Cheap Chic

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This Wilson Quarterly article, "Looks Do Matter," is annoying from the title (the presumption that "looks matter" is a contrarian argument rather than a painfully obvious one) to the overwrought conclusion (that if Americans would just stop being fat slobs, we'd be halfway to an egalitarian utopia). But this strikes me as spectacularly wrongheaded:

To a bizarre extent, looking good in America has become the province of an appearance aristocracy—an elect we revere for their seemingly unattainable endowment of good looks. Physical attractiveness has become too much associated with affluence and privilege for a country as democratically inclined as ours.

When all you have to do is not be obese to stand out in a crowd, when decent Prada knockoffs are dirt-cheap and getting cheaper, when you can remake your entire face on reality TV, it makes no sense to argue that good looks are "seemingly unattainable." People wouldn't be shelling out in record numbers for botox, drugstore mascara, South Beach Diet shakes, and cheap trendy clothing (all of which are becoming more, not less accessible) if that were even remotely true.

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  1. Alright Kerry, I was just about to max out my Banana Republic credit card, get some Botox treatments (and a nice facial) and do the Atkins diet. You have dissuaded me. After all, in a world where anyone can be beautiful, why bother?

    Truth: I didn’t want to do any of that stuff anyway.

  2. the comments section is a hoot. a beautiful, beautiful hoot.

  3. Sounds like this guy is confusing attractiveness with trendiness. It DOES take money to buy some of that overpriced designer stuff (especially the clothes that will be hopelessly out of style five months after you buy them), but I’ve never heard of a heterosexual man who looked at an attractive woman and said “Eeew. I don’t want to date her–she doesn’t wear Prada!”

  4. “When all you have to do is not be obese to stand out in a crowd, when decent Prada knockoffs are dirt-cheap and getting cheaper, when you can remake your entire face on reality TV, it makes no sense to argue that good looks are “seemingly unattainable.” People wouldn’t be shelling out in record numbers for botox, drugstore mascara, South Beach Diet shakes, and cheap trendy clothing (all of which are becoming more, not less accessible) if that were even remotely true.”

    I don’t know about the rest of the country, but people in DC do all of these “appearance gymnastics” and still look like cellutlite-ridden bags of ass. Pound for pound, this has got to be the ugliest city in America. If I were Anthony Williams, I’d go house to house handing out brown paper bags to cover everyone’s awful faces in an effort to push DC’s beautification. I GUARANTEE he’d be re-elected in a landslide.

    Sorry, but I grew up in Atlanta and moved to NYC after college. In both of those places, women have “nice breasts” and men “shower.” DC, much to my dismay, plays by its own rules.

  5. Not being obese is the new black.

  6. First of all, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that very few people are actually ugly. Sure, only a few are “beautiful”, but a truly ugly person is a rare sight to behold.

    Second, many of the people we consider to be most attractive are really only average or slightly above average. Their fame is really what vaults them into “elite” status. In a very real way, they become beautiful because they’re famous and not famous because they’re beautiful.

    Thirdly, if the point of the article is take care of yourself and don’t dress like a slob if you want people to take you seriously, then fine, thanks for the revelation. If he’s really trying to get at some deeper meaning, though, he misses the point.

  7. Ok, I was reading that article, but it just goes on for way too long. Dead horse, anyone?

    I love this: “The irony is that the more athletic gear we wear, from plum-colored velour track suits to high-tech sneakers, the less athletic we become.”

    It made me laugh, because I shun this kind of clothing for exactly that reason–if my waistband expands, I am in too much danger that my waistline will expand without my knowing it (and therefore preventing it!).

    Stretch is right on. Beauty is both subjective and rare. But, so is ugliness. The rest of us are a reasonably good-looking crowd.

  8. I just read the entire article, and rather than surrender to the urge to smash my forehead through my computer screen, I’ll wonder instead what the hell POINT he’s trying to make?

    He talks about studies which show that attractive people tend to be viewed more favorably than unattractive people. True. And then mentions that attractive people are likely to be paid more for the same job than unattractive people. Okay, so he’s saying it’s unfair that good looks lead to wealth, but then later on he complains that wealth is necessary to attain good looks.

    He also complains about the way gender distinctions in clothing aren’t as sharp as they used to be.

    And complains that people dress more casually than they used to.

    Then he complains that while people want to look better, the fact that most people eschew cosmetic surgery shows that while we want to look better, we’re not willing to pay the price. (Which means that I must be a shallow person–while I’d like my nose to be about an eighth of an inch smaller than it is, I’d rather live with it than shell out thousands of dollars and undergo surgery to shrink it. Foolish me!)

    Oh, and look at this guy’s picture–he’s not exactly the Adonis/Narcissus type himself.

  9. Thank you, Jennifer! You’ve all just saved me from wasting my time reading this tripe. It sounds eerily like the screeds that come out every so often complaining about how “our language has lost its class” or some such. [sigh]

  10. Daniel Akst: Bad haircut. Stupid glasses. Who the hell wears a black shirt with beige pants? Needs to lose weight. Bad posture. Also needs to either learn how to shave, or let his beard grow out. Looks like a chemical face peel wouldn’t hurt.

