A continuation of the…

A continuation of the whole 'reconditioning attraction' post. It ended up posted at Shapely Prose, and a lot of people answered there -- I also posted at the Chicago Moms blog (very little response so far) and in a mailing list. The responses seem to mostly break down into three categories (although there were some notable exceptions):

  1. I just don't notice people visually, or, visual elements are irrelevant to who I find attractive, so this question isn't relevant for me.

  2. Attraction is natural/innate/instinctive/mysterious, and therefore not under our control, so trying to influence it is a waste of time.

  3. Yes, it's a problem that we're culturally conditioned to devalue certain bodies, and we should try to deprogram ourselves (and here are some suggestions on how to do so).
To be honest, I don't really buy answers 1 and 2.

For #1, I mean, sure, you may well be turned on entirely by intelligence, or personality -- I can completely believe that. I'd even say it's almost entirely true for me, for the people I've wanted to have sex with in the past, that I was much more turned on by their personality than by anything physical about them. But that said, attraction is a broader issue than that. It factors into whose features please us when we meet them, whose appearance we note is socially approved of. Some of that's probably biology -- a LOT of it is social conditioning. And I think it's tremendously difficult to escape that social conditioning, and that it influences everything from friendships to work relationships to hiring and firing, etc. So yes, maybe you're someone who can completely discount that influence, but if so, I have to think that you're a very rare bird indeed. Most of us react to other human beings' appearance, including not just weight, but also skin color, symmetric facial features, mode of dress, etc.

And #2 I think is missing the point that while some element of attaction is biological, a tremendous amount of it is culturally conditioned. Which suggests that if we've been programmed to react this way, it may be at least possible to deprogram ourselves, to some extent. And to try to help the next generation avoid that initial programming as much as possible. I'm thinking about banning fashion magazines from our house, for example. I wonder what Kavi will think of that!

4 thoughts on “A continuation of the…”

  1. All sorts of things I want to discuss here, but for now I’ll limit myself to one comment on the last bit of this entry:

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that banning fashion magazines will help that much. I mean, it may help some, and it seems like a fine step in the right direction, but I know plenty of people who I’m pretty sure grew up without fashion magazines (including me and, I assume, most other men) who nonetheless got inculcated, at least to some degree, with the cultural norms. For that matter, I didn’t even have TV for most of my childhood, and I still picked all that stuff up. (Though perhaps less so than a lot of people who are more deeply embedded in the American cultural matrix in childhood.) I think it’s very widespread and very insidious.

    …Okay, writing that paragraph brought up even more things I want to discuss about this, but I gotta go have breakfast and get ready for work and stuff.

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Oh, I’m sure eliminating fashion magazines won’t fix the problem. But I think those magazines are particularly bad for most women, and especially for teenage girls. They’re outright prescriptive, among other things.

  3. On fashion magazines: I don’t think an outright ban would be as effective as just not having them around, and explaining why when she gets old enough to ask, if she does ask. My parents banned Barbie dolls and therefore I desperately wanted one, even though I was not in any way a doll-playing sorta kid.

    On the question of recreating attraction: I want to clarify that I’m not at all implying that reconditioning ourselves is a waste of time. I think it’s useful insofar as we recognize attraction as bigger than the usual understanding of “sexuality” and because we can change more than just ourselves. I also didn’t say, and should have, that my attraction spectrum seems to cover the gamut–visual elements are most certainly important, but there’s nothing consistent about who I find beautiful. If I have to make a gross generalization, my attractions tend toward those who are closer to the gender line (butch women and feminine men), but that’s a generalization with so many outliers there’s almost no trend.

    Third thing: when I lived in Minneapolis I was embedded in a community that I’d call FA, and it really did overhaul my awareness and mental framework. Like composting, it became the norm rather than the exception. It was so much easier when immersed!

  4. I do think not having fashion magazines in the house is a good thing. But actively exposing Kavi to images of attractive, healthy, ‘normal’ people would be the best thing. Unfortunately, we seem to have the extremes in society these days. The very skinny and the very heavy. I suspect that the obesity epidemic is in part due to not having reasonable images of healthy weights (among a ton of other factors).

    I know also, when I was actively exposed to a group of FA/’fannish’ people (and I’m not trying to generalize here) who were, by a majority, heavy, not only was fat accepted, but I became obese myself. (It also had a lot to do with the relationship I was in at the time, but it also had to do with people around me and their behaviors).

    I’m not sure what I am trying to say here, but there is a deep-seated problem in our society about fat and attraction.

    And to get back to the magazines, I think the teen magazines are the worst offenders. I was shocked when I picked up Seventeen magazine the other day… it is NOTHING like the magazines we grew up with.

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