The Binds of Beauty

On the perils of culturally ingrained standards of attractiveness

We often bemoan the fact that beauty counts for more than anything else in our appreciation of other people. Beauty distorts other qualities and filters them through its prism. We assign meaning and value to beauty far beyond its murky functions. The “halo effect”—a cognitive bias whereby people ascribe positive qualities to beautiful people, regardless of whether these actually exist—is real.

Though advantages conferred by beauty cut across gender lines, they’re far more compromised and fraught for women. And the disadvantages of lacking beauty hit women harder. The world opens itself up to handsome men, but it locks beautiful women into a curious double bind. Mad Men’s Don Draper, for instance, was able to build an imaginary persona merely on the basis of his handsomeness, which got him everything he ever wanted. Joan Holloway’s dazzling beauty, on the other hand, got her things other people wanted to get. When a 33-year-old dental hygienist in Iowa was fired by her married boss for being “irresistible,” she in turn sued for sexual discrimination. But a district court dismissed her case, maintaining that she wasn’t fired for being a woman, but for posing a threat to her employer’s marriage—a decision the Iowa Supreme Court later upheld. The hygienist, as it turned out, was also married, and creeped out by her predatory boss. But how she felt, and what she did, didn’t matter. She was penalized for what he saw.

The age-old practice of rating women according to their looks has been codified in recent years to the point that the mere appearance of a woman who, conventionally speaking, isn’t spectacularly beautiful almost always leads to a fervid referendum on her right to show herself in public. That she positions herself as a sexual being while looking like an average girl makes some people think Lena Dunham is getting away with something shady, maybe even criminal, and elicits in them the kind of outrage one would imagine more suited toward public disclosures of hedge fund managers’ salaries. Even her admirers have described her willingness to show herself as “brave” and “subversive,” as though she were a freedom fighter combating an oppressive regime—which, in a sense, she is. This says a lot about how our culture has trained us to look at women, and how willingly we submit.

“Lookism” is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination, in part because it provides a handy cover for misogyny. But it’s also a reaction formation that arises in counterpoise to the anxiety-producing feeling that everything we’ve been taught about who we are and what matters to us is a lie. In his analysis of the Caitlyn Jenner coverage, Jon Stewart brilliantly skewered our culture’s insistence upon judging all women by their sex appeal. The issue has also been a central theme on Inside Amy Schumer, which sends up example after example of this insidious form of oppression. In a sketch titled “Plain Jane,” Schumer plays a Miami detective whose homeliness literally makes her invisible, and therefore hugely effective. In the music video “Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup,” she lampoons songs telling girls they are flawless just as they are—as long as they are actually flawless (“Maybe just a little natural-looking makeup!”). And her “Last Fuckable Day” skit mocks the Hollywood ageism that all but stages Viking funerals for the sexual attractiveness of women over 40. It culminates in a “remake” of Sidney Lumet’s hung jury classic, in which an all-male jury argues over “the single most important question of our time,” i.e., whether Schumer is attractive enough to be on TV.

What Schumer is zeroing in on is not just that media-created beauty standards are crazy, but that they are ideological and inescapable. The boundary dividing our actual perceptions from our conditioned responses to the relentless beauty propaganda is hard to locate. What’s really behind her most ardent detractors’ anger, she seems to be suggesting, is an anxious ambivalence between what they see and feel, and what the culture compels them to see and feel. Deviating from the culturally-imposed makes them feel like deviants. The 12 Angry Men parody was inspired by a blogger writing that Schumer’s looks made her an “unrealistic” choice for starring in a movie about a girl who gets a lot of action. “Unrealistic” is a pretty interesting word choice, considering what he meant was that Schumer looks too real to pass as “real.” Because it’s one thing to imagine the aura of beauty reflected in other, mirage-like positive qualities, and it’s another thing altogether to insist that reality conform to the twisted fantasies fostered by the media-entertainment complex, and call it human nature.

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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