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.