03 Oct 2013

Female Beauty

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Carla Bruni

Adelle Waldman, in the New Yorker, suspiciously contemplates the power of female beauty in attracting male admiration and attention.

I have a friend who dates only exceptionally attractive women. These women aren’t trophy-wife types—they are comparable to him in age, education level, and professional status. They are just really, notably good looking, standouts even in the kind of urban milieu where regular workouts and healthy eating are commonplace and an abundance of disposable income to spend on facials, waxing, straightening, and coloring keeps the average level of female attractiveness unusually high.

My friend is sensitive and intelligent and, in almost every particular, unlike the stereotypical sexist, T & A-obsessed meathead. For years, I assumed that it was just his good fortune that the women he felt an emotional connection with all happened to be so damn hot. Over time, however, I came to realize that my friend, nice as he is, prizes extreme beauty above all the other desiderata that one might seek in a partner.

I have another friend who broke up with a woman because her body, though fit, was the wrong type for him. While he liked her personality, he felt that he’d never be sufficiently attracted to her, and that it was better to end things sooner rather than later.

Some people would say these men are fatally shallow. Others would say they are realistic about their own needs, and that there is no use beating oneself up about one’s preferences: some things cannot be changed. Those in the first camp would probably say that my friends are outliers—uniquely immature men to be avoided. Many in the second camp argue that, in fact, all men would be like the man who dates only beautiful women, if only they enjoyed his ability to snare such knockouts. In my experience, people on both sides are emphatic, and treat their position as if it is obvious and incontrovertible.

To me, these stories highlight the intense and often guilty relationship that many men have with female beauty, a subject with profound repercussions for both men and women. …

It isn’t, however, the case that men value beauty only from insecurity. If only. Then we could simply write off men who evaluate women by their looks as scheming social climbers. But the human response to beauty is also visceral.

Her credentials as a critical thinker, though, were undermined for me by her observations, unfavorably comparing the protagonist of Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road, Frank Wheeler’s rating as a ladies’ man with Papa Hemngway’s:

Frank’s relationship to April’s beauty is hardly heroic, though he aspires to meet a Hemingway-esque ideal of masculinity (he’s always clenching his jaw to look more commanding). We imagine that someone like Hemingway winds up with beautiful women as a matter of course—we don’t picture him working at it consciously, wondering whether this one’s hair is too frizzy or her hips too wide for her to be a suitable complement to the image he seeks to project. It is one of the many strengths of “Revolutionary Road” that Yates so thoroughly sees through his characters’ pretensions.

It would be pretty to think so, but Hemingway’s real record, judging by his marriages, was not impressive. Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, was young and only on that basis was a bit more than averagely attractive.

His second wife, Pauline Pfeifer, did not capture Ernest Hemingway with her beauty. Pauline bought Hemingway’s heart with family money, allowing him to go to Africa on Safari and live life in the grand International style. Pauline was decidedly plain.

Third wife, Martha Gellhorn, was doubtless a step up in the looks department from Pauline, but Martha had a rather mannish figure, and was frigid and a shrill bolshevik to boot. No wonder that marriage only lasted slightly over four years.

Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary Welsh was even less attractive than Pauline. Accounts of their life together indicate that they fought like cats and dogs, but she could stand up to him and did seem to function successfully at least in serving as his keeper as Hemingway’s alcoholism worsened and his health problems increased.

6 Feedbacks on "Female Beauty"


I believe that beauty is a very fast instinctual response. It’s a very inspiring response. From our basic motivations to live and survive to our need for experiences of awe and pleasure, and a sense of aspiration of what might be perfect in the world. Beauty draws us in.

We CAN’T STOP looking or listening or touching or thinking about the beautiful. And it takes us outside of ourselves and it motivates us.


Seems like the old liberal/feminist double standard. A man who is attracted only to “beautiful” women is immature and to be avoided… but a man who is attracted to another man must be protected. Burn the former for caving to their preferences, they are evil and sexist. As for the latter, taste is innate and biological and above reproach.

And as for “feminine beauty” I’m not sure it has anything to do with men at all. I think the majority of it is done by women, for women, and what men like is mostly irrelevant.


I didn’t notice who the authour of the story was but while reading it thought it was so far off base it had to be a woman. I find it interesting that liking even lusting after T&A is somehow shallow but lusting after a pretty face is “sensitive and intelligent”. I truely believe that the problem women have with a man’s interest in T&A is that the women feel insecure in that area. All women, mothers, sisters, girlfriends, ex’s, etc. want to choose a man’s wife for them. After all we men are shallow and can’t take our eyes off the T&A and ignore a woman’s inner beauty don’tcha know. In my humble opinion whenever any woman offers her advice to a man about who they should date or marry it is exactly the same thing as when the Democrats tell the Republicans what they need to do to get elected. It is pure unadulterated BS and usually the exact opposite of good advice. My advice to all the younger men I have known (I’m 70, too late for me to take my own advice) is to marry the woman you fall in love with. It really doesn’t matter if it’s her T&A you love or her face, her cooking or her bedroom technique. If a man loves a woman he should go for it and not look back. Will it work out? I mean in the traditional sense that someday you celebrate your 50th anniversery with her? Who knows and who can know. Long marriages are usualy about two people willng to stick it out no matter what. Love is very different. It may last a year or ten years. It may be tumultuous or serene. It may all go bad one day. But it will still be better then marrying somene you like and who your mother thinks is right for you.

Maggie's Farm

Saturday morning links…

Image via Theo Europe’s Proposed Circumcision Ban What I’m reading: The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World Thanks for sending it, pal Sorry Ladies, You Can’t Even Begin To Have It Al…


Come, come… Hemingway wrote to Max Perkins that much of the hostility to the depiction of women in his novels was based on, essentially, the unattractiveness of the critics themselves. “They cannot believe such girls exist.”

Hemingway was an alpha-plus male genius without even trying, and he played around when he was married. So mentioning only his wives begs the question.

And, in a personal aside, anybody who mentions Richard Yates and Ernest Hemingway in the same breathe is no critic at all.


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