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The Deceptive Nature of Appearances

Posted by libhom Friday, November 13, 2009

Biases based on appearance are something I hadn't given much deep thought to until recently. Two things sparked it. I heard Susan Boyle sing for the first time not long ago. We usually are marketed at in a way which suggest that singers have to be beautiful, sexy, fashionable, or rebellious in the way they look. None of that has jack to do with singing ability, yet I have to admit to being surprised at how great of a singer she is. Now, I wish she could be sent back in a time machine to do vocals for Heaven 17 or Culture Club. The results would have been absolutely amazing.

Morrisey singing looking really hotThe second thing that sparked this line of thought was an unconscious bias I had about men. I knew that I always have found big sideburns on men to be very sexy. There was no revelation there. But, after meeting this guy who had nice sideburns and was gorgeous in lots of other ways, I started realizing that I had other completely silly associations with long sideburns that I wasn't even aware of. For some reason, I have had this unconscious belief system where men with big sideburns are more intelligent, cooler, more fun, appreciate the arts more, and lead more interesting lives. Now that I examine this, I can't help but think, WTF? I can't help but think that part of this is a reaction to Morrissey and other musicians with long sideburns, but I'm sure it goes deeper than that. Sideburns are definitely part of why I think James Callis is cute, though there are a lot of things about him that are hot.

(Note to the Mos Reading This: The sideburns reference is completely literal. It is not a euphemism for penis size.)

I wonder how much of evaluating people based on their appearance is innate and how much of it is the result of marketing techniques. I'm not just talking about good looks vs bad looks. We get bombarded with messages saying that certain clothes and styles will make us more like this, that, and the other thing.

Social justice activists often talk of unconscious racism, sexism, and heterosexism. When you think about your own appearance based perceptions that are politically and socially neutral to the larger culture, it helps make it obvious that such activist claims are not just smoke and mirrors.

Photo: Brocco Lee


  1. dmarks Says:
  2. I wonder if Isaac Asimov was a great singer.

  3. Anonymous Says:
  4. Hey there--you're so right about this. Now that I'm "Rev. Riverwolf," I conducted one wedding last month and found myself quite uncomfortable with some of the wedding guests. I knew the bride but that was it. Because of how everyone was dressed, I unconsciously began to make judgments, much to my disappointment. Not proud of it.

    Years ago, I was much more "vanilla" than I am today, yet I had a woman reveal to me that she had judged me simply because I wore lots of T-shirts. Hell, I was just being comfortable and didn't realize that I was conveying some crazy message to her. Of course, it was her own baggage, but it did open my eyes to how easy it is to pass judgment based on appearances.

    And yes, *most* men with long sidebars ARE cooler and hotter! (And I can't even grow them, dammit!)

  5. Christopher Says:
  6. What and who we find attractive is sometimes just a preference. There is no underlying racism, sexism, and heterosexism.

    Even Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

    I find blue collar male's bodies hotter than a gym bunny's body. Does it mean I have internalized societal homophobia since a lot of gay men go to the gym? No, it means I prefer blue collar male's bodies.

    Attraction is a joyous mystery and nothing I want to overthink or over analyze.

  7. TomCat Says:
  8. I would think that a lot of it is socialized. I find curvy women like a Marylyn Monroe or a Sophia Loren, the kind that were popular when I entered puberty, more attractive that the more muscular and athletic look in vogue today.

  9. Unknown Says:
  10. One of the things I love about the internet is that someone's physical appearance has nothing to do with my opinion of them. Most folks that I admire or downright love I have never seen a picture of.

  11. Christopher Says:
  12. Sophia Loren is one of the most beautiful women I've seen in film or in life.

    She looks like no one else in movies.

    At 73, she's still magnificent and is starring in the new film version of Nine.

    There's a funny story about when Sophia Loren met Barbra Streisand at an event. Sophia told Barbra, "I wish I could sing like you." To which Streisand replied, "If I looked like you I would never open my mouth."

  13. Kim Says:
  14. I definitely come down on the side of nurture vs. nature - If our parents raised us on "don't go out of the house looking like that", won't we sort of start to look and see who was let out of the house looking like what? Whether we want to or not?

    If I stopped for just one day and dissected my reactions to anyone new I met, just stop and think a few times when it happened, I'm not sure I'd find the source but I'm sure it would help me negate it a bit. Which is kind of what you did there with the sideburns.

    Which, incidentally, are hot, confirmed.



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