Artificial beauty, and why anyone would care

A while ago I went to a talk by a woman who was smart, driven, savvy, accomplished, and attractive. I was particularly interested since she’s gotten the degree I’m about to start working on, and it was exciting to hear how one person has made a non-clinical career in the field of sexuality. She was describing the legal and media harassment she experienced after opening a feminist sex shop in a rather conservative suburb, and her talk was interesting both in content and presentation.

Shaun and I went for drinks with a couple other guys after the talk, and as we were walking toward the bar one of them said, “So: real or fake?” We both went ‘huh?’ back at him, and he clarified: “Her boobs. Real or fake?”

It’s been a long time since I hung out in company that devoted two seconds’ thought to breast enhancement surgery, so my initial reaction was ‘What an odd thing to wonder.’ Shaun said something, I don’t remember what, and I hazarded the opinion that she’s been too busy with education and entrepreneurship to have gotten cosmetic surgery (she’s quite a few years younger than me, and she’s already a successful business owner and finishing up her PhD. Sigh.) The conversation then turned to a discussion of her background, with a liberal dose of “how DID she do all that in so short a time?” And then, after a few minutes, our friend returned persistently to his question: “So are they real or fake?”

Which is when I got annoyed, and said quite coldly, “Why do you care?” Now, I’m not immune to impertinent personal speculation — at another point, Shaun and I agreed in our guess that she was hetero and monogamous in her dating life — but to fixate on the exact provenance of her breasts struck me as puerile and offensive. And I was sincere in my question: Why did he care? Why does anybody? I’ve done my share of admiring attractive breasts, but it’s never occurred to me to speculate on exactly how they got to be so beautiful. And if I did find out that a particular pair was surgically-enhanced, I wouldn’t find that interesting or noteworthy. I know that the “real or fake” question gets some play in dudebro circles, but I’m not clear on why.

My guess is that some hetero men are troubled by the power an attractive female body exerts on them. That some of them — particularly the young and insecure — find ways to demean and diminish the bearers of those bodies, and one of those ways is to say with a sniff, “But it’s not real.” Because… breast enhancement surgery is cheating or something? The logic is weak, but I think that must be at the bottom of it.

Another possibility, which could happily coexist with the first one, is that exacting standards of beauty are not primarily about evolutionarily-coded fitness signals, as we’re so often told these days. Instead, they’re about status and acquisition. Women with lovely faces and perfect bodies are rare, especially as today’s “perfect body” is tiny with large breasts, not a common naturally occuring combination. Anything rare can be assigned a high value, and gaining possession of a rare valuable grants status to the possessor… especially when competition comes into play, as it seems to do with partner-choice. If a naturally-perfect body is a diamond to shine on the arm of a victorious male, then a surgically-enhanced perfect body is cubic zirconia: just as lovely, but easier to come by and therefore less valuable.

Contrariwise, if attraction is about fitness signals, then someone who’s not currently planning to breed shouldn’t give two hoots where the perfect body he’s drooling over comes from. And if anyone tries to make an argument that we are evolutionarily designed to be turned off by surgically-enhanced breasts, I am going to scream and shoot something. I hope I don’t have to explain why. Anyway, I don’t think most dudebros are any less turned on by surgically-enhanced breasts… I think arguing that they’re fake is a way of rationalizing the woman into lower status.

Anyway. If anyone has other insights on this I’d love to hear them.

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4 thoughts on “Artificial beauty, and why anyone would care

  1. I have a friend who had to have breast enhancement surgery because she has a metabolism disorder that doesn’t allow her to gain weight AT ALL. Granted, she is tiny as all get-out, but this also resulted in my friend not being able to develop breasts. So, for her own esteem, she had surgery at the end of her high school years. The kicker is that had she never told me, I would’ve never known that they weren’t “homemade” breasts. Does it diminish her value to me? Absolutely not. Did it diminish her value to other men? Hell no. Her new husband certainly doesn’t have any complaints!

    I think you’re on to something about men being intimidated by the female physique, though. Maybe it’s a self-esteem thing? They find things to pick at because they feel that they’re not good enough for the ‘prize’, and if the prize rejects them, they’ll find a way to justify the outcome. Kind of reminds me of my ex in some ways. He’s terrified of strong women simply b/c his first love hurt him big time. This has resulted in him being convinced that the only way he’ll be happy in life is if he has an Asian woman. Sigh.

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  2. Ooh, the bitterness of the “strong, independent” Western women against the feminine, submissive, ultra-traditional Asian female! Gotta love it, heh heh.

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  3. I find that my (female) partner will Judge breasts on other women as to whether a woman with non-drooping “good” breasts or (in her mind) surgically altered – e.g. “bad” breasts – related to perceived subtle competition with herself and her images of “beauty”.

    My reaction commonly is “why would I care?” (as a male). I either “enjoy” her appearance or “don’t” – but I couldn’t care less otherwise. I might feel differently if it was an issue of getting involved with such a woman (which is never the issue).

    While on the whole my partner trashes me for my “love of boobs” in this area (at least) it feels to me in a sense the opposite in terms of judging in this area.

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  4. It’s clear that this question was used as a way to attack a woman who has established herself. To the person making this remark, I would ask what role they feel circumcision plays? Religious reasons aside, this surgery is performed for aesthetic reasons. Does that entertain their mind when they hear a man presenting? Does it help to legitimize a man knowing he’s never gone under the knife?

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