This week, I fell in love with a Guardian columnist. No, actually, not Julie Burchill. Martin Robbins. His porn panic column was a great first date, but the clincher was this column on FHM and the ‘mainstream’ view of female attractiveness. Or rather, what we’re told men find attractive in women.
(A little side-note. This post is about what men find attractive in women. I think it’s a topic worth discussing. So complaining that the topic is ‘what men find attractive in women’ will largely be a waste of time for all of us, okay? Also, yes, this post will be remarkably heterocentric. I see it, it’s okay.)
My new darling’s point was basically this:
Nobody I’ve ever seen really looks like Cheryl Cole, and that includes Cheryl Cole. Yet almost everybody in FHM’s list looks a bit like Cheryl Cole, with only minor variations allowed in age, breast size, body shape or even skin colour: it seems Beyonce marks the acceptable limit of darkness for black people.
here’s an experiment you can try at home: go to any porn site that ranks its most popular clips, and have a look at the top 100 clips that people actually pay for – the range of outfits, body types, situations, ages and skin colours far exceeds anything you’ll find in FHM’s list. When it comes to what people find sexy, there’s a truth in porn considerably purer than the sterile, manufactured consent of glossy magazines.
Basically: what the media (in the broad sense) present to us as the range of attractive women bears absolutely no relation to what actual men find attractive. (Martin doesn’t seem to have considered that around a third of that porn is actually downloaded by women, but that’s okay. We can sort it over dinner.) And this disconnect is intensely damaging to both men and women.
It’s damaging to men because if the kind of women who turn him on physically aren’t of the accepted mainstream type, he may see his desires as aberrant and sick, or conceal them so he isn’t mocked by his peers. Who wants to be branded a “chubby chaser”?
And it’s obviously damaging to women because many (not all, this is not universal) feel pressure to try to conform to the outlines of that ‘attractive woman’. They will use up acres of time and money and potential happiness doing things to their bodies that men, generally, never even fucking notice.
So yes, I think it is well worth taking the time to point out that this Universally Attractive Woman is a lie. Men, being different, like different things. Also, during any man’s lifetime, the fashion in what’s supposedly attractive in women is going to change. His taste in women is not going to change to suit. I was at my ideal boinking age in the 90s, when heroin chic was in. None of the men I knew suddenly starting finding protruding hip-bones a real turn-on.
And that’s one of the two great tools I had for understanding that ‘more conventionally attractive’ didn’t mean ‘more attractive’. For a start, there was my bi-ness. When you find women sexually attractive, it helps you understand the breadth of female attractiveness. Yeah, I have a type, but I’ve fancied and crushed and loved outside that type many times. Why? Because of a lot of the things Girl on the Net talks about in this post: confidence, intelligence, humour, presentation.
The most important thing, though, that kept me from buying into the myths about What Men Want was having lots of male friends. Seriously, I cannot recommend this highly enough. Have a variety of men that you’re close enough to to talk about attraction, about sex, about what they like and want, and what they don’t. Eventually the realisation you come to is that men are, and I cannot emphasise this enough, no fucking different from women.
That was part of what gave me the confidence to weather the fashion for skinny over-plucked eyebrows. Now suddenly the fashion has changed. Heavy, strong brows are just obviously the sexiest. Just like they weren’t last year. My actual sexual attractiveness hasn’t changed at all.
With the exception of symmetry, which seems to have a sound biological basis, every indicator of attractiveness is simply a matter of fashion. Tall, short, plump, slim, tan, pale, hair, no hair: they’ve all been the height of “conventionally attractive” at some point. And it’s all bullshit.
When I was talking about our sex-pos utopia, I said we needed to change the way we thought about masculinity, and male sexuality. This is part of that. The myths about straight male sexuality aren’t even consistent. Either men are total horndogs who want all the sex all the time, or they’re so incredibly picky they’ll only fuck you if you’re really attractive. They can’t be both. We need more straight men talking openly and honestly about sex.
Me, I like women (and men) with really sexy brains. And I’m not the only one.