Beauty Over Brains

I saw a tweet by UnfairAndLovely recently (don’t you just love that handle, btw?)

“Here’s my question to women. And only real answers please. If you had to choose between breathtaking beauty and Einstein-like brains…?”

Albert Einstein
Image via Wikipedia
Barbie Doll Museum at Bloomingdale's
Image by aloha orangeneko via Flickr

In my teens, I’d have picked brains. Yes, I was that girl. The one with an annoyingly unconcerned attitude about things of grave importance to other teenagers, such as acne, skin colour, waist size and hair length. If anyone wants to debate that, just take a look at the latest Nokia ad which tells us that, being young is not as easy as it looks. (Life’s epic drama being a teenage girl torn between red shoes or green and finally, after polling all her friends, picks purple).

I always held a superior attitude above such frippery. For after all, wouldn’t my brains (read angsty poetry, weird art and heavy books) establish me in a far more solid, fulfiling life than the Barbie dolls around me? Not only would I have a better education & a more secure future, I’d also be an independent, respect-earning, awe-inspiring, equal citizen in the world.

Ah, how have the mighty fallen!

Over a decade later, I’ve flipped over to the other side. Breath-taking beauty (if one had a choice in such matter) seems to me the sensible choice for a woman. The world does treat you differently if you are fairer, slimmer, taller and in any other way better on the current norms of beauty. Service staff is a little extra genuinely ‘happy to serve you’ (especially if you don’t carry an attitude along with that face). Studies have shown that it affects your employment prospects positively too. And the men, need I even go there?

On the other hand, let’s look at what happens to a woman who is an absolute brain and euphemistically speaking, not much elsewhere. In her younger days, she’s put into such choice social roles like ‘the beautiful girl’s ugly best friend’, ‘fallback option’, ‘just one of the guys’ (notes-taker, proxy-giver, ego-booster, shoulder to cry on). There’s also the delightful ‘stooge to be played as part of Grand Master Plan to snag another girl’. No amount of Einsteinian grey is going to keep the average girl from falling into at least one of these pits. Unless of course, she’s one of pop culture’s horrorshow geek girls that is sexless, emotionless and robotic in every way.

Things really ought to get better as adulthood approaches, right? I mean this is the path of delayed gratification reaping big results later. But no, wait! What is the true measure of a woman’s worth, socially speaking? Is it how successful she is? How accomplished or talented or successful?All of that is nice, of course and hey, it could even add to the girl’s matrimonial prospects! Has it occurred to anyone that ‘single’, ‘unmarried’ and ‘unattached’ are labels more commonly hung on women? Not that there aren’t men who are these things but does a man’s relationship status really form as big a part of his identity and how society sees him, as it does for a woman?

Who are the biggest female icons around? Are they scientists, entrepreneurs & writers? Or are they supermodels, socialites, filmstars and manufactured pop sensations? A nice-looking photograph gets more social value (attention, compliments, awe, nice behaviour) than a well-written story. The new hairstyle is of more interest than a book deal.

We were told that it would be an equal world for us to grow up into but honey, it’s not. I speak as someone who has ventured at least a bit into each side. I’m not Einstein and neither am I a supermodel. But between ‘Smart Girl’ and ‘Babe’, I’ve laid my claim to both labels. And I know which one works better.

Pass me my compact please.

9 thoughts on “Beauty Over Brains

  1. πŸ™‚ it’s a struggle really. and it’s interesting because we’re supposed to pick which camp we’re in – beauty or brains.

    at the end of the day, like you said, we want a little bit of both. [mostly because having a lot of one is rare anyway πŸ™‚ ]

  2. My perspective is that -yes, beauty matters. It causes a guy to check a woman out and say to himself “I should talk to her” – Total nerdy looks do not appeal to 99.99% of the male population.

    However looks only take the relationship so far. After that other stuff takes centre stage – like anger management issues, possessiveness, jealousy, control issues, lack of self-confidence – these screw up and the guy runs like hell in the other direction.

    How else can you explain Prince Charles choosing Camilla over Diana?

