I mentioned briefly yesterday that my wife’s copy of ESPN: The Magazine (published on Earth: The Planet) arrived yesterday. This issue was their annual “athletes take over the magazine” issue, which as a novelty is at least more interesting than Sports Illustrated‘s annual softcore porn “swimsuit” issue. (Incidentally, there’s been so much outcry over that particular issue of SI that they now offer subscribers the option of simply not receiving the issue if they so choose. It’s true. But I digress.) And featured on the cover was this year’s athlete guest editor, tennis player Maria Sharapova.
So yesterday morning while collecting the mail, I pull out this magazine. And on the cover is the 22-year-old Sharapova on the cover, a young lady who in addition to her success in her chosen sport (three Grand Slam titles, occasional stints ranked #1 in the world) is also sought after as a fashion model. She’s dressed in a low-cut tank top and a pair of shorts. And being a fairly healthy middle-aged man, you can probably guess at my first thought.
Or not. Because actually, my first thought was, “look at those shoulders! Gosh, they’re like brick stoops!”
Which makes perfect sense if you think about it — after all, Sharapova is a tennis player, and tennis players generate a lot of their power from their shoulders. You would expect a woman in that field to have square, muscular shoulders. Still, I have the sneaking suspicion that that wasn’t what the magazine editors had in mind when they asked her to don the tank top. but that’s what I noticed, because — and I suppose this is the real surprise here — I’ve never found Sharapova’s looks to be that big a deal. Not that I think she’s ugly, by any means. It’s just that I could take a seat at the local mall and people-watch, and in an hour I’d see at least a dozen women who are just as good-looking in my mind as Sharapova. More if it’s on a weekend.
So what’s the big whoop-de-do about Sharapova’s looks? I honestly couldn’t tell you. Again, she’s not hideous looking. She comes across in interviews as very genial, not stuck-up or anything. She’s obviously in good health — you have to be to compete on the pro tennis tour. She’s in her early twenties and blonde, and I guess some guys particularly go for blondes. But does that combination automatically add up to her being some ultimate sex symbol? Well, not to me. I’d be willing to wager that you know at least three women who fit all of the above criteria (except maybe the tennis-playing part). So Sharapova’s not particularly unique that way. I look at her picture and think, “yeah, she’s okay-lookin’ … and she’s wearing a man’s watch. That thing is huuuuge — have I ever owned a wristwatch that big?” She’s not holding my attention.
Nor is this situation unusual for me. There is a long list of “sex symbols” that in my mind aren’t really notable, including some that I find for one reason or another decidedly unattractive . Paris Hilton. Pamela Anderson. Kim Kardashian. (Basically, if you’ve leaked a sex tape of yourself to the press, I’m not interested.) Scarlett Johannsen. Jessica Alba. (They just look … plastic to me, if that makes any sense.) Angelina Jolie. (Husband-stealing ranks below even sex-tape-leaking.) Jennifer Aniston. (I’m still on her side against Brad, though.) Jennifer Lopez. Anna Kournikova. (An ex-tennis player whom Sharapova has been compared to, except Sharapova isn’t insufferably arrogant, doesn’t have a face that looks like it was molded from Play-Doh, and has actually won some tournaments.) These are all held up as paragons of the feminine ideal … and none of them do anything at all for me — except Jolie, and what she does for me is cause instinctive revulsion.
The flip-side list is the famous women that I think look just darling, but rarely or never (or used to but no longer) get mentioned in People Magazine‘s Most Beautiful Folks in the Universe issue. That list starts with Norah Jones, the jazz singer. Alfre Woodard. Kristin Davis from Sex and the City. Bonnie Hunt (possibly the funniest woman in America). Tina Fey (a close second to Bonnie). Ellen Page. Annette Bening. Camryn Manheim. Joan Cusack. Nia Vardalos. Michelle Pfeiffer. And in the tennis-playing set, Venus Williams and Pam Shriver.
