Dustin Hoffman is a dude who realized, at some point in his life, that he missed out on a hell of a lot of interesting women simply because they weren’t conventionally beautiful. He spoke of this revelation eloquently in an interview that has gone viral this week on social media. The intention of each article, poem, and manifesto I have written in my life were made simple and digestible on the lips of a famous man. Oy.
This revelation of Mr. Hoffman’s is something that I have lived with and pondered for most of my life, even before the onset of puberty. I can recall being thirteen years old and a good friend of mine convincing a boy in our school that he should date me, despite me not being as conventionally beautiful as the other girls in our peer group. She reminded him how kind I was, and smart, how interesting of a person, loyal, a good friend . He agreed to it, and in middle school fashion, asked me out over AIM, or, some form of internet chat. I can clearly remember the intense and immediate joy that I felt, prancing back and forth from the computer room to my bedroom and blasting I wanna love you forever by Jessica Simpson on my mini sony c.d player. I had been accepted by a popular, good looking boy. I had made it. Later, I would hear him tell boys in the school that I “looked a lot better with my shirt off” and other hurtful, scaring phrases. After a few weeks, we broke up, and he, myself, and our match maker friend, found ourselves in the parking lot of a local movie theater, trying to mend my broken heart and our awkward friendships.
“She told me to ask you out,” he said, “but I was only doing it because I really liked her.”
“Why do you really like me?’ she yelled, “because you think I’m cute? That doesn’t fucking matter that much!”
As a seventh grader my friend had already had the revelation that took Dustin Hoffman most of his adult life to realize. Even though I felt like Laney Boggs in a major way, my friend was right.
In the interview, the actor referenced interesting women that he did not have the chance to get to know because they did not fit the standard fashion model mold. When I speak about this phenomenon with my best friend over the phone, days after we have watched the clip, we agree that the non approaching man behaves in this way because of his own crippling insecurities, or, what would the guys think about me if I was talking to this woman? This, of course, can happen both ways, the less attractive person afraid to approach the good looking person, crippled by the fear of rejection. This social paralyzation due to insecurities has perhaps been the cause of millions of unanswered and never were love connections and/or friendships, a result of our quick to categorize brains.
And besides conventional beauty, perhaps we also steer away from those who do not appear to possess the same aesthetics as us. We judge people in general by their choice of dress, the car that they drive, the shoes that they have on. The business casual person may be quick to judge the artsy hipster, yet their love could be one that moves mountains, if they only had the chance to interact. They just might find that hipster has more practical ideas and footing than they do, could run a company with their hands tied behind their back and still have time for a romantic weekend getaway! The New York City darling may be turned off by the conservative science nerd in a look, but could possibly be turning away from the greatest love of their life. The nutritionist, talking in a condescending voice to her overweight patient, as if being big was synonymous with being stupid, may be robbing herself of a genuine human interaction. The countless individuals who never approach one another because of varying class, ethnic, religious, and racial divides. This is sad, hence Hoffman’s tears, hence my years of writing about it in journals, in poems, in bleeding tears. No, really.
Yes, ok, I know, sexual attraction is such a key element of a relationship – yet that first level of attraction may in fact be the most shallow, or, least important, to building a real love. Any fool can have sex, can lust, but then there is a deep love that few ever experience in their lives, even those who are married and settled. If we let our groin lead us to the proverbial alter, we may be one of the 50% filing for divorce when the hot flames burn out. This isn’t social science, just a comment on the state of love in human nature. I remember myself leaving a note for a young man years ago, telling him that I was interested in him. At the time, he wasn’t, stating one of the reasons as him not being “overly” attracted to me, a requirement he needed to start a relationship. Him and I are still great friends, and I believe, as he has grown, he has perhaps had the same revelation as Hoffman, knowing now the importance of mental and spiritual stimulation in a relationship. One may underestimate the sexiness of the mind at first, but that slow to burn fire can be one that lasts a lifetime.
But who teaches the human to judge so quickly, is it our neuroscience, biology, social cues from elders and peers, or all three? Are we born this way, or taught to be this way? Is it something that can be easily overcome or are we destined to it? Could we hold newborns in a vacuum and still find that they place the same judgements on others when reintroduced to society? It’s hard to deduce for certain.
Quick judgement seems to be a part of our society, and some of the most painful examples of it are girl on girl. Last month journalist Liz Jones wrote an article calling Rihanna ‘toxic’ and a ‘poisonous pop princess.’ She referenced the young artist’s choice of clothing, activities, and relationship with Chris Brown, as reasons for the singer not being a good role model. The singer fought back on social media, calling the woman a list of scathing names, in retaliation. The problem here is, well, neither of the women have ever officially met one another, or had a significant conversation. The judgements, being spewed back and forth, were based on shallow first impressions. Rihanna, although not claiming the title, is a role model, simply because young people look up to her. Jones forgot to mention how the young woman has come from a developing country to claim reign over the popular music scene, her strength and talent as a performer tied up in her fashion forward attitude and exciting personal brand. She didn’t mention that Rihanna may come from a background where standing by one’s partner, through the worst of times, is a norm, and women and men don’t easily walk away from relationships, despite forms of abuse that may be unacceptable in anglo-centric cultures. Rihanna’s individuality, her edgy approach, has a refreshing and honest tinge to it, compared to her pop peers, Taylor Swift, or even Beyonce, who seem much ‘safer’ in their public persona.
Perhaps Jones does not want Rihanna encouraging 10 year old girls to smoke pot, but I’d rather my future child learn about individuality and being yourself than following the pack through “acceptable aesthetic.” If children only see their teachers and parents in ‘acceptable’ attire, or safe forms of expression, they may never be exposed to a sense of freedom, and some may end up feeling like freaks or outcasts for wanting to express themselves outside the norm. Leave it to adults to make children ashamed or afraid to be different, teaching them early on that if they look or act a certain way the Dustin Hoffman’s of the world may walk right by them, feeding into our vicious social cycles.
At seventeen I did something brave. I stood in the athletic center of our high school in the late afternoon and asked a young man to prom that I knew was out of my league. I remember feeling frozen, as if time stopped, and he and I were the only two people left breathing. Although he already had a date, the experience taught me something about confidence, something about overcoming insecurities, and teaching myself to not be paralyzed by the social current already set in motion. I knew that he should be honored to be in my presence and that I was an interesting person who could offer a multitude of experiences and love to an individual, no matter who they were or what they happened to look like. If our judgements are shields for our own insecure bodies, perhaps the change we are looking for, the confidence we need to break down these cycles, does in fact come from within.
Art by Laura Marie herself.