Reflections on physical appearance


This post was originally going to be titled Reflections on morality, but after work today I decided I was tired and didn’t want to write it. That long and detailed post will come tomorrow, hopefully. I’ll use today to get something off my chest that has been bothering me for a little while.

I grew up in the suburbs of Scarborough, Toronto, an area inhabited mostly by white people. Toronto has a reputation for multiculturalism, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the area where I was. When I went to elementary school, the vast majority of my classmates were white. In those days, I considered myself an ugly little boy. Actually, it wasn’t even that in the beginning. My narrow eyes, characteristic of Asian people, and my facial structure, less sharply defined than those of most white people, caused me to think of my face as being boring or featureless. In either case, I internalized my appearance as simply undesirable, and this persisted approximately up to the age of thirteen or fourteen.

(Tangent: Even though I no longer think of myself in that way, nor do I think of any other Asian people in that way, I noticed by the age of fourteen that I had a marked preference for the physical appearance of white girls over that of Asian girls, and my recent investigation into the matter eventually revealed that I’m attracted to large eyes and a sharply defined cheekbone, so that environmental influence on me persists in a very direct way.)

I started finding some girls attractive when I was twelve. In those days, I took it as a given that I would not end up dating any of them, because it was, in my mind, impossible that any attractive girl would want to date me instead of any of the various other guys who also found her attractive but were also attractive themselves.

By age fifteen, I had stopped thinking of myself as ugly. I realized that my narrow eyes and invisible cheekbone did not make me an unattractive person. I thought of myself as someone who is “genetically” average-looking, but, unlike most of his peers, put no effort whatsoever into improving his appearance. I persisted in thinking that no attractive girl could be attracted to me. In fact, I concluded that very few girls, even unattractive girls, could be attracted to me, and that I would probably eventually end up in a relationship with a girl who is average-looking, but that it would take a very long time to find her. But to me, that was fine! I had always had a hard time relating to other people because I was so different from them, and it stood to reason that any girl with a similar personality would have similar problems, and we would appreciate each other in a way having little to do with appearance, whereas if a girl wouldn’t date me, but would date an attractive version of me, then I probably wouldn’t want to date her.

I have a tendency to see things in black and white, and consequently, over the next two years, these thoughts of mine developed into a very strong opinion that refusing to date someone simply on the basis of their appearance is shallow and therefore “bad”, unless their appearance contains evidence of undesirable personality traits, such as lack of effort in maintaining health. I also grew increasingly bitter and resentful as I found no evidence that any girl had ever taken an interest in me, and I started to believe that I would one day die without ever having been in an intimate relationship. (To be fair, I wasn’t interested in any of the girls I had met, either.) I resented the human race for its obsession with the way people look.

But then a thought came to mind, one that caused some minor cognitive dissonance, and is the subject of this post. I asked myself: if I insist that personality is the only thing that matters to me, then why am I heterosexual rather than bisexual or pansexual? Why am I unwilling to entertain the thought of being in a relationship with another male? In fact, if I assume that there are 20 times as many straight people as there are gay people, and that there are more than 20 times as many men as women I would be compatible with (which is possible, given how much of a nerd I am), then I have to conclude that, by not being attracted to men, I am discarding up-front the majority of potential partners.

There is one easy answer, of course: maybe there are some personality traits that are much more common in women than in men that I consider essential in a potential partner. Some aspect of “femininity”. However, after thinking about it for a long time, I couldn’t come up with any such thing. None of the stereotypes or bits of conventional wisdom about women, including the ones that possibly have little or no basis in fact, describe traits that I find attractive. In fact, I find most of them highly unattractive. (No, I am not going to elaborate on what these stereotypes are.)

I have not been able to find a way out of this one; that is, I have not been able to reconcile my belief in the irrelevance of physical appearance with my immutable sexual orientation. (Also, it makes me feel really good that my girlfriend thinks I’m hot… so I’ve realized that I shouldn’t have to settle for someone who isn’t physically attracted to me.) Therefore, I have given up my position that appearance should not be a factor in mate selection, and I deeply regret having been so hypocritical about it.

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About Brian

Hi! I'm Brian Bi. As of November 2014 I live in Sunnyvale, California, USA and I'm a software engineer at Google. Besides code, I also like math, physics, chemistry, and some other miscellaneous things.
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