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The false advertising debate

The feminist blogs have been on all week about "false advertising," that is, whether it is "unfair" if a woman changes her appearance after marriage (e.g., by cutting her hair short, gaining weight, not losing weight after childbirth). One route into the discussion is here at Alas, a blog.

I'm sure it surprises no one that I don't subscribe to this notion. But that's not really what my post is about. What I began thinking about was this:

If one needs to advertise attractive traits to attract partners, and maintain them so as not to lose partners, then it would stand to reason that polyamorous people, many of whom are at least theoretically open to finding new partners, would be especially scrupulous about advertising and maintaining traits they think increase their attractiveness.

I'm not part of every community of polyamorous people, but the folks I am aware of don't seem to think very often in terms of "I have to maintain X, Y, and Z traits to keep my partners / attract new partners." I'm aware of people thinking in terms of how their traits interact with the traits of their partners, so that when there are problems, those specific problems get discussed; I'm not aware that "you've let your appearance go and I feel it's unfair" is a common problem. I'm aware of people thinking that they're responsible for continuing to pursue their interests and activities, so they don't become dependent on one person for all their social and intellectual needs. Maybe I'm wrong and poly folks (especially women?) are thinking a lot about maintaining their appearance in order to please their partners and attract additional partners, but if so I don't see it. I do see a lot of people concerned about their weight, but usually other reasons are given.

I'm sure that a lot of monogamous people also approach "coupled life" in one or both of the above ways, too.


( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 27th, 2006 08:36 pm (UTC)
I did once have a boyfriend who said he'd feel neglected if I "let myself go". He, mind you, had a beerbelly (from beer) and no stamina. Ho hum. I wasn't impressed at the time and I wouldn't be impressed now.
Mar. 27th, 2006 08:42 pm (UTC)
um, i don't keep fit for anyone's pleasure but my own. poly or not.

that smell is the smoke coming out of my ears.

Mar. 27th, 2006 08:43 pm (UTC)
clarification: the "hate" is at the sentiment that you were writing about, not you or your opinion! :)

(no subject) - firecat - Mar. 27th, 2006 08:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 27th, 2006 09:01 pm (UTC)
Mar. 27th, 2006 08:48 pm (UTC)
I'm aware of people thinking that they're responsible for continuing to pursue their interests and activities

Somewhat ... I tend to see this where a social group's interaction is based in RPGs, cons, or SCA.

I've also experienced it as my job satisfaction has changed. I used to think "Oh well, I could always quit tech, move to a cheaper place, and find a job where I get knee hugs walking in the door again." Needless to say, this option very directly affects husband's life - not to mention other partners!!

Maybe I'm wrong and poly folks (especially women?) are thinking a lot about maintaining their appearance in order to please their partners and attract additional partners, but if so I don't see it.

It's a factor in things like hair & clothes, but only a factor. And not a big part of my life.
Mar. 27th, 2006 09:03 pm (UTC)
Hm. I did run my haircut past my partners and bring a group-approved photograph to the hairdresser for haircut matching. I also would never conceive of choosing to go bare-faced because I know at least one of my partners really *strongly* prefers me with the goatee.

It's not completely a "keeping up appearances for fear of losing them," thing, though. I tend to view it more as trying to do nice things for my partners.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - epi_lj - Mar. 28th, 2006 02:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 27th, 2006 09:19 pm (UTC)
Can you imagine how boring life would be if people never changed? Jeez, if I were the same person I was when I got married - in looks, interests, emotional maturity, cooking ability - well, I'm just glad that I've changed over the years. And so has my partner. Life is like that.

Maybe for some people, attraction is purely based on physical characteristics. If that's all there is to their relationships, I feel sorry for them, but I have trouble seeing how that's a really strong relationship to start with.

And sure, being in a relationship limits your choices somewhat - you have someone else's life and preferences to take into account. But that's the same in *any* kind of relationship. I can't bring home a new kitten tonight, not just because I need to discuss it with the spouse, but because I'd need to consider the effect on the other two cats who live here. It's all a big interrelated thing.
Mar. 27th, 2006 09:24 pm (UTC)
I can't speak to the poly/mono factor, but the notion of thinking in terms of my parter's (or my own) "traits" just makes me blink.

I seem to fall in love with whole, entire people, not traits - although I appreciate it when people I love possess traits I find admirable, such as honesty, compassion and a good sense of humor. But physical traits - the ones the "fair advertising" discussion seems to be emphasizing - are ephemeral under the best of circumstances.
Mar. 27th, 2006 09:33 pm (UTC)
The only physical traits that really bug me are hygiene ones. I react almost as badly to BO as I do to perfumes.
(no subject) - kightp - Mar. 28th, 2006 01:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ailbhe - Mar. 28th, 2006 10:20 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 27th, 2006 09:25 pm (UTC)
My mother was 104lbs when my parents got married, and my father was very upfront that her looks were his main attraction. She gained nearly 100lbs when she got pregnant with me and never lost more than 40 of that at any given time. Because my father was looks-oriented, that was an issue for them. To that I say, "suck it, Dad." If you love someone at 104, you can love them at 404--you may not have the same sensual desires, but love is love.

Now then, my mother was always a very well kempt woman until about 1987, when she was laid off from work and spent the next 3 years wearing the same housecoat everyday, only washing her hair now and then, and pretty much just looking bedgraggled and--skanky. When she got dressed it was in wrinkled clothes, and I can't tell you the number of times she just put an outfit on over the housecoat. This caused serious issues between my parents and to that I say, "Good god, Mom! Take a bath!"

(She's clean now, btw, and she gets dressed. She had a mini-breakdown.)

