But we are Assailable

This post is for this month’s Carnival of Aces hosted by Queenie at Concept Awesome. This month’s topic is the unassailable asexual.

This is a myth of course. If you spend enough time looking around you will find people that will find a way to attack someone of an asexual identity on even the slimmest grounds, sometimes just outright irrational denial.

However the idea of the unassailable asexual does have appeal. On an individual level it works with our insecurities and desire to be accepted and not challenged over our identity. To present yourself asexuality in such a way that nobody can attack your identity. The obvious backlash to this is what if you don’t see yourself as unassailable, are you not asexual? Should you be doubting yourself?

This is an issue that extends into the asexual community and activism. The unassailable asexual ideal is to present asexuality as a legitimate identity that cannot be attacked. The Gold Star asexual is an excellent example of this; a person that has characteristics that make their asexuality, and thus asexuality in general, “impossible” to deny. Of course even gold star asexual’s are not unassailable. This desire to present asexuality this way though stems from those individual reasons though, an insecurity and need for acceptance.

However these the community and the individual create a clash between the two. The unassailable presentation that the community does can result in the omission or erasure as part of the cost. This can then reflect back on some individuals who don’t meet the presentation and increase their insecurities or feeling of discrimination. This can then help to fuel internal community conflict between asexuals. At its extreme this can result in conflict and misunderstanding between groups of asexuals with different experiences.

The consequences of these internals conflicts can result in pressure being applied to those doing activism and presenting asexuality to a wider audience. As they can become a target of this conflict, due to an error or failure to take a particular group into account. The bigger concern here can be that the desire to achieve this can scare off people making presentations for fear of making the error, or worse they won’t ask for feedback.

Many of these issues can be overcome by acknowledging and embracing the fact that we are assailable and that it is the differences within the community that make us assailable. By embracing this we can become unassailable as a community and individuals.

Sex Adversion and Stress Responses

This post is for the July Carnival of Aces being hosted at From Fandom to Family. This month’s topic is “Sex-Aversion and Sex-Repulsion”.

The first thing you may notice in the title is that I’ve used Sex Adversion. I consider this term more accurate to describe my reaction to sexual situations. Though repulsion would probably be usable as well. The main reason for this is I’m only tend to react when confronted by a sexual situation that is directly confronting. I have to be somehow connected with the situation for it to become an issue. (Though I have found there are times when it can be more general and not as direct but the reaction is much much weaker).

So how do this relate to the title and stress responses? These responses took hindsight to realise what they actually where as they weren’t what you would normally think of as stress responses. (I may also be completely wrong as I’m not an expert in this area but regardless they are similar). The stress responses are usually looked at as Flight and Fight however there is also Freeze. This one is normally forgotten but is probably the most confusing as it is hard to understand, a UK rape and sexual and abuse survivors site also has a page for it. The most confusing thing about the Freeze response is that it makes you feel really relaxed but can also leave a gap in memory. 

To put a more personal description I’m going to describe my first (and only) experience at a strip club. For context at this time I didn’t know about asexuality at the time (I would read about it a couple of weeks later) but was questioning my sexuality.

The first stage performance I had a friend convince me to sit in one of the chairs around the stage. He then moved a short distance away. When I realised this I panicked and he moved over to reassure me then moved away again. I relaxed realising I wasn’t going anywhere. This reaction though was an attempted Flight response but was unsuccessful and the reassurance alleviated any further attempt.

During the performance the stripper, now with nothing on, sprayed shaving foam on her cleavage and indicated for me to move up to the stage to remove it. I shook my head to indicate it wasn’t going to happen. The next thing I know my face is between her cleavage. I have no recall of the time (including at the immediate time) between me shaking her head and her coming down off the stage. I was also more relaxed afterwards, the threat had passed.

The stripper did apologise later, which was unexpected but didn’t help. It made me more confused. As I’m in a strip club questioning my if I’m gay now, a lap dance seemed like a good idea…

Thankfully I had very little cash on me so it was a short one. I basically found it an intellectual exercise in anatomy and discovering what a lap dance involved (in short: it just seems ridiculous and boring). I have no memory of it after the first about 30 seconds, once I’d gotten my bearings on the situation. I only consciously started processing again when the situation changed. I do remember walking out of the room was the most relaxed feeling I have had in a long time. This really left me confused.

