“How Do I Look?”

Humans tend to be discriminatory in terms of gender, age, race and appearance, which includes physical stature. We belong to a very superficial, looksist society, I’m sorry to say. This is another way in which we differ from the animal kingdom. Animals don’t have any appearance prejudice towards their fellow creatures or humans, and we don’t judge them like we do each other. Even if they do, they can’t do anything about it. Since animals can’t help the way they look, we accept them just as they are, but we are not so lenient with our own human counterparts. If we don’t like the way we look, we have ways and means to change it.

Everybody seems to be regarded and treated according to their outward appearance. And of course, objectively speaking, beauty always predominates over unattractiveness.  Good-looking people get special breaks and privileges in life just because they are good-looking, as if one’s looks determine their character and abilities.  “Mr. Smith, your wife is very beautiful.” “Yeah, it’s too bad that she is an empty-headed, no-talent, domineering, ball-breaking harpy, though.”  Woman (and men too, in some cases) who never have been told that they are beautiful might go through life with very low self-esteem and a sense of worthlessness.  It seems that perceived beauty is the hallmark of human acceptance.  If one is regarded as beautiful, it excuses all their shortcomings and foibles.

People’s looks and outward appearances influence our judgment, our trust and treatment of them. But what is so unfair about that is, who decides what is pleasing to the eye or not? Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Nobody should have the right, or power, to establish the standards of human attractiveness, because their opinion will always be biased and prejudicial. Everybody wants to be white, everybody wants to be thin, everybody wants to be tall, everybody wants to be youthful-looking. Well, everybody doesn’t want to be those things, even if they are or could be.

Plus, some assume that everybody prefers only those particular traits in people. The human race is made up of every conceivable physical type, and there is someone somewhere who is attracted to every physical type.  Short, fat, old, deformed and/or ugly people have relationships just like tall, slender, young, physically-fit and/or good-looking people do. They even marry and have children. Please realize that any adjectives I use to describe people and things are completely objective and are not meant to be judgmental.  I don’t know what is universally beautiful or ugly and you don’t either.  I only know what is preferable or pleasing to me.

Supposed beauty is aided by the unnatural body application known as makeup. But why is it okay, even expected, for women to wear cosmetics but not for men?  Gay punk rocker Boy George gave Joan Rivers something to think about when he was on her TV show years ago.  She asked him (I’m sure she was just trying to throw shade), “So George, why do you wear makeup?”  Without missing a beat, he looked right at her and replied, “Why do you wear it?”  I thought, Good for him!  Although George’s rebuttal was meant to be more rhetorical, it’s still a very good question.  Why do women traditionally wear makeup? And of course, like everything else involving the sexes, there is a double standard at work.

Did you ever think about the fact that human facial beauty is judged differently for men and women? A man is considered handsome and attractive on his own merit.  He doesn’t wear makeup, as a rule.  He doesn’t even have to shave if he doesn’t want to.  But from early adolescence, young women start applying cosmetics to their face, and most are never seen in public without it for the rest of their lives. Why is that? I suppose it’s because they want to look the best they can at all times, and cosmetics certainly makes them look better, even if it is artificial. Whenever I hear someone comment, “That sure is a beautiful woman,” I often think, Yeah, but what does she look like without all that gunk on her face?  And if she were really all that beautiful, as you say, she shouldn’t need it.  Most men look better with makeup on, too, but we seem to get by without it (discounting performers and drag queens).  What, don’t we men care about looking our best, too?

Humans are so vain. We are so concerned with our looks because everybody else is concerned with our looks.  It is no accident that a woman’s dressing table is called a vanity.  So masculine beauty is judged in its natural state while feminine beauty is determined by how good a makeup job or hairdo or facelift or rhinoplasty the woman does on herself. Does that mean then that men are naturally more beautiful than women are? I wonder how many of these “beauty” pageant contestants would qualify if they all competed with no makeup? In actuality, that’s false advertising. When a woman does choose to go without makeup, she’s deemed to be “plain” or “homely.”  And when a man wears it as a regular occurrence, like the aforementioned Boy George, he is also subject to criticism and effeminate implications.  So then, why aren’t men who don’t wear makeup considered plain?  See the double standard?