I decided that I would do my best to present an attractive facade for my husband--not out of fear that he wouldn't love me, but out of respect for him. I love him. I think highly of him. I want to present a body to him that is attractive because he deserves it. I'm not sure I'm saying that right.

I want him to like looking at me, so I set a standard for myself. That's not to say I don't have days when I look bedraggled, but those are few and far between. I'm really lucky to be married to a man who thinks I'm pretty on the gross days, too. That must be where the blind love kicks in because I have serious gross out potential ;)

I think this probably sounds horribly backwards, but I don't mean it that way. I wouldn't be with someone who (and I have left a man who) was fixated on me looking a certain way. I just know what I think is pretty and I adore my husband, so I want to give him the pretty.
Mar. 27th, 2006 10:05 pm (UTC)
I find it interesting that you say "I just know what I think is pretty and I adore my husband, so I want to give him the pretty" because it doesn't mention whether your husband shares your aesthetic tastes. It has a different subtext than "My husband thinks X is pretty and I adore my husband so I want to give him the pretty."
(no subject) - raphaela - Mar. 27th, 2006 11:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - necturus - Mar. 27th, 2006 10:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - raphaela - Mar. 27th, 2006 11:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - necturus - Mar. 28th, 2006 01:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Mar. 27th, 2006 11:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 27th, 2006 10:32 pm (UTC)
I wonder if polyamorous people find that they are no longer tied to keeping (outdated?) traits to keep a partner, when they can be whomever they want to be and probably find new partners.
Mar. 28th, 2006 02:27 am (UTC)
That seems possible but non-intuitive, for two reasons. The first is that being poly doesn't mean I don't want to keep a partner: I want to keep three partners. I don't think a change in my appearance would chance losing any of them, but that's a separate matter, specific to the particular partners I have and their observed ways of being.

The second is that yes, poly people can have more partners--but I'm fairly sure that we're finding them in a smaller pool. I think that whether a person can be whoever they want and still find partners has more to do with who they want to be--and that's attributes like honesty, generosity, thrift, energy levels, activities they enjoy at least as much as it's anything to do with physical appearance--than with whether they're poly.
Mar. 27th, 2006 11:07 pm (UTC)
I am all about the change and growth and exploring.

I will whine when Christine's hair gets chopped^h^h^h^h^h^h^h^h cut into a new style, but i wouldn't want her to listen to that!

What the hell is "fair" anyhow? If fairness is what goes on in a "happy marriage" this must be why i never wanted one. Feh, feh, yech, *feminists* were discussing this?

(Pain talking, sorry. i can't help myself.)
Mar. 27th, 2006 11:50 pm (UTC)
The feminist blogs have taught me in a pretty visceral way that not all feminists have the same values that I have and even that I consider feminist, but I'll also add that probably not everyone commenting would identify as a feminist.
Mar. 28th, 2006 12:06 am (UTC)
Fascinating blog you link to. I hadn't heard this "debate". *sigh* I never "baited a trap" looking for a partner. They pretty much knew/know what they're getting upfront. No complaints. And no shortage of partners either (just a shortage of time!) *happy grin*
Mar. 28th, 2006 01:14 am (UTC)
Ditto, and ditto. ;)
Mar. 28th, 2006 12:34 am (UTC)
I'm currently reading Sex with kings, a history of royal mistresses.

One of the early chapters discusses traits that longterm mistresses have in common. It's not beauty or sexual prowess, and not precisely wit or intelligence either.

Mostly it seems to be an ability to read the king's moods and provide a comfort to him. Sex when he's horny, but also peptalks when he's down, entertainment when he's bored, an ear when he wants to talk, etcetera.
Not an easy job to be always "on" and reactive, but it's a feature not so dependent upon ephemeral standards. [Yes, I saw the original posts about false advertising; haven't been following the blogs to see what recent discussion they inspired.]
Mar. 28th, 2006 12:41 am (UTC)
That makes a great deal of sense. I wonder how many people who get upset with their partners for "letting themselves go" are really upset that their partners are developing other interests and are no longer so attentive to their moods and comforts.
Mar. 28th, 2006 12:50 am (UTC)
One of the main reasons I go to the gym is to try to make myself attractive to potential partners. I don't have any potential partners in mind, and my wife likes me the way I am -- but she's asexual, so I don't know if that counts. She'd like me to lose weight simply because I'd snore less then, but since I got the night mouthpiece thing that keeps my airway open (I don't actually need a CPAP machine yet), that seems to have solved that, so it's not a problem.

She does want me to go to the gym because I'm happier and more effective when I exercise -- but, for me, changing the way I look is a major part of it. Not for her, though.
Mar. 28th, 2006 02:30 am (UTC)
That my partners like my muscular appearance--and muscles show less on women--is a minor bonus. It's a good thing, but not a major one. It wouldn't motivate me by itself, and I'd exercise without it.
(no subject) - selki - Mar. 28th, 2006 11:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - xiphias - Mar. 28th, 2006 11:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 28th, 2006 06:58 am (UTC)
I think the phrase "false advertising" says it all. I wasn't selling anything when I met my spouses, so nor was I advertising. I will be held accountable for the promises I expressly made them and for generally behaving like a decent person, but that is all.
Mar. 28th, 2006 08:04 am (UTC)
I [heart] this way of putting it.
(no subject) - cassidyrose - Mar. 28th, 2006 09:20 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 28th, 2006 09:25 am (UTC)

Mono folk know that their one partner is the only sexual outlet they will ever have, therefore maintaining the physical attractiveness is naturally of greater importance. Polyfolk don't have this problem.

Mar. 29th, 2006 01:53 am (UTC)
Except insofar as they may continue to feel the need to be attractive in order to have *any* sexual outlet. They don't have a captive audience, after all.
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