Looking at these situations from a stress response perspective actually puts them in context as attempts to escape an uncomfortable situation. It also put a couple of other less confronting situations in perspective. I had the same mental blank out and relaxed response before the first time I made out with someone. I also dismissively responded to a question about who I liked without consciously processing the question first, despite have a crush (now considered a squish) on the person but they where in a sexual posture and a more powerful position (standing in front of me whilst I was sitting).

In all of these situations the reaction was not how I thought I would react which made me more confused about my identity. However once I realised these responses to the above situations, it made me realise I might be sex-repulsed and more pieces started falling into place. This could be considered one of the breakthroughs in how I identify myself.

I also consider my sex-adversion to be separate to my asexuality but at the same time partly linked. I’m confidant that I could get past it but it would take time and effort and would require somebody with patience and awareness to help. But at the same time I don’t see myself pursuing that path as, despite the curiosity, I don’t view it as worth it. It would also then require reassessing my identity, which I can already find enough to question as it currently stands.

Open Letter to Steve Price following Asexuality segment on The Project

Open Letter to Steve Price following Asexuality segment on The Project

A member of my meetup group who was interviewed for this segment but not included in the final cut has written an open letter to Steve Price addressing his (and other panellists) comments following the airing of the segment.

The segment can be watched here (link may not work for non-Australians)

—————————————-

Dear Steve Price,
I am writing this letter to respond to some of the comments you made regarding Asexuality on the segment on The Project last night.

I want to start by saying that I was initially going to be a part of the segment you so insensitively mocked but was cut from it due to timing constraints. Whilst initially being saddened about not getting to be a part of this wonderful piece of activism (yes, it truly was wonderful and I am thankful to those at The Project who did their part to spread awareness) I immediately felt relieved at being cut from the segment as it meant I avoided being the subject of those incredibly misinformed and harmful comments you made at the end of the segment.

I wish to, if you will allow me, address these comments and explain to you why they are alienating and harmful as well as not clearly founded in truth or logic and hopefully explain why it’s not okay to speak about someone’s sexual orientation in a way similar to how you did last night. So, here’s what you said and why that indicates misinformation and/or discrimination:

1) “Maybe they’re just doing it with the wrong people.”

I would firstly like to point out the implications of having a “right” or “wrong” sexual partner. If you are somehow trying to suggest that an individual not finding a sexual encounter pleasurable somehow makes their decision to have sex with their chosen partner “wrong” then I would implore you to stop placing value judgements on other people’s sex-lives and to instead let individuals engage in whatever sexual practices they are inclined (or not inclined) to pursue.

This aside, I would also like to point out to you the fact that orientation is not the same thing as behaviour. I could be a virgin and be asexual or I could be having great sex five times a day and still be asexual. The only defining factor in a person’s sexual orientation is who they are sexually attracted to. That’s it. Whether a person is having or enjoying sex is completely irrelevant to these matters of attraction and thus, assuming that Asexual people are simply engaging in non-pleasurable sexual encounters is clearly a misunderstanding on your part.

2) “Try a bit harder”

Firstly , I would like to address the ambiguity of this statement. It is possible that you are suggesting that people “try harder” to enjoy sex but as I mentioned above, one’s enjoyment of a certain behaviour is irrelevant to an individual’s orientation. Asexuality is not a dislike of sex. Asexuality is simply a lack of sexual attraction.

It is possible that you could have been suggesting that Asexual people should “try harder to be attracted to people” which I feel is quite a ridiculous sentiment. I say this because to me it seems clear that who a person is attracted to is not something that can be controlled no matter how hard one “tries”. Suggesting an asexual person “try a bit harder” to be sexually attracted to others is like telling any straight man to “try a bit harder” to be sexually attracted to another man. Fortunately or unfortunately, who a person is (or is not) attracted to is not the kind of thing that can be forced. It’s the kind of thing that just happens, whether in the way we want it to or not, which brings me to my next point.

