Beauty and the Beast

By Dave Barry

As appeared January 30, 1998, in the Miami Herald


 	If you're a man, at some point a woman will ask you how she looks.

 	"How do I look?" she'll ask.

 	You must be careful how you answer this question. The best technique is 
	to form an honest yet sensitive opinion, then collapse on the floor with 
	some kind of fatal seizure. Trust me, this is the easiest way out. Because 
	you will never come up with the right answer.

 	The problem is that women generally do not think of their looks in the same 
	way that men do. Most men form an opinion of how they look in seventh grade, 
	and they stick to it for the rest of their lives. Some men form the opinion 
	that they are irresistible stud muffins, and they do not change this opinion 
	even when their faces sag and their noses bloat to the size of eggplants 
	and their eyebrows grow together to form what appears to be a giant 
	forehead-dwelling tropical caterpillar.

 	Most men, I believe, think of themselves as average-looking. Men will think 
	this even if their faces cause heart failure in cattle at a range of 300 yards. 
	Being average does not bother them; average is fine, for men. This is why 
	men never ask anybody how they look. Their primary form of beauty care is to 
	shave themselves, which is essentially the same form of beauty care that 
	they give to their lawns. If, at the end of his four-minute daily beauty 
	regimen, a man has managed to wipe most of the shaving cream out of his hair 
	and is not bleeding too badly, he feels that he has done all he can, so he 
	stops thinking about his appearance and devotes his mind to more critical 
	issues, such as the Super Bowl.

 	Women do not look at themselves this way. If I had to express, in three words, 
	what I believe most women think about their appearance, those words would 
	be: "not good enough." No matter how attractive a woman may appear to be to 
	others, when she looks at herself in the mirror, she thinks: woof. She thinks 
	that at any moment a municipal animal-control officer is going to throw a net 
	over her and haul her off to the shelter.

 	Why do women have such low self-esteem? There are many complex psychological 
	and societal reasons, by which I mean Barbie. Girls grow up playing with a doll 
	proportioned such that, if it were a human, it would be seven feet tall and 
	weigh 81 pounds, of which 53 pounds would be bosoms. This is a difficult 
	appearance standard to live up to, especially when you contrast it with the 
	standard set for little boys by their dolls . . . excuse me, by their action 
	figures. Most of the action figures that my son played with when he was little 
	were hideous-looking. For example, he was very fond of an action figure (part 
	of the He-Man series) called "Buzz-Off," who was part human, part flying 
	insect. Buzz-Off was not a looker. But he was extremely self-confident. You 
	could not imagine Buzz-Off saying to the other action figures: "Do you think 
	these wings make my hips look big?"

 	But women grow up thinking they need to look like Barbie, which for most women 
	is impossible, although there is a multibillion-dollar beauty industry devoted 
	to convincing women that they must try. I once saw an Oprah show wherein 
	supermodel Cindy Crawford dispensed makeup tips to the studio audience. Cindy 
	had all these middle-aged women applying beauty products to their faces; she 
	stressed how important it was to apply them in a certain way, using the tips of 
	their fingers. All the woman dutifully did this, even though it was obvious to 
	any sane observer that, no matter how carefully they applied these products, 
	they would never look remotely like Cindy Crawford, who is some kind of genetic 

 	I'm not saying that men are superior. I'm just saying that you're not going to 
	get a group of middle-aged men to sit in a room and apply cosmetics to themselves 
	under the instruction of Brad Pitt, in hopes of looking more like him. Men would 
	realize that this task was pointless and demeaning. They would find some way to 
	bolster their self-esteem that did not require looking like Brad Pitt. They would 
	say to Brad: "Oh YEAH? Well what do you know about LAWN CARE, pretty boy?"

 	Of course many women will argue that the reason they become obsessed with trying 
	to look like Cindy Crawford is that men, being as shallow as a drop of spit, WANT 
	women to look that way. To which I have two responses:

 	1. Hey, just because WE'RE idiots, that doesn't mean YOU have to be; and

 	2. Men don't even notice 97 percent of the beauty efforts you make anyway. Take 
	fingernails. The average woman spends 5,000 hours per year worrying about her 
	fingernails; I have never once, in more than 40 years of listening to men talk 
	about women, heard a man say, "She has a nice set of fingernails!" Many men would 
	not notice if a woman had upward of four hands.

 	Anyway, to get back to my original point: If you're a man, and a woman asks you 
	how she looks, you're in big trouble. Obviously, you can't say she looks bad. But 
	you also can't say that she looks great, because she'll think you're lying, because 
	she has spent countless hours, with the help of the multibillion-dollar beauty 
	industry, obsessing about the differences between herself and Cindy Crawford. Also, 
	she suspects that you're not qualified to judge anybody's appearance. This is 
	because you have shaving cream in your hair.  

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