Monday, November 2, 2015

The Good, the Beautiful, and the Ugly: Parity Across Countries

Or, why I'm with a man who doesn't look like no movie star.

It's surprising to some people here, when we're introduced and it comes out that we're a married couple. Cue the Japanese exclamation of surprise: heeeeh?!?! When we were first dating, it was the same. One good friend thought it was all a big joke for several weeks! 

I realize there are three assumptions at work: 1) of parity, that is a dating couple will have similar levels of attractiveness 2) that I was gorgeous 3) that my guy was not gorgeous.

Of course, these assumptions are not true all the time and in all places. But the idea of parity I think has some truth in it in the way it's an out-working of our self image and self-esteem. Perhaps people who throughout their lives have received little looks-based attention are less likely to require looks in a partner? We are realists: all through our awkward ugly teenage and young adult years of never being called beautiful except by family members we were given the cold comfort that "it's what's on the inside that counts." After a while, one realizes it's true. Not just in a platitudinal way or to make oneself feel better, but true.

Some might disagree with me, but (now please don't comment "but you're so pretty!!1!" I am gorgeous, beautiful, I know. I'm not fishing for those kind of comments): I was not one of the "pretty people" so I don't exactly know how it is for someone who has grown up being photogenic, admired, and beautiful. Just anecdotally, they seem to take longer to find good partners. Maybe because they didn't get the "it's the inside that counts" education so often, so they wait out for someone who shares the way their looks influence their social life. Or maybe since they are like a candle glowing they have a lot of bothersome moths to sort through. But anyway, parity I think has to do with how you see yourself rather than how beautiful you are objectively (if there can even be an objective scale for beauty). 

So are my husband and I at opposing ends of a beauty scale? Or have we achieved parity? 

In Japan at least, most people wouldn't put us together. You have to remember that in Japan, thin white girls are seen as automatically gorgeous. All you need is a "small" face and big eyes and a pointy nose. You don't even need good fashion or the perfect bubbly personality. It's funny to see the Western celebrities Japanese choose to pay attention to. As popular as they are in the U.S., Beyoncé rarely comes up in the media here and no one knows who Kim Kardashian is. Taylor Swift and Emma Watson, however, have a substantial following. A big butt, boobs, and an even bigger personality are actually not attractive here. They are just "fat" and "scary"--it makes me chuckle to remember those words from a student who saw a video of Kim! You would be correct in guessing that "bubbly" personalities aren't ideal here. Such people are called "high-tension" and are handled rather gingerly by others around them, because you know, they might explode or turn inside out at any given moment. So, oddly enough, having neither a bubbly nether end nor personality, I found myself fitting the mold as a pretty person in Japan. Mostly. This post goes more into how I fail at that. 

But it hasn't really sunk in, because growing up I was not a pretty person. I was the typical badly-dressed awkward homeschooler who had little interest in or knowledge of makeup and hair styling. Heck, I wore buttoned-all-the-way-up collared shirts and sweater vests in community college. In 2008. I finally discovered makeup in college and tried it maybe once or twice. I finally ditched the button-down shirts (now rediscovering them and loving how classy they can be) but I never seemed to have jeans that fit and I plucked my eyebrows into tadpoles. Mmhmm. I must say I don't think it was because I was homeschooled. My just-as-homeschooled younger siblings started paying attention to fashion sooner than I did and were better at it. I think I just didn't have the knack for it.
I could have made up for this--yes, even tadpole eyebrows--with the Great Personality. But by typical American standards I again seemed to fall short. I didn't need people, or conversation, and it showed. I had a few close friends, and I was content with them. I wasn't very interested in the others I came across day by day. In other words, I did a lot of sitting quietly by myself. In America, that's ok to do in your room but not in public. Such behavior is weird or sad and definitely not pretty, but I didn't really care. See this diagram of what I was doing with my Saturday nights in college vs. what a pretty girl's Saturday should look like: 


There were times I had no cellphone or laptop but one good friend always knew which computer lab to find me in on weekend nights when she wanted to invite me to events and be social (thanks dear you know who you are!) 

I never thought of myself as or was treated as a Pretty Person, until I came to Japan. And then it didn't really change me, because my identity as non-pretty had been established long beforehand. So there I am, in Japanese eyes looking as flawless as Taylor Swift and with a Japan-approved reserved personality, dating my now husband. Only everyone seemed to think that someone who looks on par with T ought to date someone with the same Hollywood looks. "Normal-faced Japanese guy" didn't fit the bill. So we became a "surprising" mismatched couple. But only to those with that kind of typical beauty standard. To me, my husband's face/bod is my favorite in the whole world. And that's all that really matters.

It is very funny to look at the #amwf (Asian Male, White Female)tag on instagram...Yuya chuckles and says most of the girls are gorgeous but the guys are just "average" by Japanese standards--nary an ikemen to be found. We white girls look for different things in our men than the Japanese girls do, I guess.

Does that mean I initially dated my husband because I had a low estimation of myself? I don't think so...just to me we seemed to be a good match and a good match now was better than a gorgeous match who knows when. And he was bold and made plans but didn't let his man-pride ruin things. Besides, I was a foreigner to both American and Japanese beauty standards and was just operating on my own.

So no, I do not find us mismatched at all and it's actually kind of hurtful when people act surprised that we're together. After all, it's what's on the inside that counts. When someone makes a comment that suggests our outsides don't match, all that does is shows that person's insides aren't very attractive. Best beauty advice: don't pluck and primp all over your face and forget your heart, the source of it all.

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