    1. @thesinglemarriedman: I’ve heard that from some men (including you). But evolved, modern-thinking men sadly, form only a small part of the world around a woman like me. I also have to deal with chauvinistic family members, colleagues, neighbors, service providers and other community members. Relationships of the nature that you describe are not likely with the majority of them. So, in the larger picture, it seems easier on a day-to-day basis to go with beauty than brains.

  3. Hey Ideasmith, I used to follow your delectable blog before you shifted base. You have painted the contrast and your choice between the beauty and the brains on a wide canvas rather well. Ms Hina Rabbani Khar makes for a delightful specimen.

    PS: having hit the forties, I find that I can’t quite appreciate your exquisite prose without optic aids. Hope you will increase the point size of the characters. And if that sounds distant and irrelevant to you, remember, you may find yourself standing in the same waters soon. It will be about that time that you would also discover that the choice of beauty wasn’t a wise decision after all. For there can be nothing more traumatic than declining beauty for someone used to hogging unfair attention.

    1. @One Grain Amongst the Storm: So welcome back to XX Factor! I’m sorry about the visibility issue, I’ll look into it. The thing with a free account is that it doesn’t give you quite as much control over these details as a self-hosted domain. I’m going to have to shop for another template and customize it again. In the meantime, perhaps you could increase your screen size (See View menu or Ctrl + =).

      You definitely have a point there with the trauma of fading beauty. Incidentally, I’ve written about this earlier (plug alert!) in The Princess And The Pleb. Why then, do I say say the exact opposite now? I guess I’m still in conflict. There’s no graceful way to live through a sociocultural transition.

  4. I totally agree with the @thesinglemarriedman, not sure how long one can pretend to be happy with beauty, I feel it takes a “no brain” to be satisfied with a beauty with no brains.
    more importantly, would a women be happy with a man, whose appreciation ends with beauty?, according to me even a babe, would want her to be appreciated for smartness.

    Biggest female icons?, for every Aishwarya Rai there are Gul Panags and Lara Dutta’s who though moderately successful have a mind of their own and know how to stand by it.

  5. I think the debate of beauty vs brains is one of Apples vs Oranges… They just shouldn’t be compared as one vs the other.

    While I can understand the angst of someone with brains, who is judged purely by her looks by someone serving you fast-food in a restaurant, do ask yourself if this indeed is a person who you actually feel is in a position to judge your intellectual capability. In a flash that you meet such people in day to day life, the only frame on which they can judge you is looks which is something “in their face” and out there.

    For someone to appreciate your intellectual capability, the person doing the judgement should also be someone of similar if not higher intelligence. That’s when you actually feel respected and not as if you are talking to a wall. For someone like you, such people would be far more harder to find than the average Jack on the road.

    If again you hold brains as a criteria against which the foundations of relationship are established then you cant be more wrong. The mating game starts on pure animal impulse of attractiveness on sight. Now you could try to be all politically correct here, and say that we have evolved beyond this, but then you would just be fooling yourself. Of course, the modern institution of relationship requires a person to spend a huge chunk of your time with your partner, in which case you actually want the person to be intelligent too, someone who you could not just bounce with in the bed, but also bounce off ideas and thoughts against. Such relationships are awesome combos which fulfill a human’s desire for both physical companionship and meaningful friendship, two aspects governed by the two different entities called the physical self and the thinking mind. Only when a person gets the best amalgamation of both in a relationship is he truly satisfied. Else he is always seeking one or the other outside. That’s why to me a person who has a platonic relationship with a female friend based on deep intellectual understanding while having a dumb but sexy wife at home is committing as much of infidelity as a a person with a brainy spouse who is screwing his sexy secretary.

    Someone who doesnt know you, or just comes across you for a few moments cant judge you by your brains as he has no exposure to them, so don’t judge him on it. Someone who knows you well enough but still cant appreciate the fact that you are intellectual is actually not brainy enough, and anyway shouldn’t be in the consideration set of people who you should waste time worrying about, so chuck him too. Your being brainy just puts you in an elite and extremely small circle, so please don’t go around crying about the fact that the whole world doesn’t appreciate your brains. Everyone with eyes would anyway look at you, but only someone with brains behind those eyes would see you for who you are. Worry just about that person. The rest can just stare at the next new poster of Megan Fox.

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