The great debate on looks

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 3, 2003

Jeremy's series and Jeffery's column this week on obesity-related issues prompted a lot of those water-cooler conversations in the office this week. I took mild exception to Jeffery's comment that women didn't go ga-ga over heavy set men (OK, I confess, I've got a thing for John Goodman), and then I pointed out that women are far more likely to go ga-ga over a heavy man than a man was over a heavy woman. No matter what, there is a double standard, and while it is acceptable and even amusing to find a dumpy man with a cover girl wife, you hardly ever see the opposite - a GQ studly type with a homely woman. Look at television - the sitcoms are rife with this set-up, going back to Ralph Kramden and Alice and up to now, with George Lopez and his wife. But looking for the opposite, the best we could come up with was Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth, and she wasn't that bad looking. Especially with her crown on.

Oh, the guys tried to prove me wrong. Every time they'd say "I've got one!" the example they offered was yet again another homely man-beautiful woman combination. It was as though they couldn't wrap their minds around the possibility of any man winding up with a less than stunning woman.

Theories abounded. Was it because women were looking for money and security and didn't care how the package was wrapped? Or was it because women look beyond the physical, and see the inner beauty of the man beneath the receding hairline, expanding waistline, and tendency to scratch in impolite places? One theory was that after marriage, the men let themselves go and the women don't. Try telling that to someone who is still fighting the weight gained in the baby-producing years… The funniest thing about this conversation was the emergence of our concepts of beauty. One person would find an ugly-beautiful combination and another would dispute, claiming that "He" wasn't ugly, but "She" was, or vice versa. Some of the standards were pretty universal. Who, male or female, is going to deny that Gwyneth Paltrow is pretty and Carrot Top is not? But there were other surprising perceptions of beauty that came up.

Maybe I should say "attractiveness" instead. I am not one of those who is attracted by looks alone - I think Leo DiCaprio is a squirt and Tom Cruise and egomaniacal toad, but I won't deny their physical assets. I just don't find them attractive. I like character, and the way it shows up in a man, through his voice, his attitude, and above all, his sense of humor. Why do I think John Goodman is sexier than Tom Cruise? Because John Goodman can make me laugh, and after all of the raging flames of youth have died, there is always laughter. When I watch Law & Order, it isn't for that season's hunky cop, but for Jerry Orbach's character, Lenny Brisco, with his weather-beaten face and droll humor. I'll take Mel Gibson over Richard Gere any day, because he makes me laugh.

(OK, maybe the blue eyes do contribute a little bit… and the view from behind).

I made some comment about a "hottie" the other day, shocking my 11 year-old, who, bless his heart, is the most prim child I've ever met.

"Mom! You're married!"

"Yep, and so is your dad, and you don't hear me fussing when watches anything and everything Sigourney Weaver is in, do you?"

I've got to hand it to my husband - those celebrity women he has , um, admired, for so long remain his favorites. He doesn't drop Goldie or Sigourney or Sophia just because they put on a few pounds and get a few wrinkles. Just before Kate Hepburn died, he was looking at a picture of her in her 80's.

"That," he said, "is a truly beautiful woman."

It seems that men, too, can look below the surface sometimes and see the real beauty shine from within. Of course, I count on that with my husband. What a hottie!