20 November 2005

The 100th Beauty Theory

Dear Reader-
Remember that tired old saying, "Pretty is as pretty does"? If you grew up in the age of Forrest Gump, you probably know it as "Stupid is as stupid does," but just now, it's the older form I'm talking about. So, "Pretty is as pretty does." (Please put aside for the moment the sometimes-tiresome issue of beauty being in the eye of the beholder--that's a topic for another post.)

So "Pretty is as pretty does." When did this actually become true? That is, when did beautiful people start being friendly people? When I was growing up, through high school, and into my first couple of confused, disjointed college years, the best-looking people were generally also the most arrogant and least friendly, at least in my limited experience. They seemed to believe that with their good looks came a special permission to treat as lesser humans anyone not as good-looking as they. Therefore they had no reason to care about anyone else's day-to-day or greater difficulties. They could snicker at your intractable hair, smile at each other behind your back (or not!) when your attempts to be stylish fell short of the inscrutable mark, express bottomless disdain for your high grades. Often they didn't even seem to feel any need to greet you, even if you were the only two people in sight. (Do you detect an ever-so-slight bitterness?)

It wasn't exactly coolness, but it was closely related. Though being cool was all-important in my, as in, I'm fairly certain, most American public schools, you could sometimes be cool without being beautiful. But not often. Don't we all know that being cool is partially a matter of having a certain look? What that look is changes, in fact can change overnight, it seems. And it need not necessarily have any connection with classic notions of beauty. But in my schools, in the 60s and early 70s, though the era of the flower child had arrived and denim was becoming more acceptable to be worn outside the factory, farm, and ranch, the cool look still partook heavily of classical ideas of what constitutes human beauty. So the only difference between the prom queen and the hot female singer in the local hippie garage band was hair style and clothes. The faces, even much of the makeup, were largely interchangeable (though neither one of them would have admitted this). And though the singer publicly espoused a philosophy of love and peace with regard to the larger world, it was also true that in person, face-to-face, she could be as snobbish and condescending as the prom queen toward Mr. or Ms. Lesser Human.

There was even a song titled "Pretty Is as Pretty Does"--I remember Annette Funicello and company singing it on The Mickey Mouse Club. And I have to ask, why would there even be such a song--and such a saying--if there weren't people who, as I'm suggesting, were being pretty but not "doing" pretty?

Fast forward to the 21st Century. Fortunately, though still a student of sorts, I'm no longer in high school, so I don't know whether what I'm observing pertains in the high schools of today. but it certainly seems to be true in my little corner of the world. Here it is:
Good-looking people have become friendly, even toward the ordinary-looking among us!

I'm virtually surrounded by bright, beautiful women: several at work, a few in my neighborhood, and assorted others. I'm talking about the kind of women who turn heads. All the time. And they're not only beautiful, but they are also, almost to a fault, kind, generous, appreciative, gracious, and just plain fun to be around. It took me a while to notice that this was happening all around me, but there it is.

So, I ask you, Dear Reader, when did this happen? Was I just the unfortunate ordinary-looking kid who happened to grow up in the land of the pretty-but-nasty, and everywhere else in the known universe was different? Or is it just that I'm lucky enough not to be in high school anymore?

Certainly some of this is due to maturity. I've lived long enough to feel better about myself and less awed by others. But I think there's more to it than that.

So I have a theory, at least regarding women. I think that at some point, pretty women noticed that not-AS-pretty women had problems with them. In general, that is. I'm not imagining the second part of this premise--I've been hearing it all my life--let's call it Beauty-Bashing. And it has its own litany of warnings:
Pretty Women will always be after your boyfriend (husband, partner, etc.)
Pretty Women are nasty (hmm, where have I heard that one lately?)
Pretty Women wouldn't give you the time of day if your life depended on it.
Pretty Women think they're better than everyone else.
I'm not suggesting anyone ever actually said these things; they're the distilled wisdom from my observations of how different people respond to human beauty.

Anyway, my theory is that at some point, the smarter pretty women figured out that they had to be extra-friendly just to be considered as normally friendly as everyone else.

Now to understand the next part of the theory, you need to know something about the 100th Monkey Theory. It's pretty loopy--the stuff of pseudoscience, really. But here's the idea: if certain individuals in a population of monkeys learn something (say, washing potatoes in a stream to remove the dirt), when enough of them have learned it, say 100 monkeys, this number represents a kind of critical knowledge mass, such that at that point, somehow, magically or otherwise, every monkey will be found to know the skill, even in other populations than the original group. (Yeah, I told you it was pretty loopy, didn't I?)

So maybe this is what's happened with beautiful women. Enough of them learned the above-mentioned behavior, with respect to being kind and friendly to others, that the skill has now magically migrated to others, even in unconnected populations, such that all beautiful people I know, at least the women, are now behaving like ordinary friendly human beings. Call it the 100th Beauty Theory.

Or what's more likely, this all represents my imagination working overtime, and no group of people has now or has ever had a corner on the market of nasty behavior, and I'm just raving. Yes, that's more likely, Dear Reader.