In our society there is a weight bias that influences people’s behavior and their self-image.  Thin is beautiful, fat is ugly.  “You can never be too rich or too thin.”  It’s ridiculous platitudes like those that cause some people, young women, especially, to become victims of self-imposed eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa and bulimia, because of their neurotic fear of gaining weight.  These poor, misguided people sacrifice their health and would even rather die than have the world perceive them as overweight.  It has been conjectured that if Karen Carpenter had eaten the sandwich that Cass Elliott choked on, they’d both probably be alive today!

Nasal-voiced actor Fran Drescher did a commercial for Three Musketeers candy bars, in which she makes this rather un-PC comment: “Everybody asks me how I stay so thin.  When you sound like this, you better look good!”  So Fran is equating looking good with being thin, as if saying that if one is not as thin as she is, they couldn’t possibly look good.  There is also an imposed correlation between youth and beauty, and like love and marriage, “you can’t have one without the other.”  Only young people are beautiful, and everyone loses their beauty when they reach a certain age.  Two women approach a portal together, and the younger one says, “Age before beauty,” as if the two were mutually exclusive.  I know many good-looking people over the age of fifty—and they ain’t all white, either!—and I know some very unattractive young adults and children as well.

Another aspect of our personal appearance that subjects us to more discrimination is our height.  There have been studies and tests conducted which have concluded that there is a definite bias with regard to how tall or short a person is. And there is a double standard in this case, too. It is socially preferable for men to be “tall,” that is, at least 5′ 9″, which is the designated standard average height for men. Now that just shows that everything is relative, because we all determine other people’s shortness or tallness by our own height.  I consider 5′ 9″ to be short because I am 5′ 11″ myself (I used to be 6-feet, but I seem to be shrinking with age), and there are many men shorter than that, of course, but there are also many men much taller than that, so I consider mine to be the average, middle height.

Your taller men are considered strong and masterful and are held in high esteem, looked-up-to, so to speak, while “short” men are considered weak and unassuming and are usually overlooked, even ignored, and disrespected.  Little guys tend to be bullied and picked on by the bigger guys, and most women almost exclusively prefer a taller man to a short one. Did you know that short men are discriminated against in employment, in hiring practices and in salaries, too?  They will be the last to be hired, the first to get fired, and they get paid less than their taller co-workers.

Women, on the other hand, being the “weaker and inferior sex,” are supposed to be short, so a woman who is over 5′ 9″ is considered a physical abnormality, subject to pity and derision.  The dilemma that these people set up for themselves is that men don’t want women taller than they are, even if they happen to be short, and women don’t cater to short men, although they themselves may be taller than “normal.” I think that it’s utterly absurd to judge a person or treat them a certain way because of their height, something over which we have no control.  But then, I think that all appearance prejudice is stupid and unfair.

My size and appearance, for instance, are regarded in different ways by people.  Some find me formidable because I am “big and black.”  I’ve told people that I’ve never been attacked or mugged or anything like that on the street, and they will tell me, “Well, you’re so big and black, nobody’s going to mess with you!”  I suppose in one respect I should be grateful that that is how I am regarded, because it indeed keeps people from messing with me.  I mean, I can go anywhere I want to, even into your so-called “rough neighborhoods,” and I never worry about being accosted or mugged, because it has never happened.  But it’s their reason to which I take offense, for it seems that I am feared merely because I am big and black, therefore, some kind of ogre up to no good.  Never mind that I am absolutely non-violent and would not lay a hand on anybody, my size and color serve as a deterrent to prospective aggressors but incites fear in the meek and helpless.

Why is physical stature often equated with brute strength and/or criminal intent?  The gorilla, for example, is one of the gentlest creatures there is, but they were always depicted and portrayed in the movies as fearful, murdering beasts.  Well, actually, movie gorillas are usually actors wearing gorilla suits, so they can do what the director tells them to, things that a real gorilla would not be inclined to do.  And you must already know how black men are regarded in this society, but that’s a whole other issue.

People and animals are not responsible for their corporal size, in most cases.  Our brains don’t tell us that if you are a big person, then you must be a trouble-making brute who throws your weight around, and if you are small in stature, then you have to behave demurely and weakly defenseless. But then again, some people that I encounter look beyond the “big and black” persona and can somehow discern that I am a kind and loving person with no malice aforethought.  Children, especially, readily take to me.  They seem to be able to see past one’s outer façade and into their true nature.