If a person tries really hard for something they may never get, it is likely they will get very hurt in the process. Did you know that it’s actually quite common for an asexual person to feel broken prior to discovering that ASEXUALITY IS A LEGITIMATE SEXUAL ORIENTATION? Well the reason this happens is because people try (really hard) to be something they’re not and unfortunately fail; thus bringing feelings of inadequacy and defectiveness. Suggesting this to a person, such as someone who may have just discovered their own Asexuality through the segment that immediately preceded your intolerant comments, has the potential to cause great harm to people if they choose to believe in the idea that this is something they can change if they just “try really hard”. It wont happen. There is a reason conversion therapy doesn’t work. Who one is attracted to isn’t a choice, it’s a reaction.

3) “Spread your wings”

This statement implies one of two things. The first of which is that you are being facetious in an attempt to pull laughter from your fellow panellists and/or the studio audience. If this it is so, it is problematic for a number of reasons. Not only is it disrespectful to the incredible people in the segment who had the courage to speak out about such an incredibly personal part of their lives for the sake of helping others feel less alone, but it also is partially contemptuous of you to openly mock a minority on what is meant to be a news show just for laughs. If you did the same thing to gay people, ethnic people, disabled people, trans people…etc I’m certain that there would be a huge backlash against your remarks. Unfortunately, people seem to think that simply because a thing is less known, it is alright to mock it. It isn’t. It is invalidating and dehumanising and you are showing the world a bad example of how to discuss things such as this if this response was indeed the product of facetiousness.

The second thing I inferred from your instruction to “spread you wings” is that you believe that declaring ones Asexuality is a restriction of freedom. I would like to inform you that this is precisely the opposite; it is a claiming of ones freedom to define ones own sexuality, a defence of one’s right to have control over one’s sexual encounters and an understanding that one doesn’t have to follow the sexual “rules” laid down by society but that one can instead be true to oneself. I would say to you here what I would say to anyone who claims that Asexuality is the opposition of sexual freedom; it is far from so. Asexuality presents us with a new dialogue about how we as human beings deal with intimacy. It suggests more variations and more possibilities to how we express ourselves sexually and non-sexually and thus creates MORE freedom, not only for Asexual people but for everyone else as well. If being asexual means I choose to be celibate, this is me exercising my freedom to choose how I behave sexually. If Asexuality means I choose to have sex to make a partner happy, because it feels good or to sate my libido as opposed to because I’m sexually attracted to someone then that is ALSO me defining my own sexual behaviour. Asexuality gives me the freedom to do so and is far from restricting. No matter my decisions pertaining to my sex-life, if I am happy with them, my wings are already spread.

4) “Travel”

I myself think this is great advice to any human being and would personally love to see as much of the world as I possibly can. Unfortunately I have to inform you though, that geography can not define or change a person’s sexual orientation.

I feel as though your advice to travel links back into the idea that Asexuality is restrictive, that in being so that we cannot be open to experiencing what the world has to offer. I would say again that this is misinformed. I am not drawn towards eating brussel sprouts; the idea simply doesn’t appeal to me. I have nothing against others eating them and I am not dogmatically claiming that there will never be a point in my life when I will eat them – it simply isn’t something I am drawn to doing. I would say that my attitudes to introducing sex into my relationships with others is precisely the same; it’s simply not something I am drawn to. Whether I get curious as to what it would be like to have sex with a certain person, or what brussel sprouts taste like have no effect on my attitudes to experiencing the world and trying new things. I am all for that, I simply would prefer to do so on MY terms, not someone else’s.

5) “Have a romantic dinner”

If you actually paid any attention to the segment you were trashing last night, I need not tell you that many Asexual people are still willing to engage in and at times are looking for romantic relationships. The thing I feel I may need to explain to you is that sex does not need to be present in order for a relationship to be intimate, for individuals to be able to connect strongly on an interpersonal level. Love can exist in all kinds of non-sexual relationships. I can deeply love a family member without being sexually attracted to them. I can deeply love a friend without being sexually attracted to them. I can deeply love a pet without being sexually attracted to them and thus it goes to say that I can deeply love a romantic partner without being sexually attracted to them. No amount of romantic dinners could force me to add sexual attraction into that equation – no matter how much I love the other person. I will simply react to them how I am meant to and if that doesn’t involve sexual attraction, that’s absolutely fine.

