Don't be fooled by the radio, the TV, or the magazines…

“…They’ll show you photographs of how your life should be.  But they’re just someone else’s fantasy.”

Greta Christina, who has seen me at a low point in my battle with anorexia nervosa, sent me an article yesterday.  So often we see models selling us makeup or weight-lifting equipment under the pretense that if we just exerted a little more effort (and bought their products), we too could be beautiful (and get the house with the pool and the drop-dead gorgeous member of the opposite sex that comes with it in the commercials).  The article talks about what male models must actually put themselves through for their appearance, and it involves much more than living at the gym.  Many of them shorten their lives through extreme dehydration and harm their brains from glycogen deprivation.

I was thinking about this subject today when I saw that a friend of mine had updated her facebook status from class.

According to my class, people tend to want to be friends with the same level of physical attractiveness, and shy people do not like to be friends with non-shy people. Interesting. Good thing all my friends are HAWT!

We are a social species, which means companionship is one of the things that makes life a real treat rather than just a continuous search for food and water.  ‘Companionship’ has several facets, from friendship to sex.  Most people have friendship covered – all you have to do is find people similar to yourself, and there’s a lot of people out there.  Sex, on the other hand, is another thing.  Psychology has repeatedly confirmed the obvious: people who engage in human contact often and who have intercourse regularly, are happier people.

There are a whole host of virtues that should be the doorway to sex: honesty, compassion, intelligence, the list goes on.  Yet we’re told, both explicitly and implicitly, that those things are secondary, often even irrelevant, when pitted against the physical aspects of attraction.  When was the last time you watched a movie where the romantic lead was only moderately physically attractive, but was super smart and unfailingly kind, with those qualities being enough to sell their worth as the love interest of the protagonist?  If they exist, they are certainly very few.  Who would believe that those qualities meant anything without the physical aspect?

Perhaps this is the way our culture has been built so that companies can sell us desire in a bottle or in a box of hair dye, but I’m inclined to think it’s just the way human beings are.  I speak in generalities, of course, since I myself am a sapiosexual (I find intellect more attractive than anything), so there are always exceptions.  But for the most part, human beings seem to be as shallow as any of the species from which we are descended.  It’s why attractive women receive more gifts from men.  If the true measure of a person’s worth is how they treat someone who can do them absolutely no good, it’s a test that most of us fail when faced with beauty.  That people tend to be friends with those of similar levels of physical attractiveness doesn’t surprise me.  Is it any mystery then, that people will go to even self-destructive means to achieve physical beauty?

I’m not mad at anybody who is shallow – we can’t change what we find attractive any more than we can change what elements we breathe.  But there’s a part of me, the idealist part of me, that is hacked off at existence itself for this unpleasant facet of the human condition.  What can I say?  I strongly dislike unfairness and Nature, she sometimes corners the market on it.  Lots of great people, in terms of what qualities truly make a person great, are often confined to a life of little human contact, while an idiot or an ass might never be deprived if only they are good-looking enough.  This often produces feelings of hopelessness and desperation.  It’s why people will believe they can have the bodies these models are selling us, even though the scent of bullshit is nearly suffocating.  We so badly want anything that might mean a solution to physical loneliness.  Most of us are loved, but for some reason that’s often not enough.  As biological creatures, it seems we need to be wanted.  Most of us have learned at one time or another in our lives that love in not always an engine of desire, but here are companies telling us we can have the desire our personalities alone have failed to generate in just 6 weeks at 20 minutes a day, or if we apply their brand of lipstick, or purchase their dress.

It’s all very cynical, and I hope I’m wrong about all of it.  One of the pains in the ass about reality is that it doesn’t generally conform to our sense of wishful thinking the way fantasies and religions do.

This is all on my mind because today I had a panic attack, my first in 7 weeks.  I was at a swimming people packed with people who looked like the only time they’d left the gym in their lives was to go swimming today and all the symptoms came flooding back: dry mouth, heavy breathing, dry heaving/vomiting, aversion to food, etc.  I took my pulse and it was at 120 bpm while sitting.  I looked in the mirror and I saw an image so obese that it couldn’t possibly be me (and am grateful I’m still well enough to be aware of that fact).  When in the grips of these attacks, I just want it to stop so badly, and even though I know it’s bullshit, I’m tempted to try the next miracle drug or workout machine.  And even though I know those models starve their brains to achieve that look for a single day, I find myself envious of the men that torture themselves to be in those images.  I want to run away to the gym and try to be one of them.

Thank FSM that I’m healthy enough upstairs that such temptations only last a moment.  If we hold ourselves to unattainable standards, we’re committing ourselves to a frustrating and unhappy life.  I wish we could all remember that we can work to improve ourselves, but to let that be enough without needing perfection.  I wish I could remember that all the time.  Thankfully, I have an amazing coterie of friends who has looked after me and forced me to get help – and who also manage to sometimes make me feel beautiful in spite of my condition.  Because of them (and because of a little pill courtesy of the scientific method), I can lead a normal life on most days now.  Today I’ll be doing good to hit 1200 calories, but tomorrow I think I’ll be better.  I’m glad it’s a hiccup rather than a daily obsession as it used to be.

As my friend Natasha said, these are reminder scares, not setbacks.  You’re never really cured, you’re just vigilant and on top of the condition trying to live as normally as possible.  Sorry if this post is disjointed, I just wanted to get my thoughts down.  It’s just such a pity that beauty is so often more tied to your body fat percentage rather than your ideas or your charity.

What made performing special for me - bringing the unreal to life.
Living with dignity.
You guys are wonderful.
It's funny how ambitions change over time.
About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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