I have been watching the latest femosphere kerfuffle (there have been a couple lately) with great interest. This one started at Morphing into Mama, in a post entitled "False Advertising" in which the author opined that:
. . . Personally, I think it would be unfair to Husband if I gained a bunch of weight and did nothing about it . . .
. . . [i]t would be false advertising if he’d married his 120 pound girlfriend and ended up with a 160 pound wife.
. . . I had plenty of friends who had grown their hair long while single, only to cut it all off in favor of a “practical style” soon after the nuptials. I always thought this a bit unfair – sort of like false advertising. These women used their long hair to attract their husbands, but once the deal was sealed, they’d cut it all off.
This post set off a firestorm of criticism at a number of different blogs. You can see the trackbacks at the post. I first became aware of the controversy over at Twisty's place. The idea of "false advertising" apparently struck a chord.
I am a married woman. I care about how I look. I also care about what my husband thinks about how I look. I also care about how my husband looks-- although, oddly, I always think he looks incredibly handsome no matter what. These are not overarching concerns in my daily life, however, and I hope that I keep appearance-related issues in perspective. Here is what I think about Morphing into Mama's post and the issues raised:
1) It is bothersome that the author seems to accept without question a terribly cold and commercial view of marriage. Her terminology endorses the commodification of our bodies as part of the marriage "contract." The problem with that, of course, is that commercial relationships are, by nature, cold-hearted, selfish, and conditional. Marriage is supposed to be warm-hearted, selfless, and unconditional (with certain important exceptions, such as the condition that there be no violence in the marriage).
2) When a commericalized view of marriage prevails, EVERYONE loses, and certainly, women lose. Sure, Morphing says that both men and women have an obligation to maintain their looks for the sake of their partners. But traditionally, it is women's bodies that are the commodity and it is we who are valued for our looks more than for our other qualities. Thus, women are more prone to intense insecurity about our weight, our age, and other factors relating to our physical appearance. It wasn't so long ago that our position in society, or even our very survival, depended upon it.
3) I feel some degree of social obligation to pay attention to how I look. I have obligations, within reason, to those around me. Thus, I take a shower every day even when I don't feel like it. I dress up when I go to a wedding, a funeral, a court appearance, or a church service, in order to show respect for the occasion. I try to look presentable when I go to the corner store. And yes, I want my husband to think that I am pretty. I take some steps toward that end, both for myself and for him, such as trying to eat well, exercise, and take care of my skin.
4) My body, however, belongs first and foremost to ME. If my husband were to turn to me and say, "Wow, it would be cool if you got breast implants," I would say, "It's not happening." (Actually, I'd probably have a lot more to say than that.) If I cannot work a diet and exercise regimen into my schedule because I have other priorities, that's that.
5) Both parties should have a deep understanding going into a marriage, or other type of life partnership, that good looks (however we define good looks) are transient. Our bodies change. We go grey and bald. We become wrinkled. We get sick. We develop varicose veins. Our teeth turn yellow. Both parties should recognize up front that they are, at times, going to see each other at their worst -- vomiting, sweaty, giving birth, bloated, smelly, wearing unflattering clothes, whatever. Both parties have the right to feel confident that, even at their very worst, they will have the love of the other.
6) Reciprocity and respect are always crucial. I may feel some sense of obligation, within reason, to look my best for my husband, but HE has an obligation to make me feel as though he is always happy with my looks and with me. He has an obligation to me to never, ever, ever, in word or deed, imply that he finds my looks wanting in any way -- no matter what. And vice-versa. I think that obligation is far more important than looking good. (I should also note that I am not the marriage purity police. Married people fall down on their obligations sometimes and it's up to the individuals involved to work it out.)
How have these principles worked in my marriage? I have to stress that we don't have a model or perfect marriage, but I do think that we've handled appearance-related issues rather well.
Personally, I definitely admire handsome men. In particular, I admired my husband's good looks from the first time I met him. It was, however, my very dashing husband who went from being rail thin to gaining a significant amount of weight after we got married. Turning 30, being a sedentary paraplegic, and eating a lot of fast food caught up with him. Strangely enough -- and I would not have expected this of myself -- I never stopped finding him incredibly attractive. When I look at him, I see HIM first and the specifics of his appearance second. Indeed, I thought the extra weight gave him a bit of appealing gravitas that he did not have before.
Although I noticed his weight gain, I never once brought it up. When he brought it up on a couple of occasions, I told him that "I think you're beautiful." He now blames me (not entirely seriously) for letting his weight gain go as far as it has. I did, however, lose a lot of sleep worrying that he would drop dead of a stroke or a heart attack and leave me a widow at a young age. I told him exactly that and I have encouraged him to eat more healthfully and exercise more. But I never pushed too hard because my husband is not one to do something until HE is good and ready and it is HIS body.
I am pleased to report that he has been committed since the beginning of December to changing his lifestyle. He hasn't done much in the way of exercise, but he has significantly reduced his caloric intake and has significantly increased the amount of vegetables he eats. The weight loss is significant, and he looks happier and healthier. But I don't find myself thinking, "Wow, he looks HAWT!" It's more, "Wow, he seems so energized and glowing and young and HEALTHY!" I don't think that makes me an unshallow person -- I still have an eye for a pretty face -- but it is just that, going into marriage, neither of us viewed it as being about hotness, even though our mutually perceived hotness may have helped pique our interest each other in the first place.
I am myself less hawt than when we met back in '94 and married back in '97. In particular, I seem to have gotten -- not heavier so much -- but squishier. Would I like to get my 1997 figure and lack of squishiness back? Sure! But I can't imagine feeling pressure from my husband to do so, and he has never once let on that he has noticed the increased squishiness. Some of my female friends were appalled when I confided that his nickname for me, from very early on in our relationship, was "Porky." Although I was initially disturbed when my nickname went from "Hot Pants" to "Porky," it became quite clear to me that what he was conveying was that I am not porky, and even if I were porky, it wouldn't matter. (By the way, since it's true confession time, his nickname is "Meathead.")
Thus ends today's rambling. The moral of the story is, "It's fine to value your appearance. It's fine to want to look nice for your significant other. But please oh please don't think of in terms of advertising or fulfilling your part of the 'deal.' The real deal is about being able to count on each other no matter what."