn the respect of her now-partner, Drogo. By turning the tables on him and eliminating her need for him, she also earned his respect and love. He, like many other symbols of masculinity, was unwilling to admit his need for something gentler and less masculine than violence and conquering. I’m not condoning the sex-for-favors relationship they seem to develop, but she certainly overcame her struggling self image to become a powerful female character in every sense of the word.



9 thoughts on “Relationships: Body and Self Image for Men and Women Part Two

  1. alanbly says:

    A very strong second piece, perhaps not as raw as the first, but insightful and well-reasoned. Also: M M M F M M then M F M F F

  2. BtA says:

    I’m guessing MMMFMM and MFMMF – though the last one is really iffy. Babies are always a total guess of course, so I might also put the second one as MFMPotatoF. Going to be fun to find out that last row is really MMMFM… ^_^

  3. Thanks for sticking up for us guys who never had and never will have the assertive, take charge, mentality.

  4. BtA says:

    You know, I’ve been mulling this over and I think my bottom line is that the real problem is we expect everything including ourselves to be perfect. We must be all things to all people, we must be wanted, even adored, we must be capable, beautiful and rich. I’m going to put this at the door of the modern marketing machine which constantly tells all of us that you can be all of those things if you just work a little harder, if you just spend a little more money, if you lie more effectively. This is just a facet of the marketing machine which hits both men and women and I think it’s interesting that men are perceiving the wedge end of the demoralizing message we’ve been discussing for decades.

  5. noahbrand says:

    I know this comment is several months late, but I was going through links to some of my writing and I came across your piece. I’m the author of the article you’re replying to here, and I appreciate your, as you put it, partial rebuttal.

    I don’t totally agree with all your points, but that’s fine. You don’t totally agree with all my points, but you acknowledge the validity of where they’re coming from and engage with them in an admirably thorough and adult manner. Like most folks online, probably including yourself, I’ve gotten enough boneheaded hatemail and trolling that seeing someone engage with my writing in a thoughtful, constructive manner is really refreshing.

    You do make some very strong points about some of the weaknesses in my own piece, and I’ll be mulling those over, in case (horror of horrors!) I’m in the wrong on some of them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s