Guys Like Girls Who Guys Can Tell What They Look Like
June 10, 2011 8 Comments
The interesting thing to me about “Lady Gaga”, who I’ve become aware of as a purportedly popular pop singer/music-video dancer/actress, is that it’s basically impossible to tell what the woman actually looks like. One gets only a vague impression of fake-blondeness, heavy makeup, perhaps complicated underwear flapping around. There is nothing in her actual features that you can latch onto. If I saw her out of Gaga garb on a bus or at the mall I’d have absolutely no idea it was her. If she were a suspect I had to describe to a police sketch artist, I could say “well, her hair is blonde when it’s dyed blonde or she’s wearing a blonde wig”, or “wears underwear. No, more underwear.” But that’s about it. It’s as if her appearance is calculated to be the visual equivalent of a dog whistle; none of it registers to me. I don’t even feel like I have a reliable way of determining what she looks like at my disposal. I could study her photos for hours. I doubt it would help me recognize her in normal dress at the mall.
As James Bowman writes,
For someone who has made her name and reputation so largely by appearing in ever more outlandish costumes marked by extreme artifice, there could not but have been a degree of deliberately cultivated cognitive dissonance in the production of a signature tune titled “Born This Way.” [...] I guess mama never got around to explaining why, if God made her perfect, it was necessary to roll the hair and put the lipstick on.
So who actually likes Lady Gaga, and why? A pop singer like her is not liked for her singing or songs per se, but for her image & behavior; it follows that some people actually like and/or are fascinated by the way she looks. So what is the fan base that likes can’t-tell-what-she-looks-like looks? According to Bowman, Gaga’s core fan base consists of gay males, and by extension, females.
Do females & gay males just intrinsically like can’t-tell-what-they-look-like female entertainers more than hetero guys do?
L.G.’s obvious predecessor is Madonna, who also launched a career on the strength of a largely gay & female fan base. I do feel like I know more what Madonna looks like, but this was not always true. Particularly at the beginning of her career, with the frizzy hair and gigantic number of accoutrements copied by all 8-13 year old girls at the time (oversized bracelets/bangles, hair bands, leg warmers, etc). Also, what she looks like has continually changed over the years. For a while she was trying to look like Marilyn Monroe. And it kinda-sorta worked, if you squinted your eyes.
Obviously it’s clear, and not all that surprising, that female vs. male standards for what sort of women are good to look at differ wildly. I’m reminded of an old stand-up routine (I think it may have been a younger Jerry Seinfeld?) where he made fun of women who raved, or pretended to rave, about how ‘beautiful’ Meryl Streep is. “She looks like Snoopy!”, according to the comic. This may be harsh, but it is valid as another example of a celebrity whose fan base is largely female. Not that men don’t respect her acting ability, but come on; no (hetero) guy wants to go see a Meryl Streep movie as such.
A more current actress whose fan base seems to be largely female, I would suggest, is Angelina Jolie. Guys will go see an Angelina Jolie movie, sure, but it’s women (and gay males) who get interested to see her for the sake of Angelina Jolie, for what she looks like. Now, as is often the case when I write about actresses, Jolie seems like a highly unique, singular exception, a counterexample to what I’m trying to say. Because it’s not like I can’t tell what Angelina Jolie looks like. I totally can. However, I will assert that her ‘beauty’ is built on a lot of artifice. Nobody who watched the now-highly-dated mid-90s genre film Hackers would have come away thinking that the pale-skinned, round-headed, elf-faced girl with the short hair and the roller skates was destined to be deemed one of Hollywood’s top beauties, marry Brad Pitt, and essentially take over the world as its reigning bisexual Amazon priest-goddess. After all, take away the highly-well-constructed hairstyles she now sports, and the poise she got from somewhere, and the nudity, and you’d be pretty much left with a pair of (grotesque, IMHO) lips. Which can only take you so far, really. But people love to watch Angelina Jolie! Who especially? Women, and gay males.
In between there’s Rene Zellwegger – cute in an ugly sort of way, ugly in a cute sort of way, like Streep a well-respected actress with awards and whatnot – who you can kinda tell what she looks like. Just not around the eyes, which seem locked in a permanent squint that let’s no natural/normal facial features escape. I suggest women will be the driving force behind whoever goes to a Rene Zellwegger movie as well.
By contrast, let me throw out a female name whose fan base is not obviously heavily concentrated amongst women and gay males (though surely many of them are fans too): Catherine Zeta-Jones. Here’s another name: Scarlett Johansson. Salma Hayek. Monica Bellucci. Julianne Moore. Even Nicole Kidman.
Now, I feel like I know what they all look like. I would recognize them on the street. Their looks have never altered that much. And I would suggest that they have plenty of male fans.
So what separates celebrity women whom women/gay males like, from those men like? You might think it’s just beauty, pure and simple. I’m not so sure.
My bold thesis here, submitted for your approval, is simply this: guys like being able to tell what a girl looks like. Girls (and gay men) don’t; instead, they like to see what a girl is trying to look like.
Why this would be, I have a few interrelated conjectures. Maybe girls naturally like to observe the visual experiments of other girls trying to alter their appearance, because it gives them hope that they can easily fool people about what they look like too. Maybe girls want to destroy the notion of beauty so as to level the playing field – if beauty isn’t valued and artifice is, nobody can call them ugly. Maybe they just like it when cute-ugly/ugly-cute celebrities can pass as beauties because it gives them hope too. Maybe all of the above.
I’m just not sure. What I am sure of, though, is that even though I’ve now seen her hundreds of times, I have no idea what Lady Gaga looks like. As far as I can tell, that seems to be precisely her plan, and it works.