The other day, my girlfriend told me that I was shallow. I have to admit, she may have a point. But then again, maybe not. It’s hard to say. After all, if you’re shallow, how can you tell that you’re the shallow one?
We had something like a five-hour debate on the topic the other day, which drew in references and arguments from Nietzsche, Kant, Tom Stoppard, and Milan Kundera. I’ll spare you the specifics of that argument. But what my girlfriend managed to conclude from it is that I’m shallow: obsessed with looks and surface appearances. Maybe she’s right.
I’m something of a unique case, because I’ve been diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or BDD, which is an anxiety disorder, a psychological problem where you think that you’re so ugly-looking that you (for instance) get afraid to leave your house, which is something that has happened to me many times. I’ve gotten trapped in my house for days in row, merely because I decided that I was so unattractive that I didn’t want other people to see me. Once I got stuck in a bathroom in a bar for two hours, because I saw myself in a mirror, and decided I was too ugly to go out and interact with the normal human beings. Etc… Shit like that happens to you when you have BDD.
I tend to think that I’m ugly, not good-looking, so I feel like it doesn’t really count as vanity. But BDD looks like vanity, because I can spend, say, hours checking my hair and my skin in the mirror before I go out for the night. It’s not that I can’t tear my eyes away from my gorgeous reflection though; it’s because I think I look awful.
But Body Dysmorphic Disorder does have another (unfortunate) side-effect, though: it makes me think that looks are the most important thing in the world. And this does make me shallow. I don’t just focus irrationally on my own looks, I focus irrationally on the looks of others, comparing myself to them and judging them.
It makes me into sort of an asshole. I’ve dated people I didn’t really like… at all, just because of their looks. Actually, let me adjust “sort of an asshole” to just “an asshole” here. BDD makes me into an asshole, which is something I have to work on. I once dated a model, and we went out to a bar one night, and she had taken out her contacts, so she was wearing glasses instead. This made her look 0.5% less hot, so I bugged her all night, until she took the glasses off. What an asshole, I know, I know. I once dated a stripper, and I bugged her for a half-hour, until finally she agreed to wear a tube-top instead of the t-shirt that she was wearing. The tube-top made her look 7% more hot. Once she agreed to change into the tube-top, then we could go out for the evening. Asshole; I know, I know.
I did stuff like this when I was younger; I’ve trained myself not to do it now. I was doing it unconsciously, or subconsciously, not really realizing that I was being a jerk. I’m so insecure about my own looks that I believe I can only be valued by the looks of the person that I’m going out with. If I’m dating a model, to me that signifies that I’m “cool,” that I’m “okay,” that maybe I can’t be so ugly after all. If I’m seen in public with a stripper, the jealous glances of other dudes signifies okay-ness to me; that I’m all right — that I’m doing okay. It’s a terrible way to think. It’s a terrible way to live your life.
Years ago, my friend Steve and I came up with something we called The Theory of Physical Beauty. It’s a grand unifying theory that explains the entire universe, but I’ll limit myself to explaining it simply. Here is the basic theory:
- Hot people tend to go out with other hot people.
- Ugly people tend to go out with ugly people.
- And that’s it. That’s the entire theory.
Walk down any city street, and you’ll find it hard to disprove this theory. Ridiculously attractive people tend to be seen holding hands with other ridiculously attractive people. Fat people tend to be dating other fat people. Average-looking people are often seen with other average-looking people. It sucks, but that’s the way it is. For all our talk of inner beauty, how often do you see a three-hundred pound dude holding hands with a supermodel? (Unless, of course, the three-hundred pound person is a millionaire; money can be factored into the equation here.) For all our talk of “personality” and inner beauty and true love, how often do you see a really ugly girl dating a hot dude? Sure, it happens, but it’s incredibly rare.
It’s a shitty theory, I know; “shitty” in the sense that it’s mean. Mean but possibly accurate. The theory of physical beauty posits that we are all on the lookout for the best-looking person that we can get. Of course, we have to like the person in question in some other way, but ask yourself this: give the choice between two people with identical personalities, wouldn’t you pick the cuter one? Of course this is taking place in some imaginary universe where two people could have identical personalities — but just imagine it as a hypothesis. Give the choice, you’d take the hotter one, wouldn’t you? Every time, wouldn’t you? Right? Right.
I know that my disorder makes me into a bad person at times. but it is just me who’s bad, or is it the world as well? As a society, we’re ridiculously fixated on appearance, but we have a very hard time admitting that we are. If your one true love — your wife, husband, lover, boyfriend, whatever — if they suddenly gained one hundred pounds, how happy would you be? What if they kept on gaining weight? What would be your cut-off point for still being with them? Twenty pounds, fifty pounds, one hundred, two hundred? Or you’d love them infinitely no matter what? And who’s bad — me, or the whole entire world?