Having What It Takes: A Critique On The Aesthetics of Sexy Bodies

A few years ago I attempted to give a response on the concept of Sexism in Art. I was 20 years old, had never read a book on Feminism or Aesthetics so in retrospect, I probably should not have written what I wrote. Nevertheless, I write this essay as a revision because with the knowledge I have now, I most definitely have grown as a writer and thinker. Therefore, as much as I abhor the language I utilized in my previous essay, I will keep it there because it will show how I am no different from other individuals who speak ignorantly of a subject and once we gain insight of said subject, we would like to take back what we said previously. It’s a natural phenomenon that a lot of people judge others for (including myself) and I think we should stop doing that. My views that I have on world issues or history, or things in general, I do not seek to condemn others if they don’t share my views, nor should I expect others to know what I know because if we didn’t get criticism for what we think we know, it will never inspire creativity; we will just be monotone zombies, blindly regurgitating the information we received from our peers. That being said, I hope my views in the previous essay do not offend anyone. And as of this day, this is my view. Thank you for reading. 

A dollar bill, whether it is torn or wrinkled, never loses its value. On the other hand, a crisp, clean looking dollar bill (even if it’s value is $1) is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Similarly, a perfect looking man or woman is more valuable to others than one that is not well put-together. As harsh as that sounds, it is incontestable that determining one’s attractiveness, or in this case, sexiness, has become the norm. People are constantly fed images of “perfect” bodies in popular culture and lauded for their appearances. Simultaneously, we can take the view that cringes at the thought of someone judging us and/or finding a flaw in our bodies. Nonetheless, there are constantly individuals who attempt to or search for ways, to alter the appearance of their bodies at the risk of us being perceived as un-sexy to someone and therefore, invisible. Furthermore, this issue seems to remain trivial for those who remain ignorant to the pressures of what it means to be “sexy”.  However, by citing inspiration from the following aestheticians: Sheila Lintott, Sherri Irvin, and C. Winter Han, I will examine that change is necessary (and hopefully probable in the distant future) for the concept of “sexiness” to no longer be a form of aesthetics, because in spite of the constant reminders of the lesson taught to us as children, we remain judging books by their cover.

Beginning with C. Winter Han’s essay entitled: From “Little Brown Brothers” to “Queer Asian Wives”: Constructing the Asian Male Body, the author touches on a number of excellent points. Specifically, Han points out the ongoing, albeit unchanged, racism towards Asian men. This discrimination extends towards the gay community, where the issue of femininity as a stereotype for Asian Men particularly slurred among Homosexual White Males. Although I do not identify within the LGBTQA Community, this was something I personally felt was surprising. Simply because I was unable to picture a group of oppressed individuals discriminating against another group of people. Somehow, I felt that the silenced gay community could empathize with the voiceless Asian community, yet the evidence Han provides, clearly state otherwise. Unsurprisingly to a number of friends I have in the gay community, shallowness in general, is normative. More specifically, shallowness based on appearance i.e., obesity or lack of muscles. As explained by Han, “unlike media outlets aimed at heterosexual male audiences, gay media plays a dual role in that male bodies on display promote an image not only of what one should be but also of what one should desire. Male bodies in gay media outlets are meant to be not only emulated but consumed.” (Han, 64) And in the case of Asian bodies, they are often portrayed as lanky, infantilized or comically unappealing. Thereby, “depicting [Asian bodies] as androgynous or exotifying them with feminized features, dress, or manners.” (Han, 65)

 

As bad as shallowness is, I would have to argue that discrimination based on racial inferiority is much worse; in other words, it is adding insult to injury to maintain that White bodies are more aesthetically superior to “Colored” bodies. To reiterate, the irony is uncanny to say the least, that a group of men who were teased for their femininity (even to this day) are capable of such grotesque behavior is almost hard to wrap one’s head around.  Han utilizes the example of an “Us Weekly article titled ‘Sexy shirtless [Hollywood] stars!’…When readers click…the article, they are treated to a photo gallery of sixty-three shirtless male starts, sixty of whom are white. Predictably, none of the sexy, shirtless hunks are Asian.” (Han, 70) To say that White Males are perceived as more aesthetic is, in other words, to pretty much state that White Males are ethnically superior. And for it to be nonchalantly portrayed in the media makes it the norm.