The media are the worst culprits for presenting arbitrary, specialized images to the general public, with regard to fashion, personal grooming and physique.  Television and magazine ads tell us how to look and how to dress.  And if we don’t look and dress the way they tell us that we should, then we must be prepared to suffer the consequences of harsh judgment, ridicule, persecution and discrimination.  I suppose that Joan Rivers, in one of her standup routines, got her comeuppance when she made this sarcastic remark about Boy George. “That’s just what England needs—another queen who doesn’t know how to dress!”

I think that too much is made of clothing and dress—”Clothes make the man,” and all that rot. The phrase is inappropriately sexist, too, since generally speaking, it’s women who are more concerned about what everybody and themselves are wearing than men are. You will hear a woman utter the query, “How do I look?” more often than a man will.  The question also suggests insecurity, as if they are asking for reassurance and approval.  I never ask that.  I can see what I look like by consulting a mirror, and I don’t require anybody’s approval or want their opinion.  I dress for myself, not others.

It’s the women who get most of the attention at weddings, balls and other social functions.  At all of the televised awards shows, everyone’s attention is always on what all the women are wearing, whereas the men get hardly any recognition at all. Fashion and costume designers direct their ideas more to women than men. But fashion trends and emphasis on dress are such a superficial convention.  I have concluded that one of the reasons that we wear clothes, other than for reasons of modesty, is so that we will have something else by which to judge and assess each other. If we all ran around naked, we’d have only each other’s bodies to talk about. With clothes, we have a whole other aspect to work with. The material used, style, how much we paid for our garments, even the frequency with which we wear our clothes, come under close public scrutiny and criticism. “You know, Mabel, I just love that outfit that you wear so often.  I never get tired of seeing it!”

People are constantly being judged by what they wear, but what should it matter? We are all naked underneath our clothes, after all. Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, what a person wears is no indication of their character or inner being.  But you know that a man wearing a suit and tie is generally afforded more respect and recognition than one wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt.  Anybody can put on a suit, even Adolf Hitler, but how does that make them a better person? I am one who likes to dress for comfort rather than formality.  I usually don’t mind dressing up for special occasions, where the particular job or event requires it, but if I am allowed to wear whatever I want to, I will do just that.

I once had to read a colleague of mine, who is considerably younger than I am, but thought that his own particular style of dress and fashion sense were the paragon for all to follow and would frequently criticize other people’s clothing choices. “Who would wear something like that?! … Cliff, I hate that shirt that you have on.  It’s polyester, isn’t it? … You know, those two shades of green that she has on just don’t match!” His judgmental snobbery finally got to me one day and I asked him, ‘Jimmy, who died and appointed you the fucking Fashion Laureate of the World?!  I don’t care if you don’t like what I or anybody else is wearing.  Why do you think that your opinion is so all-important?  Look, somebody went to a lot of time and trouble and work to design that particular garment, and it is being bought and worn, so somebody must like it, even if you don’t.  If it is not to your taste or liking, then it is not to your liking.  You don’t have to badmouth it or turn your nose up at it.  I wouldn’t wear half of that shit that you wear either, but I certainly don’t have the right to tell you not to.  We all are of different generations and cultures, so why would I, or want to, dress just like you?’  He never berated my clothing again, at least not to my face.  And for the record, by the way, I happen to like polyester.  It’s easy to maintain and it feels comfortable.  So, fuck you, Jimmy!

That goes the same for those self-proclaimed fashion critics, like Mr. Blackwell and Steven Cojocaru, even Tim Gunn (from “Project Runway”), who have taken it upon themselves to express the dos and don’ts of what celebrities choose to wear in public.  But that’s just their own opinions.  The outfits that they hate, others may like and conversely not care for the ones that these guys consider to be all that.  What right do they have to tell people how they should dress or consider what they have on to be wrong or in poor taste?  I don’t think that Tina Fey thought at the time, “I’m going to get the ugliest dress I can find to wear to the Golden Globes, so that I can make Cojo’s Worst-Dressed List.“  She probably thought that she was looking fabulous. I don’t care what anyone wears. It’s entirely their business.  I may not like a particular garment, but I’m certainly not going to tell the person that they should not be wearing it.