7) “I find that ridiculous”

Do you want to know what I find ridiculous? The fact that someone could find pure honesty and people being true to themselves “ridiculous”. It isn’t ridiculous to accept all parts of you, even the parts that aren’t attracted to others, it is ridiculous to deny them, to expect them to change, to hide them and to fear them. By referring to a person’s understanding of who they are as “ridiculous”, you show the world that you are not ready to accept people for who they are, that you’d rather attempt to make them what you want. By calling Asexuality “ridiculous” you invalidate the lives of thousands of Australians and others internationally, you wrongly teach the world that sexual orientation is something to judge others for as opposed to something to realise about yourself and attitudes like that are harmful. By calling Asexuality ridiculous you taught me how far this country and the world still has to go in regards to accepting diversity and in celebrating our differences and unfortunately the thing that is truly ridiculous is the fact that a wonderful piece of activism such as presented on the Project last night could be turned into an opportunity for you to invalidate the existence of so many people. Being proud of who you are isn’t ridiculous, it’s incredible. It’s incredible that the Project decided to tell this story to the thousands of people who needed to hear it. It’s incredible that many have listened to this story and gone looking for other information. It is incredible that new people are finding the asexual community because of this segment on the Project and it is incredible that I was able to share my experience with the show’s producers and express my thoughts about the orientation and the community surrounding it. Unfortunately the thing that is truly ridiculous about this situation is the fact that I felt that I had to write this letter.

Thanks for taking the time to read this,

Adele (Masque)

Blogging Break

As may have been noticed I didn’t manage to find time to post anything for the Carnival of Aces last month despite hosting it. This is due to a lack of time and that I need to be relaxed enough to feel comfortable writing the posts. At the moment I’ve got a lot of catching up to do on uni subjects and have been struggling for motivation (I’m in my final semester after already having completed 5 years of a double degree), I’m also working two jobs which are eating into some of the free time. This has combined with my living circumstances and that have meant it has taken me a while to get to a relaxed state when I do have time and usually if I do reach that point I don’t have enough time to write anything before somebody comes home as I need the privacy to write in comfort. I’m not expecting that to change till the second half of this year so it is unlikely I will post much if anything at all.

However I am still doing some asexuality related things which I would rather focus on when I do have the time available. These include coordinating my local meetup group and taking part in a 101 workshop at a local university and assisting with another asexual related workshop at my university for Rad Sex and Consent week (next week). I’ve also just discovered that Queer Collaborations (an annual queer conference in Australia) is being held at my university so it is likely I’ll end up doing something related to that.

On the mention of Queer Collaborations, I’m planning the monthly meetup around it so if they’re are any Australians attending it, please get in contact with us.

In the mean time I’m considering starting another blog as an outlet for non-asexual related material, particularly related to tabletop gaming (I’m putting submissions into my gaming clubs newsletter), adding story to the game of Total War I’m currently playing through and some other things (like the poor understanding of Roman history by wargamers and LARPlarpers).

There’s plenty of material I want to write about so hopefully after this period I’ll finally get some time to work through it all.

March 2014 Carnival of Aces

This month’s Carnival of Aces was on the topic of Interacting with Others.

ace-muslim wrote about being caught between worlds

 

luvtheheaven wrote about I found myself squirming

Unfortunately I was unable to find the time to put together a submission myself.

The April Carnival is being hosted at From Family to Fandom on the topic of Analogies to an Asexual Experience.

The master post for the Carnival of Aces can be found here.

March Carnival of Aces: Call for Submissions

It is my honour this month to be hosting the Carnival of Aces.

Many aces find that they can view events in their lives very differently once they discover asexuality, personally I’ve found this also affects how I interact and perceive the interactions with other people around them.

So for this month I’m making the topic: Interactions with others

Some prompts:

  • Did you discovering asexuality change how you interact with people or how you view these interactions?
  • Do you interact with different people differently based on whether they know you are asexual or not?
  • Do you alter your behaviour depending on how accepting people may be of your asexuality?