 

I would be remiss however, were I not to voice a criticism for this piece, and that is, I felt Han should have specified more on South Asians as opposed to just a bit, as if their struggle is minimal compared to the East Asians. Perhaps I’m being biased in my judgment, as a South Asian male, however there’s actually a short film that touches on this issue called “Yellow Fever” about a young Asian man who is baffled when he sees more and more Asian girls ending up with “White Guys” and not the other way around. He then receives advice from his Indian friend who essentially mocks him and says, “how often do you see an Indian guy with a white girl? It’s like one in a million. Literally.” I will give the author credit for mentioning the examples in TV shows like The Big Bang Theory and Rules of Engagement (Han, 71 & 74) where although, South Asians are portrayed despite being are less popularized in Hollywood in comparison to East Asians. And when South Asians (Indians, mainly) are portrayed, it’s often perceived as a simple-minded person, with a very thick accent (that is often feigned or exaggerated). Moreover, the actor portraying them is usually not even South Asian (e.g., Apu from The Simpsons and Fisher Stevens in Short Circuit 2) an issue pointed out by Indian-American comedian Aziz Ansari in a New York Times article.

 

This essay could not be complete without mentioning two specific philosophers who do a wonderful job in illuminating the struggles women have in attaining a specific body type that  is both “sexy” and gives them reason to be relevant. Their relevancy however, is limited to them only being regarded as objects despite overcoming numerous efforts in the workplace as well as educational gain to be able to “sit at the grown up table”. These philosophers, Sheila Lintott and Sherri Irvin, in their essay, Sex Objects and Sexy Subjects: A Feminist Reclamation of Sexiness, of do a wonderful job by shining a light an issue that perhaps some people notice, but no one sidea of women having to be “sexy” to be relevant. But their relevance is limited to them being regarded only as objects; and this simply won’t do.

 

Primarily, the authors attempt to break down the idea of the word “sexy” and relate it to how women were seen as objects of reproduction. In subsequent years, feminists will rise up and reject this notion of sexiness as “women are more than reproductive machines, even when considered as sexual beings.” (Lintott & Irvin, 303) The latter definition of sexiness “has to do with sexual pleasure and satisfaction” (Lintott & Irvin, 304) To clarify, the authors contend that “the prurient conception of sexiness classifies pregnant, disabled, and elderly women as asexual, as unable or unfit to engage in sexual intercourse and give or receive sexual satisfaction.”

Another point the authors touch on is how we can challenge these notions of sexiness with ethics: “to find someone sexy, in the respectful sense, is to recognize the sexualized subject animated in a body and to respect the subject in part for how they choose or choose not to infuse their own version of sexuality into their own body.” (Lintott & Irvin, 306) In other words, we mustn’t place our own interpretations of sexiness as universal terms but rather, look for the particular characteristics of the individual that makes them sexy; i.e., in their own way.

With that said, Lintott and Irvin seek to determine whether or not notions of sexiness can be considered aesthetic. According to them, it is possible, however “attributions of sexiness…should be responsive to the person as they actually are, not merely as they seem to us.” (Lintott & Irvin, 315) It seems like because individuals are unable to make fair judgements on what is sexy and what is not, make the idea of sexiness as aesthetic very problematic. Particularly, because for Lintott and Irvin, we cannot simply “say ‘He is sexy, and by that I mean I would experience sexual desire for him if I were attracted to fat men’; ‘She is sexy, and by that i mean that a person who finds it possible to experience desire for elderly women would desire her.’” (Lintott & Irvin, 310)

Though Lintott and Irvin’s empirical vigor through their examination of Feminism cannot be overstated,  I do begrudge that heavy emphasis on sexual objectification on women (which is understandable, considering this is supposed to be a feminist piece). Though not often as women,  it should be noted that men are capable of sexual harassment. Furthermore, being a feminist is seen as a “man-hating”, radical movement.  Historically, this may have been the case in the 1960’s but that is besides the point. Also, this article of course, is an obvious exception; plus, usually the ones making that critique are men. But it does not change the fact that some men are objectified and deemed unsexy if they do not have certain appeals (i.e., the six pack, “tall, dark and handsome”). I say this, not to drive attention away from the overall message in the essay, because it is an issue that needs to be resolved but for some reason, has not; my intention is only to bring up something which the author(s) may have missed.

These two articles share in common the desire to challenge the status quo of discriminatory views and stereotypes. And in this essay, I have attempted to demonstrate that judgments of bodies considered “sexy” should not be considered aesthetic due to the nature of constant pressure with societal norms plaguing individuals in attaining a particular appearance, at the risk of not being accepted. Moreover, further examination of the works by Aestheticians: Lintott and Irvin, Han attest the arguments I have made here. The concept of “sexiness” and “masculinity” is irrefutably perplexing and incontestably, subjective. Therefore, members of society must grasp that we do not all have what it takes to be the epitome of either characteristics in this world.

Furthermore, it is incomprehensible as to why individuals should particularly care or judge anyone based on their appearance.  According to both articles, perceptions of “beautiful” and “sexy” are ingrained in our minds and what we define as a “sexy person” is this artificially shaped subject of a specific race or color; and perhaps our reason behind why we do this, is because we are continuously exposed to images or advertisements in the media that is, especially in today’s popular culture, the standard. And simultaneously, albeit unfortunately, we ignore the fact that people are not meant to be categorized as objects of our appraisal.

