Monday, August 6, 2012

Cute Versus Sexy... and Ideology

So this post is being published later than I intended, mainly because I was computerless for several days. I was planning on getting a new laptop this weekend as my old one could no longer do updates due to the lack of space on the disc. But then something terrible (and entirely my fault) happened and my old laptop had a very dramatic death. And so, I was computerless for several days (which is a very weird feeling for one such as myself who is becoming incredibly technologically reliant. It's not that I can't leave my computer at home for several days. It's just I want to willingly give it up, not have it wrenched out of my hands by the Grim Reaper of Computer Death) (this is needlessly over-dramatic. I have often ostracized for my love of Apple computers and perhaps this is part of the reason why...) Regardless, I have a laptop, a bright, shiny new one that seems to rather not mind that half of my documents are Word files and pictures purloined from the internet, so without further ado... back to to blogging.

Amidst my Martin Freeman musings, I pondered why some people, like Martin Freeman, tend to get labeled as cute and adorable and hedgehogy while others, like Mr. Hiddleston and Mr. Cumberbatch are sexy and alluring. This was further reinforced by this Tumblr post.
Okay, I'm obviously operating in a world where I can't discuss this without... well, operational definitions. So here you go, straight from the dictionary on my computer:
cute (adj): 1) attractive in a pretty or endearing way: a cute kitten; informal: sexually attractive
sexy (adj): 1) sexually attractive or exciting: sexy French underwear; sexually aroused; exciting, appealing
Well, the example sentences are pretty fabulous. Clearly cute things are like kittens and sexy things are like underwear. Yeah... that helps me not at all.

There is a certain preoccupation with the difference between sexiness and cuteness in American culture, one that I find very odd and bothersome. And yet I am utterly affected by it. Case and point: over a month ago, I went to a block party at a bar for Minneapolis Pride and when I approached the bouncer he obviously asked to see my ID. But, as he stated: "Can I see your ID? Because you look like you're twelve." I laughed at this because I'd already had a rather crazy day of watching soccer - I mean football - I mean calcio - on the roof of a British-themed bar and gotten ridiculously, ridiculously sunburned and was thus wearing a large T-shirt to enshroud my skin (because I am a secret ginger and burn as badly as my red-headed compatriots, though I myself have been a brunette ever since my hair randomly decided to go from blonde to brown at the age of seven). I probably did look pretty youngish. It also doesn't help that I'm 5'2". But then the bouncer said, "No, really [something mumbled and indiscernible]." I've no idea what he said but I'm rather certain it was kind of backhanded, judging from the expression on his face. It bothered me the whole night. Then one of the guys there told me I was cute (this would probably be a good time to mention that this was a gay bar and that all of the men I talked to were likewise, so I wasn't being hit on) and then asked shortly after if I was my friend's "hag" (fag hag; look it up - it is perhaps one of my- if not the - least favorite terms women get labeled with. It generally refers to a woman who happens to have a gay best friend and carries with it a very pejorative association). So being called cute wasn't really rubbing me the right way. Especially after being told I look twelve.

Do I really look like I'm twelve?

On second thought, don't answer that question.

For some reason, being a (semi-)adult and called "cute" feels kind of backhanded at times. It's like saying "yeah, okay, there's something pleasing about your face but it's like looking at a panda bear." Which, you know, isn't an insult. But it's not like being told that you're beautiful.

Of course, all of this coming after my "everyone is beautiful!" posting seems kind of pointless. Appearance may not be a big issue to me for others but when it comes to myself... well, there's such an attitude that you're supposed to be receiving these compliments, you feel kind of... odd when other people do but you don't. It's hard not to care about it -because really, who can truly not care about a compliment?
And then there's another approach: celebrity culture where compliments make your career, where superlatives describe who you at every angle, and being known by adjectives comes with the territory. A territory that actually extends... well, everywhere. What was a prominent part of my high school year book? "Most Likely to be Famous," "Most Musical," "Most Likely to Become President." Superlatives. Superlatives everywhere. And as much as I can say, "I don't care about that crap," I am still a little crushed that no superlative was a fit for me (not that I would have gotten nominated for one in my high school anyway; few people knew who I was). Even though we try not to care, WE STILL CARE. Even though I decry that caring about beauty and appearances is all hogwash, I still get irked when people awe that I'm cute and fluffy.

I direct you to the first twenty seconds or so of this video:

Remember when I said I could find a quote from The Producers for any situation? Here is Leo Bloom crying, "No way out!" Which is exactly how I feel about this whole bothersome situation about body image. No matter what, I'm still being heavily effected by culture's perceptions and stance on things.

Maybe this would be a good time to bring up a little something called Ideology. So there's really no good time to bring it up, but sometimes you have to. This might be one of those times. Ideology's the stuff that built into our society, the beliefs and principles and logic we follow without even questioning it. Calling yourself I and thinking about yourself as an individual? Part of Ideology. Believing that science can explain stuff? Ideology. The idea that men and women are very different individuals and that Bono has cool sunglasses? Ideology (although, the last chunk of that is, of course, a personal belief and less about overall Ideology with a capital I. Please don't ask me to distinguish between Ideology and ideology right now. You'll hate me).
The deal is that somehow, without really questioning it, cute and sexy and beautiful all gathered these different ideas of attractiveness. And somewhere before that, attractiveness became really damn important (okay, so you can totally argue for science here and say that it's for survival and procreation and of course you'd be right but the Ideology theorists would say that even making this argument about genes and science and survival is part of Ideology I'm sorry; I didn't make up these theories. Blame the post-structural psychoanalytic feminists. Better yet, blame Althusser - he came first). Now it's the obvious, unquestioned part of culture that beauty is good - whether on the surface, under the surface, in whatever form. But ugly is not. The two are polar opposites and we don't question why (usually). Then, to distinguish different forms of beauty, ideas like cute and sexy and pretty and sensual and so on formed. And now... now comes the great debate of which is preferred: sexy or cute?