    If you want America to look better, start with your own fugly American ass, Danny boy.

  11. Jennifer, you are so much stronger than I.

  12. I’m also going to come out in favor of jeans. Provided they are the correct size for one’s body, and worn with a nice shirt that is also the correct size for one’s body, they look good. I would almost consider a pay cut if it meant I could wear them to work every day.

    Almost.

    But not really.

  13. One minor point: anyone who thinks DC is the home of the ugly should live in Boston for a while. I’ve done both, and person for person Boston is the ugliest city in America. New York has a very low median level of attractiveness, but you don’t notice because the number of highly attractive people in New York is so high.

    OK, that aside, the striking thing about the entire Botox / Atkins / Plastic Surgery / Hair Implants / Breast Implants culture, to me, is not that it produces beautiful people but that it produces hideous monsters. Literally, hideous monsters, of the sort that would inspire villagers to light torches and march on the castle. We have a lot of celebrities trying to hang on to celebrity when they really should give in and Garbo it, and this means we end up with people who once were beautiful who are now frightening-looking and/or repulsive. Somehow they remain celebrities, though. And that percolates down to “regular” people, who go out and pay for this stuff and somehow fail to notice all the people they pass on the street who immediately bend over to vomit uncontrollably.

    I wish the “looks alteration” industry could actually deliver – given the number of people who go in for that sort of thing, America would look like the LOGAN’S RUN world by now if that garbage could actually be made to work. But, at our current level of technology, apparently it can’t be made to work, so we get to live in a house of horrors instead.

  14. Although I think the article was rather pointless, I have to quibble with the assertion that “People wouldn’t be shelling out in record numbers for botox, drugstore mascara…if that were even remotely true”

    Just because people are shelling out this kind of money for these types of things doesn’t mean that it actually makes them more attractive. Everyone I personally know who has used Botox or overloads the mascara or has gotten their lips inflated or whatnot do not actually look more attractive despite how they THINK it makes them look. Most people that have done these things tend to look somewhat freakish or unnatural. So I don’t think that the fact that dupes are spending money looking for the fountain of youth implies that making yourself more attractive (at least in the purely physical sense) is more attainable than ever.

    And I do think that this point is correct:
    “Physical attractiveness has become too much associated with affluence and privilege for a country as democratically inclined as ours”

    I think there are a lot of “attractive” people who get away with a lot more than an “ugly” person would get away with in day to day life, and I have witnessed more attractive people getting better service/attention/treatment in many instances than unattractive people.

  15. Don’t be too impressed, April–in my own way I can be pretty vain. The main reason I won’t shrink my nose is because I still look good despite it. Hell, I even paid for college and grad school with the way I look. But I also knew all along that no matter how pretty you are, it’s only temporary. Why the hell does Akst think that America will be a better place if we all focus on traits that will only last twenty or thirty years, tops? Sure, enjoy being young and pretty while you are, but also spend time developing good points that aren’t guaranteed to vanish iin a decade or two.

    For that matter, why the hell does he think it’s a GOOD thing for people to be obsessed with beauty/youth at all costs? How will society be better if everybody over the age of 25 hates themselves for being over the age of 25? Getting older isn’t some sort of personal failure. I’d say it’s a damned sight better than the alternative.

    And I agree about the jeans–the right cut can look a lot better than any pair of business pants. I LOVE the fact that my job is casual dress. The right pair of jeans can give you a washboard stomach, whereas business pants only give you a washboard ass. Not good at all.

  16. If I were as handsome as Brad Pitt, I’d ruin people’s lives. Sure, it’d be nice if I could say, “Yes, I’m good-looking, but I’m still really nice and caring.” Well, fuck that. I’d use Hollywood starlets like Jennifer Anniston as nothing more than fluffers.

    The good news for the rest of us is that my face looks like it’s been smacked with a few snow shovels.

  17. “Washboard ass” — you funny, Jennifer. And what’s wrong with black + beige? Too ’90s-neutral?

  18. Poco–

    Go to the guy’s website and look at his outfit. You’ll see.

  19. Easy for YOU to poo-poo the unattainability of good looks, Howley.

  20. Heh, heh, Jennifer–we cross-posted and you misunderstood me. I am impressed with your strength for reading the whole article. 🙂

  21. April–

    Oh. I thought you were impressed by my strength in resisting cosmetic surgery. That’s not strength, though–that’s a combination of laziness and cheapness.

  22. I see a day when we’ll be judged by the attractiveness of our thoughts and not by the color of our blush powder nor firmness of our butts.

  23. Martin–

    Even when that day arrives, Daniel Akst will STILL be in the “ugly” file.

  24. Who the hell wears a black shirt with beige pants?

    Not me, anymore….

  25. Well, Number 6, when I asked that question I wasn’t thinking of YOU. You have the sort of body that can make ANYTHING look good. Wear burlap! Wear chartreuse! It’s only folks like Dannyboy who need to make an effort.