-Ahmed H. Sharma (Mr. Writer)

Originally Written on the 10th of May, 2017

Works Cited 

Han, C. Winter. “From “Little Brown Brothers” to “Queer Asian Wives”: Constructing the Asian Male Body.” Body Aesthetics. Ed. Sherri Irvin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 60-78. Print.

Irvin, Sherri, and Sheila Lintott. “Sex Objects and Sexy Subjects: A Feminist Reclamation of Sexiness.” Body Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 299-317. Print.

 

 

Lazy Aesthetics: Examining Nature at Rest

For Dr. Cynthia Freeland.

In January, I had a short assignment for my Aesthetics’ class where I had to talk about a photo I took that I considered beautiful in Nature. I posted the essay on my blog because I loved the picture that much and wanted to share what I wrote with my readers. For my mid-term assignment, I had the opportunity to revise as well as expand on my essay. Again, I enjoyed what I wrote so much that I decided to re-publish what I wrote as well as giving my essay a proper title. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it and most of all, I hope my professor likes it.

Ordinarily when one thinks of squirrels, they often picture a little furry animal that runs up and down trees or away from people that get too close. Or perhaps more morbidly, dead furry little animals lying on the highway. Strangely, I was leaving the University of Houston campus early on October of 2016 and stumbled across this one squirrel that, literally, stopped me in my tracks. Seeing squirrels on campus is not unusual; students must encounter at least two or three as they walk to their classes. One of the fascinating traits about this squirrel for me however, was that it was just lying down, not doing anything. Unlike most of the squirrels we see on campus or even off campus, it was not eating anything, running, nor was it dead (despite its appearance). Disregarding this, readers may still find fault with my picture or my attraction to this lounging squirrel. As a result, I will attempt to make the argument, throughout this paper, that such an image of this squirrel fits the criteria of what philosophers consider aesthetic in nature. Moreover, by drawing upon the works of certain philosophers and aestheticians, I will be able to confirm my assertions and simultaneously, make the reader more cognizant of the true beauty of the photo.

            Prior to taking my photo, I gazed at this squirrel for longer than I’d like to admit and did my best to make sure I did nothing to disturb it at the risk of any sudden movement that would cause the squirrel to be startled and leave the scene. Graciously though, I managed to get a photo of the little guy and when I went home, the photo resonated with me for a while but only humorously. That evening, thoughts were running through my head of pure satire, “what is this squirrel tired from? It’s not as if he has midterms or has little to no money in his checking account.”  I then sardonically pondered as to what he may be thinking about: “He looks so depressed, he probably found his squirrel girlfriend taking acorns from someone else and is gradually contemplating suicide.” After the laughter died down, I began to wonder if I had made a wise decision by photographing the event and simultaneously, questioned the very nature of my initial appreciation i.e., was the image I selected and emphasized on what I considered “aesthetic in nature”, actually so or had I gotten carried away with something that amused me?[1]

            In order to properly answer that question, one would have to look deeper into what is aesthetic, i.e., what makes something aesthetic. Eugene Hargrove argues that there are three categories (Beautiful, Picturesque and the Sublime)[2] that are served to define something as Aesthetic and thereby, measure their levels of attractiveness and differentiate that which is awe-inspiring and uninspiring. Among those three, we could argue that my photo would be considered “picturesque” because clearly, it was not something I could ignore. Although, because what makes the image of this squirrel picturesque is that to me, it was interesting and in Hargrove’s view, just because something is interesting, traditionally has never considered an object beautiful.[3]

            From Hargrove’s view, I am able to understand how things considered “interesting” may not merit the same qualities as something considered beautiful or even picturesque for that matter. I choose to reject that notion, however, because I believe there can be a way to appreciate something so simple as a squirrel lying down, in how it can be approached. Such a view is taken by Allen Carlson who contends in approaching aesthetics from a perspective that appreciates nature in a positive manner.[4] Carlson goes on to explain that the most appropriate way to appreciate nature is scientific knowledge; a good point indeed, however arguably in this case, scientific knowledge seems to be irrelevant in examining this photo since there does not seem to be anything of scientific value of a motionless squirrel. If anything, I argue that it must be appreciated by its simplicity in nature. This appeal is introduced to by Ralph Waldo Emerson who defines Nature as divinely created (not altered by human contact) and therefore, unconditionally beautiful.[5]