Although ironing clothes is not my favorite activity, I didn’t mind it so much when on tour with The Flirtations I had to iron my costume shirts (some were silk) before our shows. But I don’t like to iron at home, due to lack of proper space and convenience, so most of my wardrobe is Wash ‘n’ Wear or “wrinkle-free.”  But sometimes a favorite dress shirt of mine will come back from the laundry a little wrinkled, or from hanging in the closet, and some time ago I decided, why does this shirt have to be neatly-pressed for me to wear it in public?  Don’t judge me harshly.  It’s clean and it’s serving its function.  So what if it’s wrinkled?  I could start my own fashion trend like others do all the time—you know, “The Wrinkled Look.”

Who really determines what is proper attire and guides the fashion trends? I think that we do that ourselves or are greatly influenced by the movies and television.  The common folk like to adopt the look and image of their favorite stars, and the fashion designers are forever all too willing to comply with our wishes.  I’ll bet if Brad Pitt or some other big name made a public appearance with a wrinkled shirt on, you wouldn’t mind at all, and it would probably start a trend.  “Well, he’s Brad Pitt.  He can do anything he wants.”  Well, I’m Cliff Townsend.  Shouldn’t I have the same rights as that Brad guy?

At some time in our history just about anything and everything has passed as acceptable fashion fare.  Just look at what has been deemed in the past as haute couture.  We have seen bustles, hoop skirts, fan collars, zoot suits, jump suits, tie-dyed and see-through garments, platform shoes and high-heel sneakers, very thin neckties and very wide ones, suit jackets with patches on the sleeves and worn with just a T-shirt, hot pants and miniskirts, raggedy, torn blue jeans with actual holes everywhere, overalls worn backwards and baggy trousers worn several sizes too big and below the waist.  I think that all those things look a lot stranger than a shirt that’s only slightly wrinkled.

I suppose that we humans’ need for conformity is what perpetuates these fashion trends, strange as some of them may be.  We tend to behave as lemmings, just going along with what the majority, or even not, is doing.  I, for one, pride myself on my individuality.  I purposely avoid conformity.  I don’t feel a need to “keep up with the Joneses,” as it were.  I would rather try to bring them down to my level instead!  I am one who does not follow the changing fads and trends of the day.  “Oh, that’s out-of-style now.“  Who says?  I don’t let any of those self-appointed assessors tell me what’s in or out at the moment.  Some people will hold on to a favorite garment of theirs, hoping that it will “come back someday.”  Come back from where?  If I’m wearing it, then it’s already back! I don’t need anybody’s pronouncement or permission.

This brings me now to the concept of “cross-dressing” or “drag” (aka transvestism). First of all, what is it exactly? As we are all born bare, clothing is merely a covering for our bodies.  What primeval sexists took it upon themselves to assign specific gender to articles of clothing and decided what was to be “men’s clothing” and “women’s clothing”?  Why does it even need gender distinction, since it all serves the same purpose?  Now I suppose a brassiere would be considered a woman’s garment, but then again, there are men who may require to wear one as well.  No article of clothing is exclusive to only one gender.  So then, the question remains, what is drag?  A “drag queen” is identified by their outfit, makeup, hairdo and jewelry.  The way I see it, since it’s all unnatural superfluity anyway, anything that we don can be considered drag.  Both men and women wear makeup and jewelry in varying degrees.  Both genders wear hairpieces.  A toupee is a type of wig, so it’s merely a matter of hairstyle, isn’t it?

What exactly is a dress? Women certainly are not the only people who wear them.  The Roman toga was a sort of dress, worn by men.  The kilt is a skirt, worn by men.  Kaftans, robes and ecclesiastical vestments are kinds of dresses, worn by men.  As the name itself implies, when one is dressed, they more than likely are wearing some type of dress.  It’s that old double standard again!  Women can wear pants, shirts, suits, caps, athletic socks and shoes (traditional “men’s attire”) on a regular basis, and no one thinks anything about it.  But if a man puts on lace panties, a girdle, a blouse, skirt and high heels, then he’s going “in drag.”  I don’t see a difference.  It’s all just a matter of vestmental choice and style, isn’t it?  Some women say that they feel more comfortable in pants, so maybe some men feel more comfortable wearing a dress.  What’s the big deal?  Why should people be so bothered by other people’s personal fashion preferences?

