the biological imperative

Sex is one of the few things that we usually do without any clothes on, part of the remaining fragments of our lives that we still keep private, if we choose. If we’re lucky, sex becomes more about feeling than seeing, and transcends being about superficial displays of beauty and status.

Yes, of course, like everything else, beauty and fashion is connected to sex, but perhaps not in the way it would seem. This post describes two ways I break – or make – the connection.

One. Fashion is not sexy.

Recently, I was watching an interview (OK, he’s very talkative so it was more like a monologue) with the fashion designer J.W. Anderson on SHOWstudio, whose knitwear is featured in the Teen Vogue photo above. He was talking about the universality of blue jeans and t-shirts for men. To paraphrase, Anderson said that most men wear the anti-fashion uniform because almost all of us want to sleep with people in jeans and t-shirts. That’s why selling innovative fashion is an uphill battle. Jeans are just what’s sexiest, for almost everybody. It is the biological imperative that keeps us dressing alike.

Dressing differently is more about status than sex.

Most people don’t want to sleep with men in suits – men who wear suits in their dating profile photos aren’t as successful at getting responses. And then there’s the anecdotal cliche of the terminally single fashion female. If you’re trying to attract a partner, to appear formal or trendy is a liability – that’s the crux of the whole Man Repeller joke. High fashion models are barely legal, asexual aliens. There’s something about fashionability that says: look at me, don’t touch me.

Two. Overcoming being the body.

We all have a primal urge to continue our species, and women have a critical role as bodily vessels. This is why beauty and and body snark alike are the feminine counterpart to politics and tabloids. Imagine fashion as the feminine counterpart to sports.

Whenever women are criticized and measured by their appearance, instead of their ideas, their merit, their work or their actions, this is not a rational, civilized impulse. This is base animal instinct. I’ve observed almost every kind of person doing this, regardless of gender or orientation, myself included. The biological imperative can only be overcome by sheer intellectual effort.

To extricate a woman’s physical body from her body of work, she needs to still be working after she hits menopause. Once a woman loses her childbearing potential, the human race’s collective interest in her – fuckability – subsides and she is allowed to just get on with doing her work – and well, because she has decades of experience. We stop looking and we start listening. Watching this process happen to Hillary Clinton made me notice how profound this shift must be.

Being the body is part of the female experience. Once you graduate from the animal reproductive agenda, whether by age or by fashion, you stand to gain freedom from the tyranny of appearances you wouldn’t have had any other way.

6 thoughts on “the biological imperative”

  1. Nooooo men in (well made) suits are hot! Also hot men in suits (that work at jobs requiring suits) don’t use suited pics for online stuff any more than pastry chefs use chef’s hats (because that’s work and also because it’s what the weird people do XD).
    Re part II: Helen Mirren. ‘cuz that’s how I want to age. Hot-ly. XD
    This is only slightly related but after joining a sewing related circle on Flickr I was re-exposed to a strange (but obvious when you think of it) online fetish – knitwear. What’s really weird that it extends to cardigans.. I dont’ get it. Jeans I get. But cardis?

  2. actually its an interesting analysis and I agree with a lot of the points. To the “men in suits are hot” comment – sure they are – but uniforms (which suits certainly are) are a symbol of status and status in our species has strong ties to survival of offspring to which women who have limited reproduction capacity value. To men (who have theoretically unlimited reproductive ability) status in women would be important but less important that the ability to reproduce and many traits of universal beauty are actually linked to fertility in females.

  3. theperfectnose – I’m not saying that men in suits are not ever hot. Almost anything can be hot to someone – even cardigans. (BTW I like how that comment ties in visually with that incredibly normative Teen Vogue shot).

    I’m talking ideals here – where many individual preferences overlap. If a majority of people thought men in suits were hot, more men would wear suits. A greater proportion human race has a preference for the common that encourages sameness.

    Which is why using fashion or otherwise taking advantage of ways to unbind your person from the common ideal, seems so liberating to me.

    Thanks James & theperfectnose for the comments =)

  4. I disagree with your analysis in the previous comment. I think the majority of people do think men in suits are hot, given the number of times I’ve heard women complain they wished men would dress better. Or the exclamations of how handsome you look any time you do actually wear a suit. I think in reality the majority of men are not as obsessed, consciously or subconsciously, with sex as popular culture likes us to be believe (we could blame psychoanalytical or evolutionary psychological pseudoscience here). Men wear jeans because they are comfortable and easy and they really aren’t that interested in looking that good all the time. They just want an easy life and to fit in. If you went back a hundred years, all men wore suits for probably the same reason – they wanted to fit in…

  5. Thanks for the comment Duck, great point, especially regarding the insistence of pop culture on male sex-obsessiveness!

    Perhaps my own personal bias towards men in casual clothing might be showing in that comment. While I do find men in suits often appear wealthy, powerful and stylish, somehow they also seem physically unapproachable or somehow just unexciting to me. There also might be an Atlantic divide, or a class identification thing, that informs my proclivities here.

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