            Nevertheless, when I examine the photo it of course, still makes me laugh. But moreover, it makes me ponder at the fact that for this one brief moment, nature was at rest. This is not to say that people are not fully aware that animals are capable of sleeping; simply stated, one just never usually sees an animal at rest. This is excluding animals at the zoo, of course, because animals there are trapped and miserable. But here, out in the open fields and fake green grass on the University of Houston campus, nature needs a break.  Often times, when we watch nature documentaries or the like, it’s rare that we see an animal that is not doing anything at all. We are accustomed to seeing our pets asleep but the idea of any other animal just resting is arguably eerie. One could even make the criticism of my photo that, because it defies the tradition of ordinary squirrels in motion, it is not aesthetically good.[6]  Although Yuriko Saito will bring up the example of a rotting carcass and state that such an act is nature in balance, but because its appearance is shuddering, some would not regard it as aesthetic.[7] Saito goes on to echo such a feeling when we discuss cockroaches, fleas, and mosquitoes that present a challenge to us to find attractive.[8] My problem with that however, is that it is not difficult to contest the appearance of a squirrel and compare it to how one views a cockroach; they are too different and only the latter could cause the most masculine individual to stand up on a chair to avoid contact.

            That being said, I argue that finding an appeal in this photo serves as part of the “revolution” in traditional aesthetics.[9] We could find this assertion in close examination of Sheila Linnot’s view in how aesthetic tastes may differ overtime.[10] While her claims are more focused in terms of approaching an aesthetic appeal in an ecologically friendly manner, we can still relate this claim to the motionless squirrel. Specifically, in how easily avoidable it is for most people to walk past a squirrel, unfazed, regardless of its movement or lack thereof. A reason for this could be because squirrels run rampant at the University campus or encounter them so much in our daily lives that they have lost their luster. At the same time however, I would dismiss that by mentioning how anytime one witnesses a dog (either poking their head out of a car window or walking around a neighborhood) a great deal of attention is placed by people who may even have one waiting for them at home.

            It is for reasons such as that and more, that I emphasize why my photo should be regarded as aesthetic in nature and respectfully dismiss any notions to state otherwise. Granted, my photo is unable to rival against other picturesque photos that some would perhaps view with a more artful eye. Nevertheless, it seems incomprehensible if one were to regard something as ugly in nature. Taking a lesson from Aldo Leopold, human judgement of nature is purely based on how it makes us feel; “it does not flow naturally from nature itself; it is not directly oriented to nature on nature’s own terms; nor is it well informed by the ecological and evolutionary revolutions in natural history.”[11] Therefore, any judgement or in this case, criticism of an image in nature is deemed trivial as nature’s purpose, is not to serve us in any way.

A similar connection can be made in concluding my defense of this squirrel photo.  Prior to my arrival and taking this photo of the squirrel, its existence and objectives in life carried out were not given by me. My curiosity peaked at the sight because of my love for nature (in the words of Emerson) “I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty…I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages.”[12] The ultimate intention of my photo is to be Avant-garde i.e., beautiful in an idiosyncratic function. A squirrel at rest is meant to bare the same manifestation like that of a sad clown. Of course we are aware that just because the person dressed as a clown, who is meant to symbolize fun and excitement, is a human being underneath all the makeup and puffy clothing; capable of emotions such as sadness, anger, confusion. Because such a sight is seldom seen, it is therefore, inconsiderable. And when one does encounter something that is perceived as original or unusual, it is understandably charming and in a very outlandish sort of way, aesthetic.  

-Ahmed H. Sharma  

Originally  Written on the 17th of March, 2017 at  5:38 P.M. 

 

Works Cited:

Carlson, Allen, Sheila Lintott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldo Leopold, Yuriko Saito, and Eugene Hargrove. Nature, Aesthetics, and Environmentalism: From Beauty to Duty. New York: Columbia UP, 2008. Print.

 

[1] “The problem [in Aesthetics’ of nature] is what and how to select, emphasize and group and what and how to compose for appropriate appreciation.” Allen Carlson, Nature, Aesthetics and Environmentalism, P.119

[2] Carlson (Eugene Hargrove), P. 33

[3] “Traditionally, it has been held that interest is subservient to beauty, an element which has to be present in a beautiful object, but which is never considered an aesthetic category in its own right.” Ibid, P.35

[4] “Appropriate aesthetic appreciation is that appreciation of an object that reveals what aesthetic qualities and value it has.” (Carlson) P.225

[5] Carlson (Ralph Waldo Emerson) P.49-53

[6] Carlson, P.229-231

[7] Carlson (Yuriko Saito) P.242-243

[8] Ibid P.245

[9] “Revolution in the aesthetics of nature often takes place when people start appreciating the parts of nature formerly regarded as aesthetically negative.” Ibid P.238

[10] Carlson (Sheila Linott) P.386-389

[11] Carlson (Aldo Leopold), P. 109

[12] Carlson (Emerson) P.50