(Alert: this post is pretty ramble-y. I apologize.)
The first time I remember hearing the word “lookism,” I was in my advocacy training for the crisis line back in October. During our systems of oppression training, we brainstormed different systems (that’s what the suffix “ism” can mean- system): racism, feminism, classism, ableism, ageism, sexism, lookism (I would also throw in monogamism), etc. It’s taken me this long to talk about lookism, because I know I have benefited from it. (When talking to J about writing this post, I told him that I have taken so long to blog about it because admitting that you benefit from a system of oppression is gross. He said that he would have a hard time because it seems like backdoor bragging. So I just want to make it clear: I don’t think I am amazingly good-looking. But I do think that I am attractive enough to have benefited from lookism.)
I have reflected on lookism quite a bit with how it relates to my dating experiences, and how it relates to my experiences stripping. These reflections aren’t very coherent, but oh well.
I can’t help who I am attracted to, right? There are things outside of my control- cultural messages about attractiveness that have shaped my views since childbirth, pheromones, and perhaps even some universal ideas about skin, symmetry, youth, and fitness. I can help who I am respectful to. But doesn’t attraction on some level impact how I interact with someone? I think this is a hard one to wrestle with. When I go on a date with someone who is pretty attractive, versus when I meet someone who I find really attractive, what are those relationship trajectories like? Which relationship do I put more energy into? Do I pay equal attention to common interests?
And, while it is quite true that there are 70+ strip clubs here, and that many girls can experience stripping because of the number of clubs, there is still a hierarchy. I work with short women, tall women, really fit and muscular women, women with tummies and flabby butts, women with and without tattoos and piercings, women with large and medium and small tits with various firmness, women with pretty faces and women with average faces, women with full bushes and women with silky smooth pussies. But if you walk into one of the better-known clubs (read: clubs with “more attractive” girls) on a Friday night (because there is definitely an attractiveness hierarchy among clubs), I can almost guarantee you that you will not see the same diversity. Yes, there will still be a basic diversity in body shape and size, but the most (currently) prominent mainstream attractiveness standard will prevail: thin.
Fat stigma is a thing. Fatness is largely associated in our culture with ugliness and unattractiveness, not to mention with other characteristics like laziness.
But I think what I have been thinking about more so than basic thinness or fatness (or attractiveness of certain body parts like tits or legs or asses or backs) is the attractiveness of a face. How some of that is related to genetics- symmetry, bone structure, eye shape, mouth shape, etc. But some of it is also related to socioeconomic status- did you have braces if you needed them? Are you privileged enough to have regular dental care? Are you able to get haircuts that flatter your face shape? Did someone teach you how to use makeup, and can you afford it if you want it? Do you have vision care, and are you able to get the glasses or contacts that make you feel confident?
The thing I am most complimented on at work is my smile. And every time I think to myself: “Yep, braces for five years plus wearing a retainer consistently since I was 13. My parents were able to afford my orthodontia care and supported me in taking care of my teeth.” Not to mention the fact that I smile a lot, because people have been giving me positive feedback about my smile since I was 13. This is an interesting overlap between mental health and physical attractiveness (don’t people who look happy generally look more attractive? For me, people were telling me I had a nice smile, which made me feel good and positive, and I smiled more because I felt happy, and the cycle continued.)
I think there are a lot of (physically) attractive people, but I also think that to a large extent, socioeconomic status can determine whether not people are able to embody an attractiveness that awards them societal benefits. (Access to Rgular check-ups, healthy and nutritious food, adequate space and time for physical activity, dental care, vision care, mental health care, etc. are all impacted by SES.)
Should society award people benefits based purely on whether or not they are attractive? No; I think there are plenty of other reasons that people should deserve attention, jobs, friends, promotions, etc (like, I don’t know, good ideas and hard work and compassion and innovation). But will people be able to separate out attractiveness and attraction when interacting with others, to the extent that they can be more objective in their relationships? I honestly don’t know.
I am tacking this “ism” onto my list of privileged groups: white, upper middle class, graduate degree, attractive. That’s really a tough thing for me to write.