  26. Suddenly, my self-esteem is restored. Actually, though, I do sometimes wear khaki pants and a black t-shirt. This is what happens when a man doesn’t have a woman around to dress him.

  27. A woman to undress you would be better.

  28. I hope that when passing fashion judgment on those around you, Jennifer, you recall that some of us are colorblind.

    And a not-too-small subset of those, of which I am a member, have spouses who pick out clownish clothes at our expense. 🙂

  29. I couldn’t agree more. Although, if I were were with a woman possessing fashion sense, I’d be afraid of finding the clothes incinerated come morning. As long as she leaves my jeans and t-shirts alone, I guess I could live with that.

  30. “Who the hell wears a black shirt with beige pants?”

    I just looked at myself. That would be me, today.

    So don’t look at me if you don’t like it. So there!

  31. Ok, maybe I don’t pay attention, but I think some of ya’ll are overestimating the size of the sizeable population. I don’t think that being non-obese is enough to make you stick out in a crowd. Yes, there are a lot of fat people waddling around, but not so many that normal or skinny people stand out. And I live in Houston, a renowned pudge metropolis.

    Stretch: spot on…lots of celebrities would not be looked at twice on the street if they were not famous. An article once referred to “women who women think are pretty, but men know are not” and used, by way of example, Sarah Jessica Parker.

    not that it produces beautiful people but that it produces hideous monsters.

    Three words. Helen. Gurley. Brown.

  32. Sorry to interrupt Jennifer’s and number 6’s flirting session, but I had to pop in to say that Phoenix has the best looking people per capita than anywhere inthe country. I have traveled a lot and have friends in most metropolitan areas, and the consensus is that Phoenix is hot in more ways than one (with that last phrase, I now sound like an People Magazine writer- sorry about that). Go to any mall in the city and stare your little eyeballs out at all the amazing women strutting about (or men if you are inclined that way or a woman or both or whatever). My guess- the best weather in the country for eight months of the year and a lot of places to hike.

  33. Rich Ard–

    I’m slightly colorblind myself. That’s why I stick to a dark-color wardrobe.

    Saves time on laundry day, too.

    April–

    I’ll avert my eyes. But so long as you don’t wear such outfits while posing for publicity photos attached to obnoxious articles you wrote criticizing other people’s lack of fashion sense, you’re okay.

    I mean, it’s like Bill Clinton writing an article about the importance of monogamy, and the publicity photo shows Monica blowing him.

  34. Swede–

    No matter how attractive folks in Phoenix may be, the fact that your city has Joe Arpaio means you STILL average out to be the ugliest city in America. No offense.

  35. Jennifer,

    No offense taken! Arpaio is ugly, there is no doubting that! also, let’s throw our governor, Janet Napolitano, into that ugly basket, shall we? She’s Janet Reno ugly. Maybe all the good looking people elect ugly people as a sort of karmic pay back for their good fortunes. Spread the wealth kind of thing, like giving change to a homeless guy.

  36. Are you saying that I’m ugly???

    [Runs off sobbing]

  37. Hey Jennifer: have you ever seen Go Fug Yourself? It’s a sort of fashion police site, with hilarious commentary on egregiously badly-dressed (or underdressed, or undressed) celebrities.

  38. Stubby–

    In a couple of hours I’m getting on a plane to fly down to DC. And if I throw up and get arrested for spewing bioweapons all over the cabin, I want you to know that it won’t be from airsickness, or stomach viruses, or the overbuttered popcorn I just finished eating–it will be due to YOUR link.

    If you have any sort of a conscience you will slink away in shame.

  39. Number 6,
    Are you in DC or on the way thereto?

  40. People in DC dress plain on purpose. In the private sector, you get extra points when you wear that power suit or that fashionable tie. Here everyone just thinks you are being ostentatious.
    I have been friends with some of the top stylists in this area including one guy who regularly did Al Gore and Clinton’s hair. He took some of time to dye my hair a particularly frightening shade of red gratis about ten years ago. He said he did it just because he was so sick of giving the Hill staffers their “Hill-bobs” ten times a day.

  41. It should be noted that, on average, Jennifer is never wearing more than $15 worth of clothing. She is the mistress of thrift, and still manages to look slammin’ most of the time.

    Celebrities have repeatedly proven that they are retarded. Thier clothes should not surprise us.

    And who do I have to blow to get capes back in fashion?

  42. Easy for YOU to poo-poo the unattainability of good looks, Howley.
    I second Unqualified Henley’s comments about Ms. Howley.

    The sliding standards of celebrity good looks (Paris Hilton, per Stretch’s 1:37PM) makes beauty (in general public opinion) more attainable for the average dope as the bar is low enough to trip over.

    Individual mileage will vary.

  43. Jennifer:

    Ah heck no – I have no shame. That site has never made me puke; it has made me blow liquid through my nose, so now I make sure I’m not drinking anything while I read it.

  44. Jeff,
    Me.

  45. No matter how attractive folks in Phoenix may be, the fact that your city has Joe Arpaio means you STILL average out to be the ugliest city in America. No offense.

    What’s the matter, baby, the sex change hormones not taking very well?

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