Of course these are just a few ideas and there are many more things to write about.

Submissions may be in any form eg. written, video, comics, etc.

To submit you may post a link in the comments on this post, email me at victrixace@gmail.com or submit through my Tumblr (though I do not find Tumblr that easy to use so the first two options are preferred).

If want to make a submission and do not have anywhere to post it, send the article to my email above and I will publish it on here.

Happy blogging and I look forward to reading your submissions.

There’s no escaping it!

This post is for the February Carnival of Aces hosted by MaDwAtCh-mAdWaTcH on the topic of Valentines Day.

My first thought when seeing this topic is that it is very similar to last month’s topic of the Overemphais placed on Romantic/Sexual Relationships as Valentine’s Day’s main emphasis is on these types of relationships. So I’m going to more focus on the fact that I tend to turn a blind eye to Valentine’s Day, and only touch on last months topic when relevant (which will still probably be a good amount).

The main reason I try to ignore Valentine’s Day is that it is a day that puts romantic/sexual relationships in the spotlight and it was this emphasis before working out that I was asexual and aromantic that made me feel broken, which was what I wrote about last month. Valentine’s Day celebrates these relationships, surrounds itself with events designed to set singles up and find partners.It’s not surprising then that it can make those who aren’t able to find this relationship unhappy* and those who aren’t interested feel excluded.

The ability to escape Valentine’s Day though is effectively impossible, unless you can live as a hermit with no contact with society for around a month. Advertising starts almost a month before and ramps up as the day gets closer, from flowers to PE medication**. Radios start running competitions and basing their segments around something to do with relationships. Gender roles are often emphasised in the advertising to. Of course once we get closer it starts to get more personal, social media sites begin to see more Valentines related material. And then of course on the day people will do something to remind you of the day, even if it is just free chocolate “because nobody should be without chocolate on Valentine’s Day” as somebody in the office at work did. 

The day can also make people more inquisitive than normal about your relationship status. I didn’t work that night as I wanted to go hit people with foam swords like I normally do on a Friday night and a special scenario (completely unrelated to the day) was being run. I went into work last night and one of the first questions was if I had had a date. I keep a low profile at work and have spent a long time getting it to the point where they very rarely ask anything in that direction and this is the most direct it has ever been. If it hadn’t been Valentine’s Day the day before it wouldn’t have even been mentioned that I wasn’t in the night before.

It is simply impossible to escape the reality it is Valentine’s Day and if you generally try to play down, avoid bringing up or ignoring your relationship status, it’s likely that you’ll be reminded of it and even if you don’t care there’s an increased probability of somebody else questioning it.

Of course you can also celebrate friendships and family relationships, however these are usually presented as a secondary option to the romantic/sexual relationships. I also don’t hold much with celebrating these as I feel it is often out of character to go out of your way and do something you wouldn’t normally do just because it’s a particular day of the year***. This is also due to in my first year of high school we were expected to make a Valentine for someone, with family recommended (as it was unlikely many would have been dating at that stage), which makes me feel that a lot of these gestures can be very cheap, as they’re no genuine but enforced by society.

If this post has come across as a bit of a rant, that would be because it is. Valentine’s Day is one of those days that I feel more defensive as it impossible to avoid and emphasises many things that made me feel broken before I worked out my identity.

*or one of many other adjectives from depressed to broken

**In disappointing news I now know that Australia has a second company selling PE medication (because we can’t actually say premature ejaculation in the ad of course) due to the frequency of the ads.

***Though my mum did sneak a Mars bar into my lunch with a note on it saying Happy Valentines Day, it was nice as it’s not out of character for her to do those sort of things.

 

You’re either unhappy or broken

This post is for the Carnival of Aces, this month hosted by a glittering gold maybe on the topic of ‘over emphasis placed on romantic/sexual relationships’

Given I worked a wedding last night and have another one to work tonight (it’s a public holiday too) and can’t think of an event that puts more emphasis on romantic/sexual relationships than a wedding, it’s pretty much an event that turns signing a piece of paper into putting the relationship on a pedestal. Honestly I’ve reached the point where I’m retreating out the back during speeches in the hope of finding something to do due to the romantic clinches in pretty much every one. But enough ranting and onto the actual post.