Hair growth, too, is a natural bodily function that men and women handle differently.  Hair grows on every part of the human body except the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.  It’s a hormonal factor that determines how much hair grows on the body and where.  Whereas with men, hair on any part of their bodies is expected and accepted, and they almost always have the option to remove it or to retain it without societal harsh judgment.  If a man wants to keep his moustache, beard, hairy arms, back or even pate, it’s okay, it’s a matter of personal preference.  But “Society” dictates that a woman cannot do anything that she wants with her bodily hair.  Hers should be found only on the top of her head and nowhere else.  Women with hair growth on their faces (other than eyebrows) are looked upon as oddities.  “The Bearded Lady” is a sideshow freak.  Nobody would make a big deal out of “The Hairless Man” or even the other extreme, “The Hirsute Man.”

Who decided for all humanity which aspect of hair growth is unnatural? Why are women expected to shave their legs and armpits when men are not? Because to retain the hair on those places is considered masculine. And a man who shaves his legs and plucks his eyebrows is considered feminine.  Even the length of the hair on people’s heads takes on sexist connotations.  Long hair is feminine while short hair is masculine.  A man with long hair may “look just like a girl,” while a woman sporting a crewcut looks real butch and is probably a sapphist.  A despicable woman who is hated by her peers will tell you, “Yes, I know that I am such a bitch, but I have such fabulous hair, don’t I?”

Even hair color is subject to standardization, whereas only certain colors are socially-acceptable.  Who says that the hair on people’s heads should be restricted to only the natural colors of black, yellow, gray, white or various shades of brown?  Since our clothing comes in all colors and hues, as well as body applications like makeup, tattoos and nail polish, I think that people should be allowed to dye their hair any color they want to without harsh judgment attached to it.  A mother, whose natural hair color is black, decides to dye her hair blonde but criticizes her teenage daughter when she comes home from the beauty parlor with purple hair.  “Lisa, I forbid you to leave your hair that appalling color!” “But Mother, you dyed your hair yellow.  I just happen to prefer purple.”  The girl has a point.  Shouldn’t hair-dyeing decisions be guided by one’s own personal color preferences?  Then, too, it’s only a matter of shades.  So-called “red” hair, for instance, is not really red but some degree of orange or brown.  Really red hair, like the color of a valentine, is deemed just as strange as blue or green.  Even orange itself comes in varying tones, from dull to bright.

And then some consider that even the so-called normal hair colors should be reserved for certain people.  Now white people can wear their hair in any of the natural colors, mentioned above, that they choose. But blacks and other People-of-Color as blond(e)s or redheads are sometimes regarded as odd and strange. Why is that? Commercial hair dyes are in the public domain, to be used by anybody who wants them. Certain eye colors seem to be reserved for certain people, too. Are only white people allowed to have blue and green eyes, for example? (“Can you really dye my eyes to match my gown?”)

There definitely is a gross contradiction of attitude about hair. There are those who don’t want it on parts of their body and obsess about getting rid of it. But then there are others who don’t have it on certain parts of their body (especially on their head) and obsess about getting it back! I have come to wonder of late how this widespread condition of peladophobia (fear of becoming bald) among men came about.  Why are a great number of men so apprehensive about losing their hair?  Hair loss is as common an ailment as dandruff or failing eyesight.  Not everybody in the world gets it, but it’s certainly not anything to be ashamed of.  Men go to great lengths and expense to save their receding hairline. Why? I blame the advertising media for brainwashing the public into thinking that baldness is unattractive and/or associated with aging.

Even so, it’s more okay for men to be bald than women. A woman who loses her hair is to be pitied, or if she deliberately cuts it all off, is deemed to be strange. When will people come to the realization that hair is a useless commodity anyway. It really serves no necessary purpose. They who have become bald or shave their head on a regular basis seem to get along very well without it. So why even have it at all? Have you ever noticed that the common modern screen depiction of extraterrestrials is shown to be these hairless beings, and whether this rendering is based on fact or mere conjecture, it would suggest to me that in their more highly-evolved state—after all, they have figured out how to get to our planet when we have yet to visit theirs—these creatures have realized the uselessness of body hair. Their ears don’t protrude out the side of their head either, which suggests that with their excellent eyesight they don’t need anything on which to support eyeglasses, as we do. It makes no sense to me to obsess, stress oneself over and spend all that money to maintain something—that is, hair—that serves no useful function whatsoever.

[Related articles: Age Is Just a Number; Gender Issues and Sexism]

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