Think about that second list, and you’ll notice some commonalities. Jones and Page are both short (5’1″/155 cm) and a little pudgy. The same with Fey, only she’s 5’4″ (165 cm). Vardalos is more than a little pudgy. Manheim freely admits she’s fat. Fey is 39, five months younger than me. Davis is 44. Hunt, Manheim, Cusack, Vardalos, Pfeiffer and Shriver are all in their mid-to-late-forties (Pfeiffer turns 50 this year). Bening just turned 51, and Woodard — this shocked me when I looked it up — is 56. I think all of them are natural brunettes except Hunt and Pfeiffer (both blondes going gray). Some of them wear glasses some of the time; Fey wears them most of the time. Page, Cusack, Pfeiffer and Shriver are … let’s just say they’re not what you’d call “buxom”; I’ve heard Pfeiffer even cracks jokes about it. And Woodard and Williams are black, which doesn’t seem to equate to beautiful in the eyes of the media (or at least not enough). But I think they’re all gorgeous.
The point I’m getting at is that just because a woman is or isn’t portrayed in the mass media as the epitome of sexual desire doesn’t mean squat. When we let ourselves get gulled by the pressure of press in this area, it’s like we’re surrendering our own ability to analyze what we like or dislike, or even what reason and logic tell us is worthy of praise. Annette Bening is 51, far older than the American ideal for physical beauty. She’s had four children, which will take its toll. She’s put on a little weight, as have most 51-year-olds who’ve popped out a few kids. Her hair is likely going gray, though she currently dyes it blonde. No one is asking her to be on magazine covers anymore (except maybe Modern Maturity). But she has nonetheless managed to hang onto and keep faithful Warren Beatty, possibly the most notorious Don Juan in the history of Hollywood. Clearly she’s doing something right! So what makes her less attractive than Scarlett Johannsen? To me, nothing — quite the opposite
But that constant pounding from the media over what supposedly is or isn’t “hot” does damage, to men and women alike. Men, fed nothing but a steady diet of large-breasted 19-year-old blondes, will start to believe that that’s how all women are supposed to look, despite whatever personal tastes they may have previously held. And women, having the same thing shoveled at them, will stop believing in their own beauty when they don’t conform to that unrealistic ideal. And that’s ridiculous for both sides.
I’ve been working with my wife (aka the Supermodel) for eleven years to help her see that I find her MORE attractive than the Megan Foxes of the world. (Nothing against Megan Fox, she looks okay, but she’s not in the Supermodel’s league IMNVHO.) And it’s still not an accomplished fact in her mind. She’s not blonde, or buxom, or famous. She wears glasses any time she’s not showering or sleeping. She has a form of CMT (see previous posts on that issue), which plays hob with her balance and ability to walk and makes her unable to gain weight. She’s chunked out two kids, with the stretch marks to prove it. And she knows all of this, and it bothers her. AND I WOULDN’T HAVE HER ANY OTHER WAY. She is the sexiest creature on planet Earth, as far as I’m concerned, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
So women, I call each and every one of you to appreciate what you have and thank God for it. You don’t have to be Maria Sharapova to be a sex symbol, ladies — all you need is at least one person who appreciates who and what you are. (And the first person who does it should be YOU.) And men, I call on each and every one of you to stand up and publicly declare your appreciation for redheads and brunettes, for short women, for fat women (hey, if some guys didn’t like large women, where did all the large kids come from?), for women in their 40s, their 50s, their 70s, for every female out there who doesn’t get the magazine covers but deserves to just as much as the ones who do. Because, by golly, you’re not sheep — you like what you like, and you have no reason to be ashamed of it. Most of all, dudes, publicly declare your appreciation for the woman you’ve got, and all her attributes — because if you didn’t like them, face it, you wouldn’t be there. You’re attracted to her because she is the way she is, and you know it. And they must be something else, or they wouldn’t have you, right, guys? (Naked appeal to the male ego there.)
Is this a call to revolution? You bet your A-cup and dimples it is! Real-life humans of the world, unite — you have nothing to lose but someone else’s silly expectations! Let’s march!