The emphasis that is put on romantic/sexual relationships is every where and often extremely subtle, to the extent that in many cases it amazes people when something doesn’t take a romantic twist. There is also a lot of pressure for people to get into these relationships and a common trend is that people not in these relationships are unhappy. One article I saw around the start of the year described singles as the unhappiest people during the recent holiday season, I’d try to find a link to this article but Valentines Day is only a few weeks away and the articles for that are already starting so you should be able to find more of these types of articles very soon.

The problem with how pervasive this message is, is how easy it is to internalise this message. I’ve always found that when I’m at my most depressed it is often when I’m in need of companionship (usually hugs/cuddles) but I can start pondering whether I should be getting into a romantic style relationship or finding my thoughts drifting there, despite a lack of interest. Before I discovered asexuality I was very much feeling that common broken feeling, not for the lack of sexual attraction, but for the belief that I should be in a romantic/sexual relationship (I didn’t really distinguish between which one, but put more emphasis on the sexual part). This feeling is shrinking now but it has taken alot of effort to overcome this mindset, and doubt still creeps in every so often. There are times where I could be considered romantically (and sometimes sex) negative as I can come across a bit hostile, but this is more an extreme response to the subtle unquestioning presentation of these relationships.

Setting up people into these types of relationships can considered be considered a favour and something that can be boasted about. It is also an area people love to pry into or speculate about. I had a smirk on my face when I was texting at a friend’s the other day, she asked me if I was texting a girl, technically she was correct; it was my mum asking about dinner and going nowhere and getting silly. It’s been a long time that I’ve ever shown any sort of interest in anyone with these friends but they still pry. I could probably mention many more things just within this group that show just how subtle the emphasis on these romantic/sexual relationships is, often you may not even notice people are looking at things from that perspective. 

I show very little interest in these things and deliberately don’t talk about things or leave them vague to stop friends from making, implying or trying to find a romantic/sexual element to whatever has happened. It also can make it hard for me to meet new people as the way I behave can make it seem like I may have that sort of interest so I tend to back off to avoid giving that impression which probably means I miss opportunities for friendships.

Over coming these thins is possible though, I have a couple of friends that I spend time with in what could be considered romantic, one of which if you looked from outside it would usually be considered romantic (in fact one friend thought that may have caused friction with another friend) however with this friend I have a strong platonic friendship where it isn’t an issue to share a bowl of pasta with only a single fork between us. 

The emphasis put onto romantic/sexual relationships is very difficult to ignore due to its subtle unquestioned nature and the expectation that you should want a relationship. Internalising these messages made me feel broken and whilst I’m slowly getting over this internalisation the periods I feel broken are getting less and the close friendships I’m forming are becoming far more valuable and closer to a form I would like. I’m still cautious though as I have to make assumptions about what the other people are thinking and often this is going to assume they place an emphasis on the romantic/sexual relationships, whether correct or not.

Changing with Self-Acceptance

This post is for the December Carnival of Aces with the subject of Change.

For me change is closely linked with self-acceptance and identity as I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am asexual (and probably more so, especially recently, my aromantism) and how I view everything around me.

I’ve been identifying as asexual for almost 18 months now, before this time though I was very much trying to fit into a stereotype that I was uncomfortable with but incapable of realising. Since  coming to identify and accepting that I was asexual, which took around 6 months, I have started to look on things far more critically. The reductionist model that the asexual community tends to follow is one I can very much relate to. I am consistently breaking down how I experience things and where at first I spent a lot of time trying to work out my identity in all encompassing terms, I now look at individual aspects in small detail and try to relate them to each other. This breakthrough probably is the reason I realised I was aromantic, about 12 months ago, and has grown more refined since.

I have however found that I’ve also become more critical of social norms in regards to sex and romance. I have to be careful not to let my frustration show through and reflect it onto people in social situations, which I’m particularly bad with around my friend’s that I’ve come out too. This is probably made worse by the fact that I’m still working things out which I tend to do by jumping between extremes until I find an equilibrium. 