There's a whole Yahoo forum dedicated to the cute vs. sexy debate. And that was only the first result. There were millions more I didn't bother to look at because I just don't get it. Do people really debate about whether or not it's better to have a significant other who is cute rather than pretty? Yes they do. In fact, I myself do it WITHOUT EVEN BEING AWARE OF IT. Obviously, I care whether or not people think I look like a cute innocent person or sensual and adult. The fact that that's how we correlate the two - sexy is older, cuter is younger - is plenty interesting. I am thus forever stuck between being "cute" (because I'm short and dress like a hipster) and striving to be "sexy" (because I don't want to look like I'm twelve).

But wait, it gets murkier. I was texting my friend Ashley the other day about an assortment of stuff and we ended up talking about what sort of guy we're attracted to. Ashley said she's into the dorky sort and that she wants, "cute, not hot." I agreed and said that, "I generally can't tell if I'm attracted to someone until they've been talking for a while and they say smart, clever things. Because I find smart people sexy :D" I didn't mean to come off as a complete Irene Adler-eque gesture, but I did nonetheless because, let's face it, in this debate between sexy and cute, I can express this metaphorically (and Sherlockianly - which I just decided is a word, by the way) as me caught between being like Molly Hooper and Irene Adler. And I happen to agree with Irene on this.
Ashley's reply to this was, "You're the only person in the world who isn't lying when they say that." And I was kind of surprised and extremely appreciative it. Because no one believes me when I say that I simply don't take appearance into account when looking for potential partners. It's not that it doesn't matter at all; it's just that I don't find people attractive until I know something about them. Someone could be incredibly hot and be the most inane person in the world, or the most intelligent. And I won't really know until they start talking.

All of this prattling does have a point; I guess in my weird, complicated way of finding people attractive, I've developed some sort of warped way of using Ideology. Because, obviously, I still care about cute and sexy... I just attribute it in different ways. I still care about attractiveness - such as when I found a comment sort of backhanded when a friend of mine said that if I dated this one guy last summer that I would have been the first of our friends to have an attractive boyfriend (which is not true and unfair, especially considering she had a boyfriend at the time and she'd just labeled him at unattractive in her mind). I found this comment complicated given the context but couldn't help feel kind of like, "Well, can't I date an attractive person? Does it really matter if he's generally attractive? But what really is considered attractive? What is cute? What does appearance matter? What does love have to do with anything? Wait, no, that's Tina Turner..."  But I've noticed I tend to use words more like handsome and beautiful rather than sexy, thus given my confusing for this general debate. Yet I find myself using the word cute quite a bit, despite my dislike for some of its connotations. Such as when seeing this photo...

Yeah, I thought this was pretty cute. And then I was smacking myself for the word choice. And then I read the comments on the Tumblr post it came from, one of which was this:

AARGH. What is it cute instantly equaling age 12? (Because age 12 was really awkward for me, not cute.) Sometimes, word choice in the English language just feels impossible. Because of Ideology. (Which is kind of like saying, "Because of reasons" as reasons could refer to all kinds of Ideological concepts... oh my God stop me.) So now Cumberbatch is being labeled both cute and sexy, depending on whose doing the fangirling, because, you know, beauty is subjective. (Just in case you missed me saying that every other post.) Ditto for Martin Freeman. And don't get me on started on Tom Hiddleston...

I didn't sign up for this.

(You know, just in case I ever say I don't care about appearance, keep in mind that this totally isn't legit. Because I've never met Cumberbatch or Freeman or Hiddleston and yet I think they are all incredibly attractive. However, I suppose I didn''t think that until I heard them do interviews and learned something about them. But I've never actually talked to them. So I feel like my own argument has a huge gaping hole here...)

Finally, in my cinema class, I was doing a presentation on my computer and this guy in my class mentioned my desktop background (it's Sherlock and John; surprise, surprise) and I started talking about how the next season wouldn't be out until 2013 because both Cumberbatch and Freeman are in The Hobbit and the guy I was talking to said, "Yeah, I knew the little guy was in it; he's Bilbo" while I'm thinking, "The little guy?" This requires a clip from another movie I tend to quote too much:

Sorry, couldn't help but think of this scene from Inglorious Basterds when the guy in my class said "the little guy." And it hit me that this is why Martin Freeman is often tied more with "cute" because he's shorter, which is tied in with youth... and so apparently he looks 12 too.

So, as a recap, we've learned being short changes the superlative you've gained, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, and I all look like we're twelve, and the cute vs. sexy debate will go one forever even though we're just arguing over different ways of perceiving beauty when really the actual answer, since we can't escape the ideas around it and it's all entirely subjective anyway, is: caption

 Case and point:
Rock on, Martin Freeman. Rock on.


  1. I don't think you look twelve, Gina!!!! But I agree completely about being short automatically makes you cute. The ending was perfect. Cute and sexy are both good! :)

  2. Brainy is the new sexy...
    Everytime I tell friends of mine who I find attractive they just look at me with their eyebrows raised. I pride myself in my 'unique' tastes. For example, there is something about Mark Gatiss that is incredibly attractive to me. Maybe it's how demure he acts, I don't know. Beauty is relative and certain people find certain people attractive.

    1. Agreed! I'm the same with Gatiss and beauty really is relative. Which makes it all the more complicated and wonderful, I think.