I’ve also had changing attitudes towards activism. Once I got involved in the local meetup group and looking at more of the online material, consuming as much as I could, I felt I should do something. Lately I’ve been more content to let it go a bit and just enjoy myself and work on my personal issues. (This is also partly being too busy to give time to the ideas I was working on and that I missed the deadlines to do them correctly as it will require a lot of network building too. However at the moment I’m content with coordinating the local meetup group)

So overall the biggest change I’ve found is that I’m better able to work out my own identity as I can further break it down but at the same time am more critical of the pressure that I had subconsciously felt from social norms and expectations. Which has given me more confidence to be myself. Oh, and it’s also been aided by finding a fantastic group of new friends.

What is attractive?

This post is one I’ve been thinking of doing almost since I started this blog but never got around to writing. In many ways it builds on what on Ace Theist’s Attraction posts, that I would also encourage you to read as it focuses more of differentiating types of attraction, which I’m going to refer to but not go into any depth on. Rather I will be looking at what we consider to be attractive and the language that is used to describe it.

Everybody in the world recognises what is beautiful,
and deems it to be “beautiful”
and then there is “ugliness”

Tao te Ching

Beauty and ugliness —
how different are they really?

Tao te Ching

These two quotes are extracts from verses of the Tao te Ching (translations will vary) written before 300 BC. The first thing to be considered when looking at these quotes is that language was very much being analysed and the way in which it could be used.

The first quote looks at the fact that initially we actually have no concept of what is beautiful until it has been taught to us by somebody else, and that it in turn creates it’s opposite ugliness (effectively the have not). The second quote looks at how beauty and ugliness are social conventions that are learned (this verse focuses on “learning”) and how they they can change over time, often switching places.

In many ways these concepts haven’t changed at all we still have changing concepts of what is beautiful and ugly and these are still taught to us by society, often through media at a subconscious level and we still have changes in what is deemed beautiful and of course the concept of beauty and ugliness can be the exact opposite or completely unrelated in different cultures or even social groups.

Of course what is beautiful is often considered attractive and ugly the opposite, unattractive. In many cases we will be shown what is attractive by the media as it is more appealing to watch, whilst the other can be considered radical at best. Though it doesn’t take long to see how these concepts have changed and the radical can become attractive whilst the attractive becomes unattractive.

I’m going to keep this post focused on aesthetic attraction as it is probably the easiest to examine within this context, but remember that this can apply to any sort of attraction from sexual to financial attraction. The easiest thing to look at is the way the human body is portrayed, particularly the female body. We constantly see bodies in media and are informed of what is attractive. Of course this means we are constantly assessing people on how attractive they are. This article Surprise: Men focus on women’s bodies, not faces, is not really surprising, as it says in the article most women could probably already tell you this. However the part I found most interesting was how women have the same pattern when looking at other women. Whilst the article thinks it is for social reasons, I would argue it is part of the social construct around what is attractive and what we have been taught to think about what that means about someone, and that men have been taught to put more emphasis on the aesthetic appearance of women when assessing them such that it is almost expected. The distinction of sexual and aesthetic attraction isn’t even made here but merely assumed, however I would argue that primarily both sexes are assessing the aesthetic beauty as they have learned to do and the sexual attractiveness is a secondary inclusion, mostly for men who have learnt what they should find attractive in this way. (Of course personal preference will also be a factor in this but I’m going for a more general overview here to same time.)

Of course language is also a problem here as we know have words such as “hot” and “sexy” being used to describe almost everything. Sexy being a fantastic example of how a word can lose its meaning. Sexy is now becoming a synonym for attractive due to its overuse, often in an attempt to be cool and in line with modern culture. This restricts our ability to recognise what is attractive, as some things are not sexually attractive (to most people at least) but are attractive for different reason. But the wrong words make it harder to communicate what is attractive and using the wrong words give more weight to specific types of attraction. This only makes it harder for us to differentiate and identifying what is attractive and why is it.

To close I’m going to leave the following clip from Gruen Planet (an Australian show about advertising) from there segment The Pitch. In this clip an advertising company had to make an ad trying to create a new bodily insecurity in men. The main question to ask yourself when watching it is: why is that voice attractive?